Automation, in the context of manufacturing, is the use of equipment to automate systems or production processes. The end goal is to drive greater efficiency by either increasing production capacity or reducing costs, often both.

Fixed (Hard) Automation Examples include:
  • Mechanized assembly
  • Machining transfer lines
  • Automated material handling
  • Fixed (Hard) Automation Advantages
  • High production rates
  • Low unit cost
Fixed (Hard) Automation Disadvantages:
  • Mechanized assembly
  • Relatively inflexible in accommodating product variety
  • High initial investment for custom-engineered equipment
  • High vulnerability to failure
  • Obsolescence
Fixed (Hard) AutomProgrammable Automation Examples include:
  • Computer Numerical controlled (CNC) machine tools
  • Industrial robots
  • Programmable logic controllers (PLC)
Programmable Automation Advantages:
  • Flexible and able to deal with design variations
  • Suitable for batch production
Programmable Automation Disadvantages:
  • High investment in general purpose equipment
  • Lower production rate than fixed automation
Flexible (Soft) Automation Advantages::
  • Continuous production of variable mixtures of products
  • Flexible to deal with product design variation
  • Offers Medium production rate
Flexible (Soft) Automation Disadvantages:
  • Requires High amount of investment
  • High unit cost relative to fixed automation

Flexible Automation

Fixed automation, also known as “hard automation,” refers to an automated production facility in which the sequence of processing operations is fixed by the equipment configuration.
Hard automation is explicitly referring to the use of specialized equipment to create a fixed process for assembly. Hard automation systems have fixed sequences, which cannot be altered. The process breaks downs construction into simple steps that usually go in a linear or rotational motion (the two can be combined). Fixed systems offer the lowest production cost for each unit, and it also has the fastest production time.

Programmable Automation

Programmable automation is a form of automation for producing products in batches. The products are made in batch quantities ranging from several dozen to several thousand units at a time. For each new batch, the production equipment must be reprogrammed and changed over to accommodate the new product style.
This reprogramming and changeover take time to accomplish, and there is a period of nonproductive time followed by a production run for each new batch. Production rates in programmable automation are generally lower than in fixed automation, because the equipment is designed to facilitate product changeover rather than for product specialization. A numerical-control machine tool is a good example of programmable automation.
The program is coded in computer memory for each different product style, and the machine tool is controlled by the computer program. Industrial robots are another example.


automation robots are programmable, and changes can be made in the computer. Soft automation robots tend to be slower than hard automation devices.
Soft automation is considered an extension of the programmable variant. Soft automation, which is also called flexible automation, is easily able to produce different varieties of parts with only a minor loss of time for changeovers. It is the only system that offers continuous production of making varied products.
Flexible (Soft) Automation Examples Include:

Robot arms that can be programmed to assume multiple tasks, such as insert screws, drill holes, sand, weld, insert rivets, and spray paint objects on an assembly line.