Explore key components of industrial automation systems, such as sensors, network communication, controllers, and actuators, along with emerging technologies like soft PLCs and digital twins, highlighting their role in enhancing efficiency and driving innovation in various industries.
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Automation is the application of machines, control systems, and information technologies to optimize productivity in manufacturing processes, minimizing the need for extensive human involvement.
In industrial contexts,1 automation plays a pivotal role in refining plant operations by implementing various control systems, including Programmable Logic Circuit (PLC), Human-machine Interface (HMIs), and robotics.
By incorporating logic and programming, automation provides precise instructions to machines regarding specific functions, significantly enhancing manufacturing performance. Modern industrial automation systems rely on crucial electronic components capable of mirroring human functionalities.
This article discusses these key components of automation electronics systems, such as sensors, network communication, controllers, and actuators, as well as some emerging technologies in the field of industrial automation systems.
Sensors: Essential Components in Industrial Automation
Automation electronic systems, like our senses, utilize equipment such as cameras, pressure gauges, temperature sensors, photoelectric detectors, microphones, accelerometers, and flow meters to gather the information required for job completion or achievement of objectives.
These sensors2 are essential in industrial operations because they turn physical measurements into electrical signals and correctly measure key characteristics such as position, speed, acceleration, humidity, heat flow, pressure, temperature, and so on.
The data collected by these sensors is crucial for monitoring and regulating manufacturing processes, preserving quality, reducing accidents, and providing real-time information to human management.
According to a report published in the journal Sensors International,3 sensors for automation systems have advanced greatly in terms of sophistication, compactness, and dependability in harsh conditions. Further shrinking, electrical noise minimization and sensor cost reduction are all ongoing development areas in automation sensors.3
The Nervous System of Automation Systems: Network Communication
Like how our nervous system relays electrical signals from our senses to the brain, Automation systems utilize a computerized control network to coordinate electronic signals from sensors to the controller and transmit signals from the controller to actuators and other output devices.4
The advancement of networking infrastructure and protocols, such as EtherNet/IP, Modbus, Profibus, CAN bus, MQTT, Zigbee, and TCP/IP, has not only enhanced the speed and accuracy of signals but has also increased the capacity for communication among numerous sensors and output devices.
Doing so facilitates seamless interoperability among controlled machines within the Industrial Automation Ecosystem of a manufacturing facility.4 It is important to note that network communication is not merely a collection of wires; modern networks encompass wired and wireless components.
Controller: The Central Hub in the Industrial Automation System
Much like our brains, which serve as the most intricate electrical signal processor we know of, an automation system's controller integrates sensors' inputs to make informed decisions about issuing signals to actuators and other components of the controllable machine.
The controllers in automation systems have progressed from basic mechanical relays to swift computers with ample digital storage capacity, enabling the execution of intricate algorithms such as machine learning and other forms of artificial intelligence. Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) are the most common controllers in industrial use today.
With over 30 years of industry experience, Factory Controls provides a wide range of PLC controllers obtained from leading automation system manufacturers globally.5 The aim is to provide solutions that empower industrial clients by allowing them full authority over their plant operations.
Actuators: The Muscle of Automation Systems
We use our bones and muscles to lift, move around, swing, and drag heavy objects to create goods for the market. Industrial automation accomplishes this task by combining actuators, valves, engines, and pumps. Compared to artificial intelligence, these are not novel concepts, and much of the technology, such as hydraulics and electrical motors, has existed for a long time.6
Nevertheless, improvements in battery packs and permanent-magnetic brushless electrical motors have rendered them smaller (and thus more energy-dense) and more effective, increasing the adoption of various actuators and opening up new avenues for automation.
According to a market report,6 the industrial automation business generated an astounding $214 billion at the end of 2021. The market is still expanding at an astounding rate, largely thanks to breakthroughs in electric actuators.
Emerging Technologies in the Industrial Automation Systems
Companies use modern technologies to overcome ordinary workflow issues. The industrial automation sector is undergoing continuous transformation due to the development and use of digital technologies.
The market for industrial automation will be valued at approximately $295 billion by 2028. The emergence of data-driven operations in businesses has led to a greater demand for innovative technologies.
Programmable logic controllers have changed throughout time. They give a low-cost and accurate method of process control. Soft PLCs are automation equipment that uses software to control operations. Software solutions enhance the performance, adaptability, and flexibility of PLCs.7 Soft PLCs are one of the potential game-changing industrial technologies. From 2023 to 2028, the PLC market is anticipated to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 4.23%.7
Digital twins are digital replicas of complex physical systems that can use real and digital data to improve and imitate industrial performance.8 Standardization of protocols and data standards could break down data silos, allowing a Digital Twin to substantially enhance real-world machine and line efficiency. According to some forecasters, the digital twin market will expand from 6.9 billion USD in 2022 to 73.5 billion USD by 2027.8
In the upcoming years, automation systems will likely dominate a number of industries. The outstanding expansion of the industrial automation market may be attributed to several factors, including the advancement of sensors, improvements in network communication protocols, complex controllers, and effective actuators.
Innovations like soft PLCs and digital twins will significantly influence the path of industrial automation. To meet the demands of a fast changing industrial automation market and stay competitive, businesses must adopt these innovative technologies.
References and Further Reading
Ismail, A., 2023. What is Industrial Automation and What are its Components?. [Online] Available at: https://automationforum.co/what-is-industrial-automation-2/
MROSupply, 2023. Types of Sensors Used in Industrial Automation. [Online] Available at: https://www.mrosupply.com/blog/sensors-used-in-industrial-automation/
Javaid, M. et al., 2021. Significance of sensors for industry 4.0: Roles, capabilities, and applications. Sensors International.
Lueftner, R., 2019. Communication Networks in Automation. Berlin: Wiley-VCH.
Factory Controls, 2019. PLC Controllers For Industrial Automation Systems. [Online] Available at: https://www.factorycontrols.com.au/products/automation-systems/programmable-controllers
JHFoster, 2022. The Role of Electric Actuators in Automation. [Online] Available at: https://jhfoster.com/automation-blogs/the-role-of-electric-actuators-in-automation/
Ashley, 2023. Key Electronic Components in the Industrial Automation Ecosystem. [Online] Available at: https://www.easybom.com/blog/a/key-electronic-components-in-the-industrial-automation-ecosystem
Kosmopoulos, C., 2022. The Benefits of Using a Digital Twin in Automation. [Online]