Automation has become essential in many fields of industries. It allows processes to function with increased efficiency and productivity. Today's industrial automation is leveling to the next stage of the industrial revolution with the innovation of breakthrough technology such as artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, the Internet of Things, robotics, and others.
What is industrial automation?
Automation is a broad term applied to any mechanism that moves by itself. It describes a wide range of technologies, methods, and tools used to reduce human intervention.
Industrial automation is a field that deals primarily with the automation of industrial processes and machinery to reinforce manufacturing, material handling, and quality control processes.
The initial purpose of automation was to increase productivity and reduce labor costs. Nowadays, automation has shifted to minimizing error and improving quality and flexibility in a manufacturing process.
McKinsey's report in 2018 has already shown that automation is a global phenomenon occurring across regions and industries. The same survey repeated in 2020 showed that 66% of organizations are at least adopting automation in one or more business units, growing from 57% in 2018. Moreover, nearly half of companies that have not begun to automate will plan to do so within the following year.
McKinsey further reported the most common technology deployed in automation are business-process-management platforms and robotic process automation. These are followed by image-recognition technologies, such as optical character recognition (OCR), and by machine-learning algorithms and automated process-mining, -discovery, and -documentation tools.
From the steam engine to the smart factor
Automation is an integral part of the industrial revolution. Although the buzz around automation emerged in the 20th century, it has existed long before that. Through steam power and mechanization of production during the first industrial revolution, several automation solutions emerged in the market, such as water-powered automated spinning mills, automated looms, and automated flour mills.
The second industrial revolution was marked by the adoption of electricity and assembly line production that made mass production possible for the automotive industry. Henry Ford was one of the pioneers in this field, establishing an automation department in 1947 as part of its operations.
The third industrial revolution is also known as the digital revolution. The spread of automation and digitization characterizes it by the use of
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