Subscribe to our newsletter to receive the latest news and events from TWI:

Subscribe >
Skip to content

What is Industrial Automation and Robotics?


Industrial automation and robotics are the use of computers, control systems and information technology to handle industrial processes and machinery, replacing manual labour and improving efficiency, speed, quality and performance.

Automated industrial applications range from manufacturing process assembly lines to surgery and space research. Early automated systems focused on increasing productivity (as these systems do not need to rest like human employees), but this focus is now shifting to improved quality and flexibility in manufacturing and more. Modern automated systems are developing beyond mechanisation with the addition of artificial and machine learning.

However, automation and robotics are not the same thing:


Automation is the use of computer software, machines or other technology to carry out tasks that would otherwise be done by a human. There are several types of automation, which can include both virtual and physical tasks.

1. Software Automation

This is the automation of tasks usually performed by humans using computer programs. This area includes business process automation (BPA), using software to formalise and streamline business processes, robotic process automation (RPA), which uses ‘software robots’ to mimic humans using computer programs, and intelligent process automation (IPA), which involves the use of artificial intelligence to learn how people perform tasks using a computer program. The difference between BPA and RPA is subtle, with BPA being like replacing a human production line with an autonomous factory and RPA like adding a collaborative robot to work alongside the existing workforce.

2. Industrial Automation

This is the control of physical processes with machines and control systems to automate industrial processes. Robots are used in this type of physical automation but so are other non-robotic machines, such as CNC machines.


This area of engineering uses multiple disciplines to design, build, program and use robots. Robots are programmable machines that use sensors and actuators to interact with the physical world and perform actions autonomously or semi-autonomously. Because they can be reprogrammed, robots are more flexible than single-function machines. Collaborative robots are designed to complete tasks in a similar manner to humans, while traditional industrial robots tend to complete tasks more efficiently than humans.

Automation and robotics have areas where they cross, such as the use of robots to automate physical tasks, as with car assembly lines. However, not all automation uses physical robots and not all areas of robotics are associated with automation.

An early form of industrial automation was the use of CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines for high-precision aerospace manufacturing in the United States during the Second World War. Using the first industrial computing systems, the first CNC machines still required a high level of human input until they became more automated during the 1950s.

Modern industrial automation includes the use of data acquisition systems, distributed control systems, supervisory control and programmable logistics controllers. They are consistent and predictable, making them ideal for processing chemicals, pulp, paper, oil and gas or other raw materials. By adding Industry 4.0 capabilities to these systems, industrial automation can also include access to peripheral data to further optimise operations based on real-time data.


TWI provides our Industrial Members with support for a range of automation and robotics-related applications, including welding automation services, process modellingdigital twin, and manufacturing support

TWI is an Industrial Membership based organisation. TWI's experts can provide your company with an extension to your own resources. Our experts are dedicated to helping industry improve safety, quality, efficiency and profitability in all aspects of materials joining technology. Industrial Membership of TWI currently extends to over 600 companies worldwide, embracing all industrial sectors.

Contact us today to find out more:

The Growth of Industrial Automation and Robotics

The growth of industrial automation and robotics came from 19th Century mechanised industry, where humans were called upon to operate increasingly complex machinery to deliver higher rates of productivity. As mechanisation advanced, the machine operators became increasingly peripheral to the operation and this notion was further advanced with industrial automation.

Industrial automation required even less human control for basic and repetitive tasks, which displaced some jobs but also created new opportunities related to the automation itself. This moved roles towards a white collar economy as nations such as Japan achieved highly roboticised electronic and automotive manufacture by the 1980s.

This parallel growth of industrial automation and robotics has continued with the advent of artificial intelligence, machine learning and robot vision. Today, it is not just manufacturing that can be automated but also programming and process organisation, leaving people free to focus on adding value through improved product designs.

Robots can be used in physical industrial automation, but are not required for virtual tasks and software-based applications.

Advantages of Industrial Automation

Industrial automation, with robots or without, offers a range of advantages:

1. Reduced Operating Costs

With no requirement for healthcare, paid leave, pension payments or other staff benefits and with no wages to pay, industrial automation is typically cheaper than employing people. While there can be maintenance costs, if managed correctly these should still be far less than staff-related costs for the same output or better.

2. Improved Productivity

Industrial automation allows plants to run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with no time loss for staff handovers or holidays, improving the productivity of the plant.

3. Improved Quality

Industrial automation is highly repeatable, without the errors associated with human staff. Machinery will also not get tired, which can impact quality and productivity at certain times of a shift.

4. Highly Flexible

An automated system, including robots, can be programmed to take on a different task, offering greater flexibility than with humans, who may need training on a different task.

5. Improved Data Accuracy and Collection

Automated data collection is not just more reliable but it can also allow you to improve your data accuracy, offering the required facts to make decisions to reduce waste and improve processes.

6. Increased Safety

Using robots for hazardous roles or conditions will improve the safety at your facility when compared to using human employees.

Industrial automation allows more work to get done, cheaper and more effectively than with human employees. It also means that you do not need to seek skilled labour where a robot could be used instead.

Disadvantages of Industrial Automation

The primary disadvantage of industrial automation is the high costs associated with switching from a human to an automatic production line. There are also subsequent costs associated with retraining or hiring staff to handle the sophisticated equipment.

The Future of Automation and Robotics

Already worth billions of dollars each year, industrial automation and robotics-related services will keep growing as technology continues to advance.

As robot production has increased, so the related costs have reduced and this trend should continue as more emerging economies begin to look to robotics as a solution. As a consequence of this increased robot production, there has also been a rise in the availability of the required skills to design, install, operate and maintain them. In addition, the increased availability of software has reduced the associated engineering time and risk, while making robot programming much easier and cheaper.

As technology continues to advance, these trends should continue into the future with robotic systems able to collect data, monitor processes and troubleshoot any problems. Robots are already able to use sensors and other data points to monitor and adapt their movements in real time, mimicking the skills of a human craftsperson to improve a process and reduce rework or inspection requirements.

While robots will continue to be used to automate repetitive physical tasks, emerging technologies could allow robots to respond to voice commands as artificial intelligence allows them to cope with a broader sweep of tasks and adapt in response to changes in the working environment. This would see robots being used in areas such as agriculture, where the need to be able to find, assess and harvest produce has been difficult for automated systems. Robotic precision is another area that should see advances in the future, with the ability to complete more delicate tasks with improved coordination.

As robots advance, it will be possible to decide which tasks should be automated and which should be conducted by humans and, with advanced safety systems, robots will also be more regularly deployed to work alongside humans without potentially endangering them.

Automated systems are now advancing to be able to monitor and automatically adjust the speed of entire production lines to maximise output and minimise costs.

With all of these advances coming into play, an automation strategy will depend upon successfully deciding which areas to automate and at what level.


What is Industrial Automation?

Industrial automation is the use of information technologies and control systems like computers and robots to handle machines and physical or virtual processes instead of relying on human beings. Industrial automation is a step forward from mechanisation as part of industrial processes.

What is the Meaning of Industrial Robotics?

Industrial robotics is the use of a robot for manufacturing or other industrial process, including assembly, packing, labelling, painting, inspection, testing, welding, and more. The use of robots for these tasks should provide high endurance, precision and speed for the tasks.

What is the Difference between Robotics and Automation?

Although they are sometimes used interchangeably, robotics and automation are different things. Automation is the process of using technology to complete tasks otherwise performed by humans. These tasks can be either physical or virtual and can involve the use of robots to perform them. Robotics is the process of developing and using robots (specifically) for a particular function, which may or may not be automated.


While industrial automation and robotics are not the same thing, they often go hand-in-hand to improve productivity, quality and safety at low costs in a variety of industries.

With applications including manufacturing lines and precision surgery, the use of automation-enabled robotics continues to advance with the growth of Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity as more businesses explore the benefits of Industry 4.0.

However, just as robots do not need to be automated, so industrial automation does not just rely on physical robots. Industrial automation covers any aspect of an operation that can be done by a machine rather than a human, meaning that there are many virtual aspects to automation too.

Advances in industry have a history of causing concern among employees who fear that their jobs will be replaced by new technology. However, even as industrial automation takes the place of mundane, hazardous or repetitive tasks, it also opens up new specialisms in the design and maintenance of the automation systems themselves. This also allows staff to focus on more creative areas, such as product design.

Industrial automation and robotics looks set to continue growing and expanding into new regions, driving down the associated costs as new technologies emerge to provide smarter systems that can take data and react to environments in real time.

For more information please email: