What is Automated Manufacturing?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Automated manufacturing is a manufacturing method that relies on the use of computerized control systems to run equipment in a facility where products are produced. Human operators are not needed on the assembly line or manufacturing floor because the system is able to handle both the mechanical work and the scheduling of manufacturing tasks. The development of fully automated manufacturing systems dates to the later half of the 20th century, and this manufacturing technique is used in facilities of varying scale all over the world.

Robots working on an automobile assembly line.
Robots working on an automobile assembly line.

Historically, manufacturing was done entirely by hand. This required large amounts of labor, driving up the cost of the final product, and also exposed workers to considerable danger. During the Industrial Revolution, mechanized manufacturing was introduced. In mechanized manufacturing, workers operate equipment that does the labor, instead of laboring directly. This reduced costs, improved consistency, and contributed to developments in workplace safety. Automated manufacturing was the next step in the process of refining and modernizing manufacturing methods.

Some factories do not require human participation in assembly other than to perform maintenance tasks.
Some factories do not require human participation in assembly other than to perform maintenance tasks.

In a fully automated facility, there are no humans on the floor. Automatic equipment does the work, as ordered by control systems. These systems utilize complex software that can schedule manufacturing tasks and run diagnostics on equipment that appears to be malfunctioning. Cameras connected to sophisticated software can be used to monitor product quality, the speed of the assembly line, and so forth. Humans are involved primarily in maintenance of the equipment and programming of the control systems.

Automated packaging systems may be used in dairy processing plants to bottle milk.
Automated packaging systems may be used in dairy processing plants to bottle milk.

Automated equipment can fabricate, assemble, and package products. Some systems even package products for shipment complete with invoices and mailing labels, sending the products directly off the line and into trucks for shipment. The degree of automation depends on the product and the budget of the company, as automated manufacturing is expensive to implement even though it saves costs in the long term. Consulting firms can assist companies with ordering, installing, and customizing automated systems for manufacturing applications.

Automated manufacturing drastically reduces the cost of producing many products.
Automated manufacturing drastically reduces the cost of producing many products.

From a safety perspective, automated manufacturing is a significant improvement. If people are only on the assembly line when it is shut down to work on equipment, the risks of workplace injury decrease dramatically. Managing automated systems also requires more training and skill and translates into higher pay for workers involved in the maintenance and management of the system. Automated manufacturing also eliminates jobs, however. This has been criticized in areas where employment rates are low and people would prefer potentially dangerous manufacturing jobs to unemployment.

Automated manufacturing eliminates assembly line jobs, which can lead to an economic crisis in areas where unemployment is high.
Automated manufacturing eliminates assembly line jobs, which can lead to an economic crisis in areas where unemployment is high.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

Bertie68

@BoniJ - There are still a lot of manufacturing companies that can't afford automated machines for production of goods. So in a good economy, there still should be quite a few manufacturing jobs for the unskilled or semiskilled workers.

But the technology is available for automated manufacturing, so in time, more and more companies will begin using automation.

The only long-term solution to this problem, that I can see, is to provide a way for more people to become trained in computers and other technology.

BoniJ

Boy! - Methods of manufacturing have come a long way. From the start of manufacturing that involved only humans doing the work, to different degrees of machines and humans doing the work. And now we have some completely automated machines that do all the manufacturing. These machines are monitored and maintained by software and computer specialists. It's hard to believe.

On the other hand, it's sad because unskilled workers by the tens of thousands need manufacturing jobs. What can be done? It's cheaper for companies to use automated equipment and it's a safer work environment for workers.

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