Automation is a way of describing a very broad range of activities. Speaking generally, it is the use of automatic machinery or processes to replace or augment the human workforce. Automation has had a controversial history. Although it makes work easier, products more reliable and safety more of an imperative, it can also lead to layoffs and social changes.
At the birth of the industrial revolution, the Luddite secret society set out to reverse automation by destroying agricultural equipment. It was to be a task carried out in vain: innovations in automation have continued at a frenzied pace, and are likely to do so far into the future. Here are some of the inventions and innovations that have driven automation.
The Spinning Mule
The industrial revolution was a time of extreme change. The birth of the modern working class, the standardization of work and the complete restructuring of the urban-rural paradigm are just some of the massive shifts that happened during this time. A great deal of this change was connected to the rise of factory automation. The spinning mule was a machine that turned people’s lives upside down in both good and bad ways. Invented in 1779 by Samuel Crompton, the spinning mule vastly increased the amount of cotton that could be spun into thread by small teams of people. This meant that production of cotton skyrocketed in the North of England. Unfortunately, it also meant that traditional spool spinners were out of a job, and a historic cottage industry was destroyed.
When Henry Ford opened the Model T production line in 1913, he utilized an innovative new kind of automation technology: the conveyor belt. Installing conveyor belts in his factory allowed the motor mogul to bring tools and parts to workers along an 84-part segmented production process. This cut down on staff training, as staff were only trained to know the step they were working on. It also meant that cars were produced more quickly, more cheaply and in a more standardized fashion than ever before.
Companies like fluentconveyors.com still make industrial conveyor belt systems that are not too different from the pioneering designs adopted by Henry Ford.
With the rise of the production line, automation in manufacturing became commonplace. The logical end point of this development can be seen in the automobile and pharmaceutical industries: robotic manufacturing processes. Robots are well-suited to working on the production line: they can complete repetitive tasks for a near infinite time with a stunning degree of accuracy. In modern car factories, it is common to see humans working alongside robots.
Data Analysis Automation
We live in the internet age: the time of the Data Deluge. With so much data to sort through to make sense of anything, organizations are turning towards automation to give them a leg up. Algorithmic data collection and analysis allows huge amounts of information to be made use of.
Automated data analysis allows organizations to build long-term strategic plans that are grounded in the stats.