Automating Redundant Tasks

  • January 4, 2016

As technology continues to advance automating has increasingly become a more common, widespread practice in all disciplines and industries to increase productivity, efficiency, and quality. The definition states that “Automation is the creation of technology to monitor and control a process, system, or apparatus.”[1] In another perspective, it is “The process of using computers and/or machines to do work that may have previously been done by humans.” [2] The applications can be anything from a simple redundant task and range to tasks so technologically advanced that they can’t possibly be done by humans. The programmable logic controller is the most common device used in industrial applications to complete many complex tasks.

The Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) is a digital computer that is programmed to control electromechanical processes such as robots, assembly lines, machines, temperature control processes, and other manufacturing processes [4]. Its major advantages include compact size, relatively low cost, and easily programmability. Due to its small size, a control enclosure size is significantly reduced and it requires less wiring compared to its now seemingly prehistoric predecessor, the hardwire relay control panel.  The PLC is programed using a language called ladder logic and is one of the most common languages used amongst PLC manufacturers. Therefore, any PLC can easily be programmed by a qualified professional. Adding to the advantages, the smaller size and easy programmability of the PLC significantly reduces the cost of a control panel and troubleshooting time. With the invention of the PLC, there have come many advancements in Automation, however there are disadvantages as well.

Some advantages of automation includes higher volume production, increased efficiency, less human error, reduced cost and a higher quality of products [3]. Some disadvantages includes a large initial investment, an increase in unemployment, and less versatility [3]. At a glance, it may seem the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, however depending on the processes, not all automation is advantageous. Regarding a smaller company, the large initial investment and relatively small volume production may not be beneficial at all.  Whereas larger companies with much more competition, it may be more advantageous to automate processes to achieve a competitive advantage. As automation is becoming more common in manufacturing processes, it is also being applied in other fields such as transportation, home and office as well.

A PLC is a particular category of computer used to control most industrial processes and has become synonymous with automation. However, automation has become more than simply a PLC controlling a manufacturing processes. A cell phone or car are both varying options of an automation tool. Without automation, it would not be possible to simply dial a phone number and talk to someone hundreds or thousands of miles away. Without a programmable computer in your car, it would not be possible to precisely control the speed of your car, or simply align the car in a straight line for that matter. A computer is used in virtually all office spaces today. The use of this technology aids in eliminating and reducing redundant tasks and manual processes, which in turn, improves productivity and efficiency in the workplace [2].

A question to ponder is what other everyday objects can be automated or haven’t yet been automated thus far? Is it beneficial and cost effective for a company to invest in automation?







Author: Odai Nanthanong

  • January 4, 2016