In welding, and manufacturing in general, automation refers to some or all of the steps in an operation being performed in sequence by some mechanical or electronic means. Certain functions may be performed manually (partial automation); or all of the functions may be performed without adjustment by the operator (total automation). Automation can be applied to many different processes. Equipment may accomodate a single assembly/family of assemblies (fixed automation), or may be flexible enough to be quickly modified to perform similar operations on different components and assemblies (flexible automation).
Regardless of the degree of automation, its objective is to reduce manufacturing costs by increasing productivity, and improving quality and reliability. However, it can fail as well as succeed depending on the application. Successful application requires careful planning, and the product, plant and equipment costs should be analysed to determine if it is feasible.
The extent to which automation should be employed is governed by several factors:
Product quality - better process control, product improvement and scrap reduction are all possible.
Production level - higher output and improved inventory turn-over may be the most significant advantages.
Manpower - automation may allow the welder to work outside a hazardous environment, and it may be possible to use cheaper semi-skilled labour; however education and training of personnel will be required to make optimal use of an automated system.
Investment - savings and costs resulting from an automated system must be identified, including availability/cost of capital.
The importance of the factors will vary with the type of industry and application, and each should be considered.