What Is Automation and How Is it Used?

What Is Automation and How Is it Used

Automation is a word that you may have heard used in many different contexts. Automation is a simple concept but can come in various different forms and be used in various different ways. 

What Is the Definition of Automation?

The term “automation” is defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as the technique of making an apparatus, a process, or a system operate automatically. In practice, automation refers to the concept of processes that happen automatically without human action or intervention.

Examples of automation include when a pre-recorded message is played instructing a caller to leave a voicemail when the recipient is unavailable, and times when irrigation setups hydrate plants at set time intervals. 

Automated processes are almost always designed by human action initially. For example, a computer code that is used to carry out various processes has to be created and developed by a human before it can be left to carry out processes itself. 

What Is the History of Automation?

The earliest automation processes can be traced back to Ancient Egypt, when a primitive “water clock” was invented. In the 1300s, this was made obsolete by the invention of the mechanical clock. Clocks are considered a form of automation, as human action is not required to keep them operating once the initial action has been instigated.

The 1600s saw temperature regulators used, and the 1700s saw the invention of the first automated cotton loom. A leap was made by English inventor Richard Arkwright in 1771, with the automated spinning mill.

The use of automation in factories was met with hostility—in the early 1800s a group of English textiles workers known as the Luddites destroyed automated spinning machines out of fear that these inventions would lead to their jobs becoming obsolete.

Automation became ubiquitous at the beginning of the 20th Century, with widespread electrification, and was advanced further in the First and Second World Wars by the development of modern electrical engineering and mass communication.

The earliest iterations of PLCs, or programmable logic controllers, were developed in the late 1950s, and form the basis of modern computing. In the decades since, computers have become much more powerful and ubiquitous, such as in the smartphones that most of us carry in our pockets daily.

What Is Automation Used for Today? 

Automation is used for a huge number of different processes and tasks in almost every aspect of daily life. As mentioned, clocks and other timekeeping devices are a form of automation, and computers are of course used for countless tasks and operations. 

The use of automation in industry and manufacturing, which dates back to the Industrial Revolution, continues to this day, and many tasks that would once have been carried out manually by workers are now carried out via automation. For example, products of factories are usually placed into packaging via automated packaging machines rather than by hand. 

The aerospace industry uses automation extensively, such as for the steering and stabilization of aircraft and ships. Self-driving cars have also become increasingly advanced and are predicted to become a common sight on roads around the world in the next few years.

How Can Automation Benefit Business?

Automated machines and processes can dramatically increase productivity in manufacturing and other industries. Actions carried out by automated machinery are usually not only faster than those carried out by humans, especially when it comes to repetitive tasks, but are also more precise. 

The benefit that automation has for businesses is significant. Before automation, running a manufacturing business would entail hiring many workers that would make up a production line that was slower and less precise (although there are still advantages of this approach when it comes to handcrafted, artisan products that can fetch a higher price than individual products that have been mass-produced). On top of this, the cost of hiring workers and paying their wages would be deducted from the profit of the business.

These days, an automated production line can be set up with far fewer workers needed and most of the work carried out by automated machines such as conveyor belts (although these machines incur an initial cost, conveyors can be found for relatively low prices these days on online sites like Fluent Conveyors). Automation has revolutionized the world of business.

What Is the Future of Automation?

It seems most likely that the centuries-long trend of automation’s role in society gradually increasing will continue. There is plenty of criticism and doubt as to whether automation is beneficial or harmful for society—many people see automated processes as necessary to reduce human interaction and increase productivity, and others share the concerns of the Luddites that automation threatens the jobs and livelihoods of workers. 

These concerns are not to be dismissed, but automation is unlikely to disappear any time soon. If advances in automation technology can be used to benefit humanity, it could be a revolutionary force that shapes society and transforms the lives of billions for the better.

Editorial Team
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