The Difference Between Automation and Controls

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Controls and automation are two terms that are closely related, but should not be used interchangeably. We at AZO and our controls partner Bachelor Controls (BCI) believe there are nuances that are worth understanding.

We’ve recently discussed a few foreseeable ways to tell if specific Industry 4.0 advancements will benefit your bulk material handling system, but many manufacturers might want a simpler question answered first and foremost: what is the main difference between controls and automation? Find out below:

Controls are a subset of automation 

Automation is anything that replaces human labor with a machine. That machine usually includes mechanical, electrical, and electronic components.

Controls, on the other hand, are the electrical and electronic components that link the mechanical machines together using a common software program or an integrated collection of programs. Control systems are made up of electrical hardware (motors, sensors, etc.), the communication network between the various components as well as the software to operate it all. Controls, then, should be considered a subset of automation.

In other words, the control system is used to operate the machine or system that automates work that was previously performed manually.  

A synergistic control system benefits the overall process

Effective automation tools can provide many benefits to a production facility but they can be summarized in three general categories They are:

  1. Lower production cost as direct labor is taken out of the process. More product can be produced by fewer workers because of automation — machines have replaced workers. 
  2. Automation is reliable and will minimize production errors which will provide higher utilization by reducing downtime.
  3. Automation provides excellent accuracy — many processes like weighments can be completed more precisely and accurately, resulting in better quality control and reduced waste.

The difference between automation and controls is just one of fourteen points discussed in our free downloadable guide Advanced Automation: How Intuitive Design Enhances Control Systems. The guide starts with basic control system terminology, but also covers more advanced control system concepts.   

With the help of our controls partner Bachelor Controls (BCI), we introduce the concept of intuitive control system design. Intuitive control systems are designed to work with operators to monitor progress under normal conditions and to quickly deal with problems when things go wrong. Control systems that are intuitive may have a higher upfront cost but provide many years of more reliable, lower-cost operations.  

If you’d like additional information related to intuitive control systems, bulk material handling systems or pneumatic conveying, feel free to contact the engineers at AZO. Together, we have more than seven decades of experience in handling raw materials and shaping ingredient automation along the way. BCI has over 25 years of experience designing, building and installing integrated control systems specifically in AZO automated material conveying systems. Both AZO and BCI publish blogs online that act as updated resources for pneumatic conveying, ingredient automation, and the first-rate equipment both companies manufacture.

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