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Editorials

Industrial Automation vs. Information Technology

by Alex Hung, Vice President, Sales APAC
IntervalZero

Like most of business today, industrial automation highly depends on information technology. Some of the main information technology areas used in the industrial automation context include communication and networking, control and signal processing, real-time computing, database, design, simulation, analysis, and optimization. However, industrial automation and industrial information technology are not the same thing.

Robotics in an automotive assembly plant

Industrial automation entails the use of a wide range of hardware technologies relating to actuation and drives, sensing and instrumentation, electronics designed for signal conditioning, embedded and stand-alone computing systems, and communication and display. The use of information technology in industrial automation increases significantly as the industrial automation systems encompass larger operation areas, as they become more sophisticated in regards to the algorithms and knowledge they utilize, and as the systems seek to integrate manufacturing aspects with business areas like customer care, finance, sales, and supply chain. Low-level automation systems that deal with a group of machinery or individuals, on the other hand, utilize more electronics, embedded computing, and hardware as opposed to information technology.

Industrial information technology

Industrial information systems are reactive; they are designed to receive stimuli from their world of discourse and to give responses that stimulate their environment. Hence, the interface is an important industrial information system component. Additionally, most industrial information systems must be real-time. This means that their computation is error-free and they produce required results on time. In such a scenario, an accurate but delayed result is less preferred than an inaccurate result produced on time. It is therefore critical that industrial automation systems are designed to meet strict computing time deadlines.

Due to these use cases, most industrial information systems are classified as mission-critical systems. This means that a slight malfunction can result in catastrophic consequences like loss of property or life. As a result, they are designed with care and are backed up by elaborate mechanisms that ensure that any unprecedented circumstances are handled immediately. They feature built-in emergency fault tolerance to software and hardware faults.

The role of automation

The main objective of any industry is to produce quality products at low cost and high profit. Industrial automation achieves these business objectives in a variety of ways. Automated machines require less time to produce quality products. In CNC machining centers, automated tool changers reduce set-up time significantly and boost volume of production. Automation reduces production costs by using raw materials, energy, and manpower more efficiently.

Although industrial automation and industrial information technology differ, they are intertwined. Industrial automation requires IT to operate efficiently and handle large operation areas.

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