I was asked the following question by a technician the other day…
What is the difference between automation and robotics?
Automation generally refers to any component which performs a basic repetitive task; such as conveying or sorting parts. In general, robotics are more complex devices which are programmed to perform advanced repetitive tasks; such as the removal, stacking, packaging, or assembly of parts.
In the plastics industry, the terms automation and robotics both refer to mechanical pieces of equipment and are often used interchangeably.
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Robotics is part of automation, but automation and robotics are not synonymous. A robot is a piece of equipment that can be easily programmed to do a variety of tasks, while most automation systems are designed to do a specific set of tasks.
For example, a robot could be removing parts from one location and reposition/ load them into another location. Simply by changing an end effector and reprogramming, the same robot could be used to drill rivet holes in a complex formed sheet metal panel, or to spot weld mating parts.
On the other hand, an automation system not containing robotics could be doing many machining operations on a part from raw stock to completion. This is often done when conventional CNC equipment is not fast enough to perform these types of operations, or the operations involve more than just machining.
Back in the 1980’s/ 1990’s a company I worked with made automated chicken feeding systems. Usually automated systems involve a PLC (programmable Logic Controller) but they were rather expensive $30,000 to $40,000 in those days, now you can buy a card for your home computer), but old CNC controls were cheap and plentiful becuase of companies refurbishing their CNC machines. We took a Fanuc 6M CNC controller and used it to run the chicken feed automation system.