Industrial control systems have come a long way in recent years, with computer protocols and digital interfaces now the norm. Although the overall trend has been towards automated services, the HMI (human machine interface) approach continues to be important. Artificial Intelligence has a long way to go before human operators are completely redundant.
We at Iconsys have been supplying control systems since 1987 and have seen many changes in that time. Mechanisation, the forerunner of automation, allowed human operators to use machinery in place of muscular effort. Automated control systems removed the mental and sensory elements as well.
People have no need to worry about a Terminator-style scenario yet. In the early days of industrial automation, the emphasis was on maximum yield at minimum cost. However, this led to poorly-made goods, and an even greater reliance on human intervention to do the repairs that followed! Today, automated processes are focussed on quality and flexibility.
There are, after all, some things that a machine will always do better than a human – install vehicle components with a 0.001% degree of variance, for example.
Yet there are many human-controlled industrial procedures which are outside the scope of industrial automation. At the most basic level of intellect, a human being still has mental and sensory skills which are arguably slightly beyond the apabilities of even sophisticated computer systems.
Tasks dependent solely on human control include strategic planning, safety checks and quality evaluation (for example the scent, taste or look of a product), human-machine interfaces, where humans work in tandem with automated machinery, include temperature, pressure and humidity regulation, signs of potential mechanical failure etcetera.
The automated side of this relationship is controlled by PLCs, or programmable logic controllers. These are industry-specific computers which synchronise input flow from sensors with output flow to actualise events. Such a system allows accurate and precise control of a wide range of industrial procedures.
Nonetheless, it is always overseen by a person.