Enhancing efficiency and precision: what is industrial automation?  

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In this article, we explore what is industrial automation, the benefits it delivers and how a range of industry sectors use industrial automation to drive plant efficiency.

10 min read

TL:DR (Too Long, Didn't Read) A quick summary for skimmers

Industrial automation revolutionises various industries by minimising human intervention and optimising operations through technology and control systems.   

Key components include control systems, sensors, PLCs, HMIs, SCADA, cybersecurity, and OT networks.   

Types of automation range from fixed to flexible, including CIM and SCADA systems.   

Industrial automation is loaded with benefits, including efficiency, precision, reduced downtime, optimised resource usage, safety, scalability, and data-driven decisions.   

Examples in mining, water treatment, energy, and oil illustrate its diverse applications. Industrial automation epitomises progress, fostering smarter, safer, and sustainable operations across industries, shaping the present and future of the technology-driven sector.  

In the ever-evolving landscape of modern industry, incorporating advanced technologies has revolutionised how processes are carried out. One of the cornerstones of this transformation is industrial automation, a field that has fundamentally changed how we design, operate, and manage various industrial processes.   

Industrial automation is pivotal in enhancing efficiency, precision, and overall productivity from manufacturing to logistics. In this article, we will delve into what industrial automation is and explore why it holds such paramount importance in today’s industrial world.  

Understanding what is industrial automation

Industrial automation uses technology and control systems to automate industries’ tasks, processes, and operations. The primary goal of industrial automation is to reduce human intervention, minimise errors, improve product quality, increase production rates, and streamline overall processes. We can create a seamless and efficient workflow by integrating various technologies such as sensors, actuators, controllers, and software systems.  

How does industrial automation work?

At its core, industrial automation involves the use of technology and control systems to manage and operate machinery and processes with minimal human intervention. It’s about automating repetitive and often complex tasks, reducing the margin for error, and optimising resource utilisation. Here’s a simplified breakdown of how industrial automation works:  

1. Control systems

At the heart of industrial automation is the Distributed Control System, or DCS, which manages and regulates the processes within a system. These systems can range from simple on-off control to complex feedback-based control loops, ensuring that parameters such as temperature, pressure, speed, and other variables are maintained within desired ranges.  

2. Sensors and actuators

Sensors are the sensory organs of automation, gathering data from the environment. Actuators, on the other hand, execute the desired actions based on the information received from sensors. This real-time feedback loop enables precise control and adjustment of processes.  

3. Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs)

PLCs are industrial computers designed to control manufacturing processes and machinery. They execute a set of instructions to control various components of a system, enabling seamless coordination and synchronisation 

4. Human-Machine Interface (HMI)

The HMI serves as the bridge between human operators and the automated system. It provides a user-friendly interface through which operators can monitor processes, set parameters, and receive alerts or notifications.  

5. Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA)

SCADA systems allow for centralised monitoring and control of multiple processes or systems across various locations. They collect, analyse, and visualise data, enabling decision-makers to optimise operations and make informed choices.  

6. Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity in industrial automation safeguards interconnected systems from digital threats. It ensures data integrity and operational continuity and protects against unauthorised access, enabling critical processes’ secure and reliable functioning in mining and mineral processing industries.  

7. OT networks

Operational Technology (OT) networks are the backbone of industrial automation, managing machinery, processes, and data. They enable real-time monitoring, control, and optimisation of complex operations, enhancing efficiency and safety while facilitating seamless communication between devices for streamlined production and management.  

Types of industrial automation

Industrial automation can take various forms, each tailored to specific applications and industries. Here are some common types:  

Fixed Automation

This type is used for high-volume production of identical products. It’s characterised by dedicated machines and equipment that perform a set sequence of tasks, often in a continuous flow. Fixed automation is efficient but less flexible.  

Programmable Automation  

It offers more flexibility than fixed automation and is suitable for batch production of different products. The control system can be reprogrammed to adapt to new tasks, making it versatile.  

Flexible Automation  

Involves computer-controlled machines and robots capable of handling various tasks with minimal manual intervention. It’s highly adaptable to changing production needs.  

CIM (Computer Integrated Manufacturing)

CIM represents a high level of integration, where computers control the entire production process, from design and planning to manufacturing and quality control. It aims for seamless coordination and optimisation across all production stages. 

SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition)  

SCADA systems monitor and control industrial processes, often across large geographical areas. They are commonly used in industries such as energy, utilities, and manufacturing, and this is where Mipac’s expertise lies.  

What is industrial automation

The benefits of industrial automation

In a complex operational facility, the importance of automation becomes even more pronounced due to the intricate interplay of numerous processes, components, and variables. Such facilities, like those involved in the processing of minerals, often involve multifaceted operations, high-stakes tasks, and a demanding need for precision. Automation addresses these challenges with a range of benefits that are crucial for seamless, efficient, and reliable operations:   

Enhanced Efficiency 

Automation eliminates manual intervention in repetitive and time-consuming tasks, increasing operational efficiency. Complex processes that require precise coordination and rapid execution can be completed more accurately and at higher speeds than human counterparts.  

Improved Precision and Consistency

Automation ensures that processes are executed consistently, reducing the likelihood of errors caused by human factors such as fatigue or oversight. This leads to higher product quality and reduced wastage  

Reduced Downtime 

Predictive maintenance, made possible by automation, allows machinery and equipment to be monitored for signs of wear and tear. This proactive approach to maintenance prevents unexpected breakdowns, reducing unplanned downtime and production losses.    

Optimised Resource Utilisation

By constantly monitoring and adjusting processes, automation systems can optimise the consumption of resources such as energy, raw materials, and water. This not only reduces costs but also contributes to sustainable practices.  

Enhanced Safety

Automation can be utilised in hazardous environments where human presence poses risks. Robots and automated systems can perform tasks in conditions that are unsafe for humans, ensuring worker safety and preventing accidents.  

Scalability and Flexibility  

As industries evolve, automation systems can be easily scaled to accommodate changing demands. New processes or equipment can be integrated into existing systems with relative ease, allowing for adaptability to market shifts.  

Data-Driven Decision Making

Automation generates vast amounts of data that can be analysed to gain insights into process performance and trends. This data-driven approach empowers decision-makers to make informed choices, optimise operations, and strategise for the future. 

Some examples of industrial automation

Here are just a few examples of industrial automation in different sectors:  

 

Mining 

  • Automated Material Handling: Large-scale mining operations involve moving massive amounts of materials. Automation systems can control conveyor belts, loaders, and trucks, optimising the movement of ores and minerals within the mine while minimising human intervention and improving efficiency.  
  • Remote Monitoring and Control: Underground mining can be dangerous, and automation plays a crucial role in remote monitoring of equipment and conditions. Autonomous drilling and blasting systems can be controlled remotely, reducing the risk to human operators.

 

Water

  • Water Treatment Plants: Automation is essential in water treatment plants where chemical dosing, filtration, and disinfection must be precisely controlled. Automation systems ensure consistent water quality, reduce waste, and enhance the overall efficiency of the treatment process.  
  • Smart Irrigation Systems: Automated irrigation systems use sensors to monitor soil moisture levels and weather conditions in agriculture. This data optimises irrigation schedules, conserving water resources and ensuring crops receive the appropriate amount of water.  

 

Energy

  • Power Generation and Distribution: In power plants, automation controls various processes, from fuel handling and combustion control to turbine operation and electricity distribution. Automation systems help maintain stable power generation, improve efficiency, and respond to real-time grid demands.  
  • Renewable Energy Facilities: Solar and wind farms utilise automation to adjust the orientation of solar panels and wind turbine blades for optimal energy capture based on real-time sun and wind conditions. These systems maximise energy output while minimising wear and tear.  

 

Oil  

  • Drilling and Exploration: Automated drilling systems can optimise the drilling process by adjusting parameters in real-time, reducing drilling time and improving accuracy. Automated exploration technologies assist in locating potential oil reservoirs more efficiently.  
  • Refineries: Oil refineries utilise automation to monitor and control complex processes such as distillation, cracking, and blending. Automation systems optimise efficiency, product quality, and safety by maintaining precise control over various refining operations.  

Transform your process value chain with the latest in industrial automation

Industrial automation is a testament to human ingenuity and innovation, transforming industries across the globe. From mining and mineral processing to energy production, logistics to water management, the integration of automation technologies has become a hallmark of progress.   

By leveraging control systems, sensors, actuators, and intelligent software, industrial automation enhances efficiency and precision and propels industries into the realm of smarter, safer, and more sustainable operations.   

As we continue to explore the boundaries of technological advancement, the importance of industrial automation remains steadfast in shaping the present and future of industry.  

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Unlock your next industrial automation project

To talk to a control system expert about what automation is and how it drives the efficiency of your operation, contact us today. 

We’ll be able to share our experience from more than 25 years of delivering automation and control systems to complex plant operations.  

Here are some of the questions we get asked about industrial automation

What are the challenges associated with implementing industrial automation?

Implementing industrial automation can pose challenges such as high initial costs, the need for skilled personnel, system integration complexities, and potential resistance to change among existing staff. However, these challenges can be overcome with proper planning and expertise. Talk to the Mipac team about how we help overcome these challenges at your plant.

Can existing systems be retrofitted with industrial automation technology?

Yes, existing systems can often be retrofitted with automation technology. The feasibility of retrofitting depends on the specific systems, their compatibility with automation components, and the desired improvements. A Mipac automation specialist can assess the retrofitting potential.

What is the typical ROI for industrial automation projects?

The return on investment (ROI) for industrial automation projects varies based on factors such as project scale, industry, and goals. However, many organisations experience significant cost savings, increased productivity, and improved product quality, resulting in a favorable ROI over time.

How can I get started with an industrial automation project for my operation?

To begin an industrial automation project, start by defining your objectives and conducting a feasibility study. Next, consult with automation experts or engineering firms Like Mipac who areexperienced in your industry. We can assist in designing and implementing a tailored automation solution to meet your needs.

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