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4 Different Types of Automation – With Examples for Each

Hello,

In this comprehensive guide, we will be exploring the four main types of automation used in our modern world. Understanding the applications of these different automation categories can help you select the right solutions for your needs, whether in your business or daily life. The four key types we will cover are:

  1. Industrial Automation
  2. Business Process Automation
  3. Home and Personal Automation
  4. Integrated Automation

Automation is revolutionizing how we produce goods, deliver services, run organizations, and manage our personal lives. Let‘s dive in and see how…

Industrial Automation

Industrial automation allows businesses to optimize and automate industrial processes, machinery, and workflows, especially in manufacturing facilities, energy plants, warehouses, and other industrial settings.

According to Allied Market Research, the global industrial automation market size was valued at $193.4 billion in 2020, and is projected to reach $395.3 billion by 2030, growing at 8.2% CAGR over this period.

There are three main types of industrial automation:

Fixed Automation

Fixed automation consists of specialized mechanical equipment engineered to carry out repetitive production operations in a predetermined sequence. This type of automation is best suited for high-volume, continuous production runs of standardized products with low variability.

For example, automobile assembly lines rely heavily on fixed automation. Robotic arms continuously weld metal bodyshells with precision as the car frames progress down the production line. Paint shop machines apply multiple coatings flawlessly through automated spray stations. The specialized robotic equipment repeats these fixed sequences continuously to produce thousands of identical cars daily.

According to the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), over 265,000 robots are currently deployed in North American automotive plants, welding over 5 million components every day.

The main benefits of fixed automation are:

  • High throughput production capacity ideal for continuous runs of standardized products

  • Exceptional consistency and repeatability for maximum quality control

  • Predictable production costs and minimal variable overheads after initial installation

  • Reduced reliance on skilled labor for repetitive tasks

  • Safer working conditions by removing workers from hazardous environments

  • Smaller production footprint compared to manual operations

The downsides are high initial investment and lack of flexibility – the specialized machinery cannot be easily adapted for other products. Frequent changeovers are challenging and uneconomical. Fixed automation is best suited for stable, high-volume production.

Programmable Automation

Programmable automation systems can adjust their operation through software reconfigurations rather than mechanical alterations. This makes them suitable for mid-volume production batches where frequent adjustments are needed.

Programmable automation typically utilizes either robotic devices or computerized process control equipment that can be reprogrammed on the fly. Let‘s look at examples of each:

Robotic Automation

Robots are intelligent mechatronic devices that can be programmed to perform a wide variety of industrial tasks with speed, precision, and reliability. Typical applications include material handling, welding, painting, assembly, product inspection and testing.

Global robotics orders reached a record 584,000 units in 2021, representing a year-over-year growth of 30% according to the World Robotics report. Automotive and electronics manufacturing accounted for over 60% of installations.

For example, Fanuc articulated robots can be deployed on electronic device assembly lines and be reprogrammed within minutes to handle different product configurations or parts. This flexibility allows the production line to switch models on the fly in response to current demand trends.

Computerized Process Automation

Here, programmable logic controllers (PLCs) utilize process control software and field devices like sensors, valves, pumps and relays to automate the sequencing of industrial processes.

Discrete manufacturing units like CNC machines are also gaining programmable automation capabilities through advances like IoT-based monitoring and digital twin technology. Market researchers Mordor Intelligence estimates that the global discrete automation market will grow from $48.44 billion in 2021 to $80.03 billion by 2027, a CAGR of 8.4%.

For example, craft breweries are relying on PLC-based automation systems to help them produce custom brews cost-effectively in small batches. The automated brewing system controls the timings, temperatures and metering that go into producing each unique recipe.

Benefits of programmable automation:

  • Flexibility to switch between production variants through software reconfigurations rather than mechanical changeovers

  • Consistent quality and compliance with product specifications via precise automated process control

  • Ability to automate hazardous tasks that would be unsafe for human workers

  • Simplified scalability to adjust capacity in response to changing demand

  • Reduced dependency on highly skilled labor

The tradeoffs include high initial costs and complexity of maintenance. Production monitoring and control requires skilled personnel. Frequent retooling can also complicate shop floor management and lead times.

Flexible Automation

As the name indicates, flexible automation systems are designed for rapid changeovers between product variants. This allows economical production of small batches and custom configurations.

According to SMR Market Research, the global flexible automation market is projected to reach $177.9 billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 7.9% between 2022 and 2030.

Some examples of flexible automation technologies include:

Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Automation

CNC machines such as mills, lathes, routers and 3D printers can be programmed with custom instructions for producing components with unique shapes, dimensions and features. Skilled operators can quickly switch designs by loading fresh digital instruction sets.

For instance, a machine shop may utilize CNC turning centers to produce custom engineered metal parts in low volumes based on each customer‘s product specifications. Quick changeovers between programs allow flexible responses.

Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs)

AGVs are self-navigating robotic vehicles that can transport materials and finished products within warehouses, assembly plants, and distribution centers. They are programmed with facility maps and sensors to follow optimal routes without any driver or guide rails.

According to Mordor Intelligence, the AGV market is expected to register a CAGR of 12.5% between 2022 and 2027, reaching $18.2 billion globally.

For example, medical equipment manufacturer Stryker uses a fleet of over 130 AGVs powered by Brain Corp AI to autonomously transport parts and supplies around their production floors and warehouses 24/7. This improves logistics efficiency and flexibility.

Key advantages of flexible automation:

  • Economical production of custom, small-batch, and highly variable products

  • Rapid changeovers and reconfigurations minimize downtime

  • Modular and scalable – capacity can be added incrementally

  • Can be retrofitted into existing facilities more readily than fixed automation

The limitations of flexible automation include potentially higher unit costs compared to high-volume dedicated automation lines. Production scheduling and management also tends to be more complex.

By combining fixed, programmable, and flexible automation systems, manufacturers can achieve mass production efficiency as well as rapid customization capabilities.

Business Process Automation

Business process automation (BPA) refers to the application of digital software tools and systems to automate high-volume, repetitive processes and workflows in the back-office and administrative domains of companies. The goals are to reduce costs, improve efficiency, minimize errors, and free up staff time.

According to Grand View Research, the global BPA market is expected to grow at a 13.5% CAGR from 2022 to reach $19.6 billion by 2030. Top adoption segments include retail, healthcare, telecom, and banking.

Some common examples of business process automation include:

  • Automated report generation with latest data becoming available

  • Seamless transfer of data between different enterprise systems

  • Auto-responding to customer emails based on predefined templates and rules

  • Streamlined onboarding processes for new employees or customers

  • Rules-based approval chains for routine invoices, expenses, and requests

  • Auto-scheduling social media posts and campaigns through the week

BPA can be implemented through:

  • Built-in workflow capabilities of sophisticated enterprise resource planning platforms like SAP

  • Robotic process automation (RPA) tools that simulate user actions to interface with legacy systems

  • No-code drag and drop workflow builders like Zapier and Microsoft PowerAutomate

  • AI-powered intelligent process automation (IPA) systems

Key benefits of effective business process automation include:

  • Increased throughput and productivity

  • Accelerated execution speed for customer transactions and inquiries

  • Lower operational costs by reducing labor-intensive activities

  • More consistent outputs and fewer errors achieved through standardized workflows

  • Improved visibility through digital telemetry and analytics for intelligent oversight

  • Better experiences for both employees and customers

  • Empowered staff by removing dull routine tasks

However, BPA has some downsides to consider:

  • Integration challenges, Especially with legacy IT environments

  • Potential for poorly designed automations to fail edge cases

  • Risk of staff deskilling if overly dependent on automation

  • Cybersecurity vulnerabilities from automation integration points

  • Lack of flexibility to handle non-routine exceptions

With deliberate change management and iterative approach, companies can maximize the benefits of BPA while avoiding the pitfalls.

Home and Personal Automation

Home and personal automation tech aims to simplify, enhance, and automate various household tasks and personal activities through easy-to-use smart devices and apps.

According to Statista, over 214 million smart home devices were sold globally in 2021, representing a growth of 22.5% from 2020 sales. Voice assistant devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home accounted for over 30% of units sold.

Here are some examples of home and personal automation:

  • Smart speakers with voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant for controlling devices, getting information, reminders, entertainment etc. hands-free using voice commands.

  • Smart lighting systems and programmable thermostats allow home owners to remotely control heating, cooling, lighting schedules and simulate occupancy patterns for added safety and energy savings while away.

  • In-home security systems can provide real-time alerts and continuous video monitoring capabilities that can be tuned as needed for convenience and peace of mind.

  • Robotic vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, and pool cleaners automate tedious floor, yard and pool maintenance chores.

  • Grocery delivery apps can regularly replenish essential household items automatically based on preset schedules and usage patterns.

  • Location-based reminders on smartphones can remind about pending personal errands when near certain destinations.

  • Personal finance apps can auto-categorize expenditures across credit cards and bank accounts, generating spending analytics.

Key benefits of home automation technologies:

  • Convenience through remote control and programming of appliances, lighting, heating etc.

  • Time and energy savings from automating tedious domestic chores

  • Flexibility to customize automation schedules and triggers as per household needs

  • Peace of mind through live home monitoring and alerts during travel

  • Accessibility for elderly and disabled through voice controls

  • Potential energy and cost savings from smart energy management

However, these benefits come with some tradeoffs:

  • High upfront costs of equipment, installation, and integration

  • Continual firmware/software updates required for smart devices

  • Ongoing subscription fees for cloud services powering some automation

  • Privacy and security risks from extensive data gathering by tech companies

  • Danger of overreliance on automation diminishing self-sufficiency

With prudent selection and configuration, residential automation solutions have the potential to simplify daily household activities and enhance quality of life.

Integrated Automation

As automation technologies become more advanced and interconnected, we are seeing increasing integration between industrial, enterprise, and consumer spheres. This enables new capabilities and efficiencies.

Some examples of integrated automation include:

  • Smart factories that link industrial robots, production lines, inventory systems and supply chain networks into an end-to-end integrated automated environment for seamless material flows.

  • Retail networks that connect customer-facing ecommerce apps with warehouse robotics, delivery fleets, and behind-the-scenes business process automation.

  • Unified smart home hubs that integrate entertainment, environment, lighting, security and other systems from different vendors into a centralized control platform.

  • Cross-device interoperability and synchronization across smartphones, laptops, tablets, and IoT ecosystems tied to individual user accounts.

According to Juniper Research, over 55 billion devices will be connected on the Internet of Things (IoT) network by 2025, allowing unprecedented integration possibilities through connected automation.

Benefits of integrated automation include:

  • Real-time coordination, control and optimization across departments, facilities and geographies.

  • Comprehensive data aggregation and visualization for smarter decision making.

  • Increased reliability through redundancy across interconnected automation systems.

  • Convenience of centralized control platforms and interfaces.

  • Emergence of synergistic capabilities from integrating across domains.

  • Flexible access and management across multiple devices and locations.

However, increased integration also brings certain risks that must be managed:

  • Greater system complexity requiring robust network security protections.

  • Rigorous access controls and compartmentalization to limit damage from breaches.

  • Proactive contingency planning for handling component failures and disasters.

  • Precise safeguards essential for operational safety compliance.

  • Responsible protocols for user privacy and ethical data collection.

When planned and developed judiciously with the appropriate safeguards, integrated automation systems can help individuals, businesses and society realizetransformational gains in productivity, efficiency, convenience and quality of life.

The Future of Automation

Based on current technology trajectories, automation will become even more capable, ubiquitous, and integrated in the coming decades.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, 60% of occupations worldwide have at least 30% of constituent activities that could be automated using existing technologies. But most occupations will be augmented through automation rather than replaced outright.

For example, mortgage loan officers could see activities like information retrieval and application processing get automated, but human skills like sales, customer advising and exceptions handling become even more crucial.

This underscores that rather than mass unemployment, automation increases prosperity through higher productivity and improved quality of goods and services. It eliminates tedious and dangerous work while creating new opportunities for more meaningful human contributions.

As automation becomes more intelligent and robots gain senses like vision, sound and touch, their capabilities will approach human levels for an expanding range of physical and cognitive tasks.

Developing fundamental human skills like critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication and emotional intelligence will become even more important for professional success and personal fulfillment.

Individuals, businesses and societies who embrace lifelong, adaptive learning will thrive through the automation age. With human values steering technological progress, automation promises to liberate more time for leisure, relationships and self-actualization.

Conclusion

In this guide, we explored the four primary categories of automation along with real-world examples:

Industrial automation optimizes manufacturing, distribution, and energy processes through technologies like fixed program robots, PLCs, and CNC machines.

Business process automation uses software bots and AI to streamline enterprise workflows like accounting, HR, sales and customer service.

Home and personal automation tech utilizing IoT and voice assistants simplify daily household tasks and personal activities.

Integrated cross-domain automation unifies systems for greater efficiency, insights and control.

Automation holds tremendous potential to augment human productivity and quality of life across these domains. But thoughtful adoption is crucial for maximizing benefits while minimizing risks.

Understanding the spectrum of automation technologies equips individuals and businesses to make smart choices in leveraging these tools for competitive advantage and personal well-being.

I hope this guide provides a comprehensive overview of the current state of automation and inspires you to explore its possibilities further. Please reach out with any questions!