Industrial Automation: How It Works, Systems, Benefits, and Challenges


Industrial automation (IA) refers to the use of computerised systems or elements, such as computers, programmable logic controllers, robots and information technologies, to manage different production processes and machinery in industry, eliminating as much labour intervention as possible and replacing dangerous assembly operations. This process seeks to improve the productivity and competitiveness of companies by reducing costs, increasing product quality and minimising human intervention in repetitive and routine tasks.

Control systems used in industrial automation

In IA, various control systems are used to monitor and regulate processes and machinery in industrial environments. Some of the commonly used control systems are:

  • Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs): These electronic devices are widely used to automate specific industrial processes, such as the control of motors, valves, sensors and assembly lines in the manufacturing sector. PLCs monitor the status of input devices, generate commands based on customised software and monitor output devices
  • Distributed Control Systems (DCS): Designed to control continuous and complex processes, such as those in chemical plants and refineries. These systems consist of multiple workstations and controllers distributed throughout the plant, offering a high level of redundancy and adaptability in control.
  • Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems: These allow operators to monitor and control industrial processes remotely, collecting data from sensors and field devices for analysis. These systems allow alarms to be set and corrective action to be taken.

How SCADA control systems work in industrial automation

Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) control systems in IA function as essential tools for monitoring, controlling and acquiring data in industrial processes. These systems allow operators to interact with processes in different industries without exposing themselves to risks in the workplace, as they facilitate remote control and decision-making from a cockpit.

In technical and functional terms, SCADA systems graphically illustrate production processes on screens, create real-time alarms and warnings, and allow confident and complete management of the process to be controlled. This means that operators can monitor and control industrial processes from a remote location, which is critical to improving efficiency, productivity and safety in the industrial environment.

SCADA control systems in artificial intelligence function as key interfaces that enable operators to monitor, control and make decisions about industrial processes remotely. This has a considerable impact on improving production and maintaining quality and safety levels in contemporary industry.

How programmable logic controllers (PLCs) work in industrial automation

PLCs are devices used in IA to control processes. They function as rugged, programmable computers that automate tasks in production lines, machines or industrial systems. A PLC consists of key components such as the CPU, memory modules, inputs/outputs, power supply and programming unit. In order to operate, it requires pre-programming adapted to the process to be controlled. PLCs react to input signals, execute programs and generate output signals to control external devices such as motors, valves or lights. These devices offer advantages such as flexibility, ease of reconfiguration and programming, which makes them essential in IA.

How distributed control systems (DCS) work in industrial automation

DCSs are technology platforms used in IA to monitor and control complex processes in a production plant. They operate through a network of distributed controllers that communicate with each other and with other devices in the plant. These systems enable real-time centralised monitoring and control, facilitating decision-making based on accurate and current data. DCSs link a variety of devices to efficiently coordinate all parts of the process, ensuring safety, reliability and flexibility. In addition, they are able to collect, analyse and present data in real time, providing valuable information for operational and managerial decision-making.

Most used technologies

The most commonly used technologies in IA are:

  • Industrial robotics.
  • Internet of Things (IoT).
  • Artificial Intelligence.
  • Cloud computing.
  • Cybersecurity.
  • Low Code platforms

These technologies play a key role in improving efficiency, productivity and security in industrial processes, enabling companies to optimise their operations and adapt to an increasingly automated environment.

Challenges of Industrial Automation

  • High Initial Costs: Implementing automated systems can require significant investment.
  • Staff Training: Workers need to be trained to operate and maintain automated systems.
  • Cybersecurity: Interconnection of devices increases the risk of cyber-attacks.

Benefits of Industrial Automation

  • Improved Efficiency: Automation reduces production times, minimises human error and optimises the use of resources.
  • Increased Productivity: By eliminating repetitive tasks, more production is achieved in less time.
  • Improved Quality: The accuracy and consistency of automated processes ensures high quality end products.
  • Improved Safety: By minimising human exposure to hazardous environments, occupational hazards are reduced.

In conclusion, Industrial Automation is a fundamental pillar in the evolution of modern industry, offering substantial benefits in terms of efficiency, productivity and quality. However, it is crucial to address the associated challenges to ensure a successful and safe implementation.

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