Automation describes a process or a system that reduces the need for human involvement in the product's life cycle. Automation instils the ability for a system to perform repetitive functions, without the need to be concerned with its surroundings.
The need for automation
As an outcome of industrialisation, many original industries consisted of coal mining, flour mills and garment factories. The early industries were heavily reliant on man-power, but as industries developed with time, their reliance on man-power proved to be inefficient, time-consuming and costly.
Subsequently, in the late 1700s automation technology was introduced to increase efficiency within industrial companies by reducing their overall dependence on human labour. A few of the early automation inventions included a hydro powered spinning mill and a flour mill.
Another example of this would be the development of machinery in garment factories. At first, garments were hand woven, but later with the use of machines the process of making garments became automated.
How does the system work
The foundation for automation stems from the 18th century mathematical application of control theory, where algorithms were created to manage dynamic systems in machines or engineered processes. This theory further developed in the 20th century allowing for a rapid rise in automation.
The automation process is dependent on a system's need to adhere to a set of predetermined decision criteria, ability to process relationships with different components of a system, and carry out actions according to its decision pathway.
A control loop system is one of the most simplistic forms of the automation process, where a machine can automatically turn on or off. In a system, the user input would be compared to a set of predetermined variables. The system then follows a 'decision pathway', leading it to either accept or reject this input. If the input is accepted, then the system will respond accordingly
For instance, when turning on an oven, if the user inputs the power and the time required into the machine's interface, the oven will heat up to the preset temperature for the period of time specified.
Another example of this could be in a car, where the engine can be turned on with the press of a button. The user’s input would be to press start, and then the control system within would relay this information to start the car's engine. If a user input is not entered the car's engine will not start.
Automation in industries
Alternatively to early industrial factories, many new industries have since incorporated the use of automation, including the automotive industry, aviation and aerospace, energy and power to name a few. These industries use a combination of hydraulic, pneumatic, mechanical, electrical and electronic devices to reduce the work required to be carried out by humans. Ships, factories and aircraft have seen the use of the aforementioned technologies to achieve automation.
Almost all aspects of an aircraft's functionality relies on automation. However, it still requires some form of human involvement, such as having pilots on board to safely land and monitor the various onboard systems.
Autopilot is a form of an automation system which can be employed once the aircraft has reached the cruise phase (straight and level flight). Although the aircraft is often flying automatically, the operations are still monitored by the pilots. During the take-off and landing, the aircraft’s autopilot system is most often disengaged, meaning pilots will take off and land manually. This reiterates that an automation system helps reduce the level of work required from humans to increase efficiency, yet does not necessarily remove the need for human input including supervision somewhere in/on the loop.
There is a stark difference between automation and autonomy; they are not synonymous. In the case of autonomy, there is no human involvement in these above examples of take-off and landing phases of flight.
Nonetheless, if we are to look back at early industrial times and compare it with the current economic developments, it can be said that automation has proven to be an asset.
As automation is very well established its potential is vast as it will become one of the key tools within the toolset for the future technologies. We will see these processes being used further within Advanced Air Mobility (AAM), including Urban Air Mobility (UAM).
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