What is Industrial Automation?

Industrial Automation is the use of control systems, for example computers or robots, along with information technology to process and operate machine in production. Normally, these jobs are done by humans manually. It is the second step after the mechanization step in the industrial modernization.

In the beginning, the goal of automation is to increase productivity (machines can operate 24/24) and cut down on personnel costs. However, the highlight of automation has gradually shifted to improving quality and adapting to the requirements of the production process. For example, in the automotive industry, according to statistics from the Ford Group, the manual assembly of pistons into engines has an average error of 1 to 1.5%, while the current similar assembly process has an error of 0.00001%.

Today, job automation has been widely used, in many areas of production, especially in industrialized countries in North America, Europe or Japan.

Industrial robots used in a bakery (source: Wikipedia).

In industrial automation systems, people often use the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC). PLCs can be considered as simple computers to support system setups to create control programs based on logical control algorithms and stimulating events from external systems such as sensors or personal information recorded at HMI (Human Machine Interface) and MMI (Machine Machine Interface) stations.

For real-time monitoring and control of complex and scattered automated systems in a centralized location, the SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) model is often applied. A SCADA system recovers information from the field, from sensors or PLCs, then transports them to the center, notifying the station of control of problems, and conducts analysis and actions needed to handle the problem.

Common automation model.

These control technologies are often referred to as OT (Operation Technology) of manufacturing, and are often compared with production technologies including enterprise-level data processing systems such as ERP, PLM or MES.

The main benefits from industrial automation include:

  • Increased productivity: even if companies can recruit sufficient workers to operate the factory in all 3 shifts, the plant will still have to shut down during maintenance and vacations. With Industrial Automation, the factory can run 24/24, 7/7 during 365 days, which will significantly increase productivity in companies.
  • Quality improvement: automation greatly reduces errors related to people. Unlike workers, robots are not known to be tired, which leads to uniformity in production quality at any time.
  • High degree of customization: changing the production process, especially when adding new stages, is often complicated, because this work must be accompanied by worker training and management changes. For robots, the program will ensure the ability to do all assigned tasks. This will increase the level of customization in production.
  • Information collected is highly accurate: automated information collection can assist businesses in obtaining important information from production, increasing data accuracy and cutting costs in data collection. Businesses that adopt this feature can make much breakthroughs, thanks to their ability to make the right decisions at the right time, as well as the ability to reduce waste and optimize the process.
  • Work safety: with harsh production environments, the deployment of automated lines will ensure safety for people.

In addition to the above benefits, industrial automation is often entangled in a major problem which is high initial investment costs. Because in addition to investment in machinery, infrastructure, businesses need to invest more in training workers to be able to use these complex systems. In addition, cutting down on human resources for production is also an issue related to the social security conditions that countries applying industrial automation are currently facing.

Industrial Automation with the Industrial Revolution 4.0

However, with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, especially the strong and widespread development of Industrial Internet of Thing (IIoT), smart connectivity as well as peripheral processing capabilities of control devices are being accelerated rapidly. Automated systems that seem to be infeasible or have a very high initial investment value are becoming real at a moderate cost. Today’s automated systems are not only able to respond to events but also have some ability to predict events before they happen.

This intelligent processing capability is increasingly expanded thanks to the ability to connect and exchange information automatically in real time between devices as well as between IT and OT systems. This goes well with the fact that the boundaries between OT systems and IT days are overshadowed. IIoT sensors with a reduced cost along with high-end IT technologies that are increasing utilities such as Cloud / IoT, Big Data Analytic, AI, VR / AR, BlockChain … are starting to replace existing automated systems and rapidly changing the traditional industrial automation.

Facing this new wave, most of the famous traditional automation companies such as Siemens, GE, Hitachi, Schnieder … are also shifting their business model to Digitalization: Siemens has made strategic announcement by 2020, developing strategies based on IoT technology and Digital Transformation for industry with expected sales growth of 7-9%, the highest in the corporation and above the automation section (1).

Along with great opportunities, a number of new challenges are also becoming a future threat to the automation industry such as cyber security … With the development of IoT and higher ability to connect, the system also becomes more vulnerable to attack. On the contrary, for personal computer systems, the consequences of an industrial control system being attacked are very serious. According to Dell statistics, from 2013 to 2014, the number of attacks on SCADA systems has doubled (2).


With the development of the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0, the industrial automation is nearing a historic turning point. Along with new business opportunities are also new challenges, in which the topic of network and data security is and will be a big issue that needs to be met thoroughly in the future.

(1): https://www.siemens.com/annual/14/en/download/pdf/Siemens_AR2014_Vision2020.pdf

(2): https://www.computerworld.com.au/article/572668/attacks-against-scada-systems-soar/

Tho Khoi – FIS FDI



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