A Look into Automation & its Different Types

Bally Kehal
Aug 2, 2019 · 6 min read

There is no denying it. We are amidst a colossal digital revolution that is changing our society and economy. Automation is gaining ground in all industries. Over the decades, automation has become widespread with the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). While it will disrupt industries, it is neither a magic pill, nor a portent of doomsday scenarios. Automation will create new jobs and push some to obsolescence. Automation doesn’t simply replace human labor, however. It augments human labor by offloading simple, repetitive tasks to computers.

Not only is there little to fear in the rise of automation. Automation brings a wealth of advantages: improved productivity, enhanced production rate, efficient use of resources, safety, a shorter work-week, and improved job satisfaction. However, the primary reason automation has been embraced so widely is its ability to ensure higher output and increased productivity, helping both employees and businesses.

What is Automation?

Automation enables processes to occur automatically — i.e., immediately and without human labor. In many cases, monitoring of processes can be automated, as well. Monitoring will often include summary statistics for key measurements, and can even be integrated with automated recommendation systems. Automation will transform a wide variety of vital job functions across industries such as robotics, cyber security, wireless applications and banking. Automation experts are already helping various industries navigate complicated problems in their workflow processes; the revolution is here.

Every industry stands to benefit from intelligent transformation, and with the seemingly endless array of automation applications, it is unlikely that the spread of automation will slow any time soon. To keep up, thoughtful implementation of automated systems is necessary. In the technology sector, the impact of automation is soaring and evolving at a rapid pace, covering both hardware and software segments. Similarly, in the healthcare industry, automation is making huge waves improving treatment, patient experience and provider well-being. Automation provides benefits across all industries. While the following list is by no means exhaustive, it provides a sense the benefits.

  • Improved quality
  • Consistency
  • Time savings
  • Metric visibility
  • Enhanced operational efficiency
  • Better governance
  • Reliability
  • Reduced turnaround times
  • Reduced costs of operations

Main Categories of Automation

The Three Basic Categories of Automation

Automation is widely applied. In fact, there are many automated processes that you are already quite familiar with. Think of modern thermostats that self-regulate a specified temperature, or cruise control. Identifying instances of automation isn’t quite as helpful as understanding their broad categorization: Fixed, Programmable and Flexible. Let’s explore the three central types of automation.

  1. Fixed Automation

Also known as Hard Automation, Fixed Automation involves the employment of specific-purpose equipment to automate a repetitive sequence of tasks, processing or assembly operations. Generally, the operational sequence is not complex, involves fundamental functionalities like rotational or plain linear motion, or an amalgamation of both. The advantages of fixed automation are improved rate of production, low cost of the unit, and the automation of the material handling process. If the automation repeats the same tasks with identical units, it is Fixed Automation. The most notable limitation, here, is that Hard Automation units must be replaced when new tasks need to be completed.

2. Programmable Automation

Programmable Automation allows for fresh programs to be designed and deployed to the system to implement new processes. Both traditional thermostats and traditional cruise control are examples of programmable automation — you set a speed or temperature and the mechanisms consistently produce the programmed outcome. Whereas with fixed automation, automation is designed with only one set of operation sequences, Programmable Automation allows for reprogramming for different tasks after a batch of one type is complete. The main advantage of the programmable automation is greater flexibility to deal with the variation of designs. While it is the best-fit for batch production of a variety of designs, it produces fewer units than both Fixed and Flexible Automation because of the changeover-time between functions.

3.Flexible Automation

This automation type is an extension of programmable automation that has the capacity to produce a spectrum of products with next-to-zero downtime and no complicated change-over manual procedure, which means greater production rate. Because there is no need for complex reprogramming, Flexible Automation can switch between tasks. Think to our thermostat and cruise control examples. Modern adaptive cruise control and self-learning thermostats are examples of Flexible Automation — users don’t need to reprogram the mechanisms to change their outcomes. In manufacturing, because there is no need for batch production, tasks can be completed on demand. Flexible Automation enables automatic and rapid changes to programmed sequences, such as production of design variations, with virtually no down-time. In short, Flexible Automation allows for a variety of procedure outcomes and high output.

Global and Specific Automation Approaches

All automated systems will fall into either Fixed, Programmable or Flexible, but there are many other global and specific applications of automation. Here we will explore some additional forms of automation, beginning with a global, integrative approach and then moving onto more specific types.

  1. Integrated Automation

Integrated Automation is a comprehensive automation framework. Integrated automation seeks to reduce the complexity of independently automated work processes by streamlining communication between automated processes. Rather than allowing five automated systems to operate separately, integrated automation unifies them under one system. This automation type can include technologies such as Flexible Machining Systems, Automated Material Handling, and Computer-Aided Manufacturing.

2. Industrial Automation

Industrial automation involves the use of technology to manage the repetitive tasks, including those that are hazardous for human laborers. Common implementation examples include Numerically Controlled Equipment, Flexible Manufacturing Systems and Computer-Aided Manufacturing. Industrial automation can increase the accuracy of production and improve industry safety.

3. Computer-Aided Manufacturing

Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) uses computers and machines in concert to automate manufacturing. CAM is often integrated with Computer Aided Design (CAD) to improve manufacturing processes. Some benefits of CAM include increased material and production consistency, increased production output, and increased component quality. CAD designs verified by engineer oversight is then automatically reproduced using CAM.

4. Robotics Process Automation

In RPA, developers write code that automates tasks and the interface at the back end by using Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). The robotic automation interacts with the available IT infrastructure, and there is no requirement of the complicated system integration. RPA is programmed to automate many back-office operations, workflow and infrastructure. These processes are generally labor-intensive, and they can easily integrate with user portals, websites, and the many in-house applications. RPA is a set of commands executed by bots, adhering to the pre-defined set of rules. The main aim of RPA is to get rid of the repetitive and monotonous tasks performed by humans.

5. Cognitive Intelligence

Cognitive Intelligence relies on dedicated software to automate information-intensive processes. Cognitive Intelligence generally uses RPA for automation. This form of automation has a range of benefits, which includes reduced operational costs, improved customer satisfaction, and many other perks such as the bringing precision to complicated business processes based on unstructured data.

6. Conversational Automation

Conversational automation rapidly changing approaches to customer service. Messaging is the preferred customer service channel in the US, South Korea, Singapore and India. Conversational Automation is a step forward from traditional chatbots. Through its use of Natural Language Processing, it is free-flowing and unstructured. Because it is not dependent upon fixed responses like traditional chatbots, it allows for more human-like interactions. Conversational Automation yields better customer experience than traditional chatbots. Intelligent bots significantly reduce labor costs and improve customer service because of their 24/7 availability and rapid responses.

Learn More About Automation

Automation technology is rapidly adapting to changing demands of industries and comes with significant benefits to labor costs, revenues, customer satisfaction, brand image and more. While automation is not, on its own, a solution to industry changes, it is a necessary part of intelligent digital transformation.

Partnering in your AI automation projects

Whether you’re looking for a no-code intelligent automation solution yourself or the right information to evangelize and train your workforce for this fourth industrial revolution, taking the time to understand automation is an important first step.

At Social27, we strive to understand your business needs and jointly develop the right AI automation strategy with the help of a step-by-step framework and best practices from across the industry. Subsequently, our automation products and solutions can enable rapid deployment and value realization.

Please visit social27.com for more information. We would appreciate the opportunity to partner in your intelligent automation journey.

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