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2010 Edition, 2010

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Automation Made Easy: Everything You Wanted to Know about Automation and Need to Ask

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Product Details:

  • Revision: 2010 Edition, 2010
  • Published Date: January 2010
  • Status: Active, Most Current
  • Document Language: English
  • Published By: International Society of Automation (ISA)
  • Page Count: 234
  • ANSI Approved: No
  • DoD Adopted: No

Description / Abstract:


You see it all the time: a new head of a department, or of a company for that matter, comes into a new position in the industrial automation environment from a different industry. The press release talks in glowing terms of the skills and capabilities the new office holder had in his or her previous position. This person "will leverage his strengths and capabilities to help usher in a new era." They have to hit the ground running and start producing yesterday.

However, there is a catch. Over the past fifty years, the field of industrial automation has evolved from a number of independent technical fields, such as instrumentation, electronics, maintenance, plant operations and computer science. These traditionally independent fields converged to form today's industrial automation. This convergence contributes to making the study of industrial automation much more confusing than it really should be. Part of the reason for this is that any technology-based area of study has its own idiosyncratic terminology, jargon, and slang, including acronyms. This can provide a huge barrier to developing a functional understanding for anyone walking into the industry. As a mathematics professor proclaimed to a class finishing their first year of graduate school, "We spent the first year learning the words and now it's time to learn some math." There is more truth to this than any of us might like to admit.

When the digital computer showed promise as a tool to solve industrial automation problems, the lexicon of computer technology merged with the lexicon of pneumatic and electronic instrumentation and control systems. It was not surprising that instrument companies divided into two groups, the instrument and control experts and the computer gurus. These two groups had great difficulty talking to each other because they did not have a common language. Sometimes the same acronym had two very different meanings. SPC to the computer professionals in automation companies may have meant set point control while to the operationally focused team it meant statistical process control.

To exacerbate this situation, a considerable amount of the technology and terminology associated with industrial automation comes from digital computer markets and technologies. The reason this adds a level of confusion is that computer science is one technical field in which the terminology is not driven by academics; rather it is driven by marketing departments. Digital Equipment Corporation introduced their Programmable Data Processor (PDP) series of computers to the marketplace a number of years ago as the world's first minicomputer. The word minicomputer became a part of Digital's marketing campaign. Digital intentionally did not define this word because by not defining it they could more easily claim, without having to technically justify their position, that competing computer companies did not really make a minicomputer. College professors spent the next twenty years trying to develop a technical definition for "minicomputer," and to the best of the authors' knowledge they were never truly successful. This characteristic of the lexicon has resulted in a set of words and phrases in industrial automation like distributed control system (DCS), programmable logic controller (PLC), and manufacturing execution system (MES) to name only a few; terms used daily, but not well defined.

There are aspects of industrial automation based on rich and deep technology that require considerable in-depth study to understand them, but from a functional perspective most of industrial automation is pretty straightforward. The catch is that the field is dominated by technologists who cannot help but try explaining relatively simple issues in excruciating technical detail, causing many an eye to glaze over.

There are a slew of books that provide detailed explanations of each of the major aspects of industrial automation, including all the mathematics and formulas and dynamic models. These are important books for those getting into the heavy detail. But the end result is that without a preliminary understanding of industrial automation, these are very difficult to comprehend.

Our purpose in writing this book is to provide a basic functional understanding of industrial automation. It has been very tempting to delve into technical details in a number of topics, but that is not what this book is all about.

There are people moving into industrial automation as part of their professional development. That movement includes, but is not limited to, executives who have come into industrial automation after leading companies in other markets. That level of change is good for industrial automation as new approaches and ideas often accompany new talent. We find that there are many people becoming associated with the world of industrial automation from a variety of other related disciplines, such as information technology or accounting, who require a basic level of understanding of automation to perform their job functions more effectively. These people who are new to this field need a way to quickly educate themselves with the technology and terminology; time is of the essence. We hope this book fills that need.

We have structured the material in this book to progress from the most basic subject matter through more advanced automation topics. Depending on your background and level of exposure to manufacturing processes and automation, you may want to consider skipping over some of the earlier chapters and proceed directly to the chapters of prime interest.