Industrial Automation for the Supply Chain Industry

Written by Tan Chee Wee Desmond, DPSM

Today’s highly increasing competitiveness over the process industry demands high quality and most consistent products with a competitive price. To address this challenge, many industries considered creating various new product designs and integrated manufacturing techniques in conjuncture with the use of automated machines and devices. One remarkable and influential move to tackle the challenge is industrial automation. Industrial automation increases product quality, reliability, production rate and safety of workers while reducing production and design cost by adopting new, innovative and integrated technologies and services.

Introduction of Industrial Automation

Industrial automation is the use of technology by using a controlled system and device such as a robot or computer software. It enables the use of automatic operations without the need or minimal human intervention.

In the early days, the purpose of automation was to increase productivity and to reduce the cost associated with human operators. However, today, the focus of automation has shifted to increasing quality and flexibility in the manufacturing process.

Benefits of Industrial Automation

The incorporation of industrial automation can provide many benefits to the production process. Some of the benefits include:

Increases Productivity – The automation of the manufacturing process plant improves the rate of production, enabling the production of goods in large quantities reducing the assembly time of each product with good quality. It provides higher output than manual human labors.

Raises Safety Levels – There are increased safety levels with the application of industrial automation. It reduces the risks present in dangerous places of work. Robots are employed to handle hazardous working conditions.

Increases Flexibility – Introduction of new products requires training for a human operator. However, with automatic machines or robots, little input is needed. They only need to be programmed to do the new task.

High Information Accuracy – Automation systems improve data collection. Data collected is very accurate, and a reduced cost of collection. They eliminate human errors that occur whenever doing some production calculations.

Improves Quality and Reliability – Industrial automation alleviates human errors. Unlike humans, machines do not get tired. Once they are programmed, they perform tasks with the same uniform quality in all stages at all times.

Optimum Operation Cost – Integration of different processes with automated machines reduces effort and cycle times which eradicate the need for human labour. Automation also reduces investment on employees.

Reduces Routine Checks – Automation reduces the need for manual checking of various process parameters. Industrial processes automatically adjust process variables to set or desired values using closed-loop control techniques.

Tools for Automation Industry

Automation industry tools are important aspects that make up industrial automation. These tools help to create digital and mechanical alternatives to solve problems in the manufacturing process and also improve quality control, product development, save money and time, bringing effectiveness and efficiency of productions.

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Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) is an application that gets operating data about a system to control, optimize a system and get manufacturing processes to operate faster. It can be incorporated in a petrochemical distillation process or water filtration system.

Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) is a tool to control devices and can easily switch from one process to the other. It can be programmed and controlled. A tool designed for multiple inputs and output arrangements and can withstand extreme temperatures with resistance to vibration and impact.

Human Machine Interface (HMI) is an application that includes the electronics that are required to signal and control industrial automation equipment. The interface products can range from a basic LED status indicator to a 2-inch TFT panel with a touch-screen interface.

Artificial Neural Network (ANN) is a tool responsible for processing information coming from biological networks. Its structures can be changed based on both external and internal data fed into the learning phase of the system. It can be applied to financial applications and data mining.

Distributed Control System (DCS) is a tool that contains one or more controller elements distributed in the system to monitor networks. Applications include electrical power grids and generation plants; traffic signals, water management systems; environmental control systems; oil refining and chemical plants; pharmaceutical manufacturing; and sensor networks.

Robotics helps people to complete complex tasks, making our lives easier and improve its quality. They are used to perform various application tasks such as allocating, painting, welding, and repairing.

Industrial Automation Systems

• Fixed Automation (Hard) – An automation system employed for repetitive and fixed operations for high levels of production. It uses special dedicated equipment to automate the sequence. However, changing the product design becomes hard thus unable to provide variation in products. It can be found in conveyors, distilled processes, and paint shops.

• Programmable Automation – An automation system used within a class of products during operation. An input of modification of the program is used to change the automation equipment. It is best suitable in batch production processes of medium to high volume but hard to change and reconfigure the system for a new product or sequence of operations. It can be found in paper mills, steel rolling mills, and industrial robots.

• Flexible Automation(Soft) – This automation system provides flexibility in making changes in the product design that needs only input of commands by a human operator allowing manufacturers to produce a range of products in a combined process rather than separate. It is found in automatic guided vehicles, automobiles and CNC machines.

Automation Technologies

There are different types of automation technologies that provide benefits to companies including decreased part-cycle times, higher quality products, and increased worker safety.

• Numerically Controlled Machines (NC) utilizes computers to store, calculate, and execute operations which are usually performed manually. An example of a NC machine is the computerized numerical controlled (CNC) mill. Instead of cutting by hand, a CNC mill uses computers to analyze, cut, and mill steel plates with high precision.

• Industrial Robots provide higher quality parts, reduced cycle times, and increased savings. They can work continuously round the clock to keep up with industry demands. Environments that are dangerous for human workers are suitable for industrial robots. They can perform applications including welding, material handling, assembly, palletizing, and painting.

• Flexible Manufacturing Systems (FMS) combines NC machines, industrial robots, and other types of industrial automation into one automation system. It produces similar products and parts but maintains the flexibility to change parts or processes.

• Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) involves using computers in the production, planning, control of FMS and the entire manufacturing process. An example of CAM is computer-aided design (CAD). It makes use of computer programs to digitally plan products, parts, layouts, industrial robots and also automated scheduling and manufacturing flow analysis.


Industrial Automation has become a long term strategic function and a necessity for about any organizations in contrast to the past where intensive manual labor is required especially for businesses in the process industry because of its huge benefits, such as increased productivity, quality, reliability and safety at low costs. Industrial Automation has evolved over the years and will still continue to develop further with more advanced technologies.

What is Industrial Automation?


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About the Author: Desmond Tan Chee Wee has substantive years of experiences in the procurement of materials, equipment, as well as managing ISO9001 Quality Management System and Risk Management in the process industry, specifically from the Oil and Gas sector. He is a member of the Singapore Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management (SIPMM). He completed the Diploma in Procurement and Supply Management (DPSM)on June 2019 at SIPMM Institute.