What is the distinction between 'Automation' and 'Robotics'?
'Robots' is only a small sub-set of the technologies covered by the much broader term Automation'. 'Automation' refers to a mode of operation in which any machine or piece of equipment is capable of working without human intervention. Originally, automation was limited in its potential, as automatic machines could only replace physical effort and not mental effort.
Automation is generally regarded as being able to be divided into 2 types:
1. Fixed automation
2. Flexible automation
In fixed automation the task is fixed and the equipment is dedicated to the performance of that task. If the equipment is controlled by mechanisms, it is generally referred to as 'mechanisation'. Some quite sophisticated automatic control can be achieved by mechanisation if a number of linked mechanisms are used. Some authors insist that mechanisation does not allow the use of feedback to control a machine, but a mechanical governor on a steam engine can provide effective closed loop control over the engine speed. Fixed automation can also be achieved by electronic means. Complex logic can be constructed with appropriate components and circuits and the hard-wired nature of the system can make it very fast in operation.
In flexible automation the task is variable and the equipment has to be reconfigurable so that it is capable of performing a range of tasks. The equipment has to be controlled by some 'programmable' device. Technically the 'programmable' device could be anything capable of effecting a change in the equipment behaviour, but in practice nowadays it is invariably a digital computer.
Benefits of flexible automation
Can respond quickly to changes in demand - the equipment can be reprogrammed to perform different functions depending on the current requirements eg: numerically controlled machine tools.
May use 'off the shelf' equipment rather than design and build