Industrial automation is a topic that has been heavily discussed in recent years, but it may be something that you are unfamiliar with. In its most basic form, industrial automation is the use of various devices that reduce manual labor, increase quality and production speed, as well as reduce manufacturing costs. Automation can be carried out in a number of ways, often utilizing logical programming and machinery that works together to complete assigned tasks. As many industries continue their push for industrial automation, it can be useful to understand how it works and the various types that are available.
In order for a process to be automated, it must utilize set technologies and automatic control devices that allow for a process to be completed with minimal human intervention. Additionally, general automation is also defined by automatic processes that far outpace the performance of manual operations. Depending on the application and its needs, industrial automation tools and accessories can come in a variety of forms. In order to classify industrial automation devices, each may be categorized into a hierarchy that dictates their use or type.
Field level components consist of the sensors, actuators, and other components that function to transfer data for monitoring and analysis. Field level industrial automation tools also include the actuators that make industrial control possible. With sensors, various characteristics such as pressure, temperature, and flow may be measured and converted into an electrical signal that is transferred to a controller. With actuators, electrical signals are supplied by controllers so that a process may be carried out. Actuators may come in the form of valves, relays, motors, and other components.
Control level components are the next set, and they are the automation devices that manage various processes. Common devices in this category include CNC machines, PLCs, and other systems used for acquiring process parameters. With automatic controllers, sensor signals are processed and carried out through actuators. The programmable logic controller (PLC) is the most common industrial control system, that of which utilizes inputs to carry out control functions.
In the supervising and production control level, the devices and monitoring systems that further manage processes are included. Generally, devices in this category will be tasked with setting machine starts and shutdowns, supervising parameters, establishing production targets, and more. Distribution Control System (DCS) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) Human Machine Interfaces (HMU) are the most popular devices of this category.
The information and enterprise level of industrial automation is the top of the hierarchy, and it consists of any devices that conduct customer and market analysis, product planning, sales, etc. This level also includes industrial communication networks, ensuring that all components can efficiently communicate with optimal information flow. By classifying industrial control products and components in such a manner, understanding the various levels of general automation can be much easier.
Depending on the need of a business or application, fixed or hard, programmable, and flexible or soft automation all serve as common general automation types. Fixed or hard automation in when high production rates are desired and processes may be carried out through repetitive operations. With such automation control, there is little flexibility once equipment has been employed. With programmable industrial automation tools, medium to high batch volumes can be produced while permitting the modification of control programs. Using flexible or soft automation, changes to product design are much easier as compared to the other methods. To change product design, commands can be supplied to systems by human operators.
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