Automation All The Way

Automation likely plays more of a part in your life than you think. Many products you use every day were produced by automated processes and automated processes make it possible for you to get on the Internet, check your email and do everything else that people do online. Automation is one part of the industrial revolution that has had a significant impact on just about everything you know about the modern world.

What Is Automation and How Does It Impact Our Daily Life?

One of the hallmarks of the Industrial Revolution was the mechanization of tasks. Mechanization essentially means taking a task that formerly required a human being to exert force and effort and converting that task to one that can be done by machinery. Following mechanization came automation. Automation describes a process wherein the human operator is removed entirely from whatever task needs to be completed.

An easy example of this can be found in bottles. During the Victorian era, it was not uncommon for people to have jobs in factories putting stoppers on bottles. Over the years, this became an automated process, which removed the variability inherent in having human beings complete a process and greatly sped up the process, as well.

What Would Life Be Without Automation?

Consider for a moment the many different things that are made possible by automation. Among the things that are made possible by automation is the affordability of many consumer goods.

Computers, for instance, contain a great many complicated parts, all of which have to be assembled together into one cohesive unit. This is done by automated processes, for the most part. If it required human labour to put together every single connection on a computer, the cost of computers would be exponentially higher than it is, putting them well out of the range of most consumers in terms of the price.

Automation also makes many more common things possible. For instance, if it weren’t for automation, a traffic officer would have to be stationed at every single busy intersection to provide hand signals letting drivers know when they needed to stop and when they could go. Today, of course, this is handled by traffic signals, which automatically change from green to yellow to red and back on and automated cycle. No human intervention is required, no traffic officers have to stand out in the middle of the road on rainy days and traffic moves efficiently and reliably.

Without automation, many of the conveniences of the modern world that most of us like we take for granted would quite simply not exist.

Automation depends on many different electronic components and mechanical components that take the place of human operators.

What Type of Automation and Control Gears Exist?

There are so many different types of automation devices in the world that it would be impossible to list them all within one article. Here are some of the most common, however, so you can get an idea of what types of technologies play a part in making automation possible.

Circuit Protection

Circuit protection makes it possible for everybody to have safe electrical appliances in their homes and to have safe house wiring that enables those devices to be powered. Circuit protection is achieved through a variety of automated devices. Integrated circuits, for instance, do a lot of the heavy lifting that keeps motherboards safe from overloads and other hazards.

Circuit Breakers

Circuit breakers are possibly responsible for saving more lives than just about any other electronic device out there. These are simple devices, consisting of a switch that is triggered when too much current, voltage or another variable is flowing across an electrical line. In such situations, it would be possible for the electrical line to overheat, possibly leading to fires or causing other damage. Circuit breakers will automatically trip under these conditions, breaking the circuit and eliminating the hazard. One of the primary conveniences of circuit breakers is that they are very inexpensive and can be reused repeatedly, unlike the screw-base fuses that they largely replaced.

Contactors

A contactor is a heavy-duty relay circuit. These are utilized in many different applications, including governing circuits for electric motors, high-capacity lighting systems and more. In essence, they are a controlled switch made up of three different components. The contacts in the device carry the current through the circuit and an electromagnet allows the contacts to be opened or closed. These devices allow the functions of the appliances to which they are connected to be controlled without a human having to intervene under certain conditions, such as a change in current or voltage.

Control Relays

A control relay provides the ability to switch electrical circuits without having to perform that switch manually. They are used in everything from telecom to logic functions. The functions of a relay make it particularly suitable for some very vital tasks. For instance, if a device is hooked up to a main power supply and a backup power supply, a control really can be set up so that, in the event that the power on the main supply diminishes, it will automatically flip over to the backup supply. This can protect appliances and ensure smooth functioning in industry and even within the uninterrupted power supplies that are commonly used to insulate computers from damage caused by power outage situations.

Control Station Switches

Control station switches can be automated so that, under hazardous conditions, power to equipment or other electric devices can be interrupted. They can also be used to automatically engage or disengage communication lines under certain circumstances.

Electric Motors

Electric motors essentially take electrical energy and convert that into mechanical energy. They come in AC and DC varieties and are integral parts of many of the automated tasks that make modern life what it is.

Electric motors can be utilized with various control devices that can turn them on or off under various circumstances. For instance, an electric motor powers the fan on your furnace. When the thermostat sends a signal that the temperature has dropped below the threshold that you set, automated processes take place that engage the fan and cause it to blow heat through the vents.

Motor Controllers

Motor controllers describe any device that sends power to or removes power from a motor. They can be relays, controllers or any other type of an electrical component that controls the state of a motor without requiring human intervention. Motor controllers can be very sophisticated, as well, causing a motor to reverse direction when needed, to increase its output when needed or to decrease that output under certain circumstances and more. Motor controllers oftentimes function to protect the motors themselves from damage from being too heavily taxed.

Fluid Control Systems

Fluid control systems make it possible for very sophisticated systems of pipes and other vehicles of delivery to all function together to deliver water, fuel or anything else that is found in liquid form. These systems can be automated, working off of the pressure, flow rate and other variables involved to determine which systems need to be engaged, which need to be disengaged, when a motor needs to be reversed and so forth. Fluid control systems are found in everything from the engine in your car to municipal water utilities.

Industrial Switches

Industrial switches are switches specifically designed for the rugged applications involved in manufacturing and other processes. The switches are oftentimes insulated against particular hazards presented by the environment in which they are installed. For instance, industrial switches installed in refineries need to be insulated against the damage that can be caused by corrosive chemicals in the air.

Industrial switches make a great deal of automation possible. They can function automatically – such as in the case of relays or controllers – or they can function manually. When the switches function manually, they still generally cause a series of automated actions to take place at the behest of the person changing the state of the switch.

Machine Guarding & Safety

Automated processes are vital in many machine guarding and safety applications. In machine guarding, when machinery reaches a certain state, guards can automatically be deployed to ensure that people are kept safe from them. For instance, in a system where air is removed from a chamber to produce a vacuum, automated processes may automatically engage seals on the door so that the chamber cannot be opened accidentally.

In some cases, industrial safety can be improved by adding automated equipment to machinery. For instance, machinery equipped with detectors that would detect the presence of a human being inside a confined space or in another hazardous area may cut power to that machine to prevent accidental engagement and harm coming to the person at risk.

Panel Meters

Panel meters can take constant readings on the physical state of a circuit, a machine or just about anything else and provide that information to the user. This eliminates the need for the user to manually go through the process of measuring whatever system they are trying to keep tabs on. Panel meters have been used for a very long period of time, starting with analog meters and gradually progressing to the digital meters seen throughout industry today.

PLCs

PLC is an acronym for Programmable Logic Controller. These are computers that provide the brains behind automated processes. These computers are generally far more rugged than other computers, designed to handle the rigors of industrial usage. They can be found on everything from lighting systems to the most sophisticated assembly line applications in the world.

HMI & Data Acquisition

HMI and data acquisition take place at the nexus of human beings and machines. The automated processes involved allow human beings to get constant feedback from the machinery that they are supervising and take appropriate action when needed.

Sensors

Sensors are any type of device that detect the physical state of a machine or circuit. Most automation devices are outfitted with some type of a sensor, whether it is a simple voltage sensor or a sophisticated motion detector, such as would be used in an alarm system on a home or business.

Transducers

Transducers have the fantastic ability to take one form of energy and to convert it to another. They are notably used in sensors that detect the state of a machine or a circuit and translate whatever data they are measuring – pressure, voltage, air temperature, etc. – and convert it into an electrical signal that can be measured on a meter.

Solenoids

Solenoids are very simple devices that can take electrical energy and convert that energy into linear motion. They are commonly used on automated valves. They are also used on specific types of relays, which are found on automobiles and other machinery.

Sounders

Sounders enable scientists, people involved in industrial processes and others to determine the physical properties of a medium. They function by sending a signal through that medium and, by measuring the signal that returns, determining specific characteristics about the medium that the signal was sent through. These can be used for many automated processes, such as determining the characteristics of a fluid, ensuring the consistency of manufactured goods and so forth.

Beacons

Beacons are designed to provide signals that are easily visible, audible or otherwise detectable. Automated beacons contribute a great deal to maritime safety, aviation safety and more. Beacons are also used on the highways and byways, such as the flashing lights that are intended to warn motorists of upcoming danger. Automated processes make it possible to have beacons without somebody there to turn the switches on and off as needed.

Temperature Control

Temperature control through automation makes it possible for people to warm and cool their houses without having to turn their heaters and air-conditioners on manually. They provide the same convenience in many other roles.

Process Heating

Some types of heating needs are much more complex than warming up a house or an apartment. In industrial applications, for instance, materials may need to be heated in specific ways to produce a specific product. Automating these processes ensures consistency and frees up labour.

Timers

Timers can be mechanical or work on simple logic circuits. They make it possible to achieve consistent results in industry, science and, on a more accessible level, in cooking and other mundane tasks that require precise measures of time.

Counters

Counters can keep track of how many times an event has occurred with incredible degrees of accuracy. They can be combined with sensors to provide scientific data that increases humanity’s understanding of the world. Counters are used for processes as simple as measuring the number of cars that go down a given road to measuring the rotation rate of pulsars many light years away from the Milky Way. <