Guide to Industrial Automation -- Industrial and Factory Business Systems

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There are many different types of businesses involved in the field of automation in one form or another. Manufacturers and OEMs use automation components in the production of goods, manufacturers' representatives and distributors sell automation components and devices to OEMs and end users, and machine builders and systems integrators use and specify components to produce machinery and systems.

Functions within these companies can vary widely depending on their size and organization, but they generally fit within the same general structure.

1. Automation-Related Businesses

There are many different types of businesses that produce or make use of automated equipment. Government agencies, such as the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and U.S. Department of Agriculture, all use automation equipment. The following is a list of broad categories of automation-related businesses.

1.1 Manufacturers

The largest users of automated production equipment are manufacturers. Manufacturers may produce individual products or process materials, as described in the converting section of this guide. Larger manufacturers may also build their own automation equipment since they have developed the expertise within their fields over years of experience.

Of course, some manufacturers also produce automation components and devices themselves. A list of some of these manufacturers is included in the back of this guide.

1.2 OEMs

OEMs are manufacturers that produce machinery or equipment of their own. These may include standard products, such as appliances or automobiles, which include automation components. Standard or niche automation-related products made by OEMs include vibratory bowls, torque drivers, compressors, cam indexers, web-processing equipment, testers, ovens, and many other system components.

Many OEMs build standard products that are controlled by PLC or DCS. Examples of these are building HVAC and environmental controls, food-processing machinery, and packaging machines.

Others may control their product with embedded processors or "systems on a chip."

1.3 Manufacturers' Representatives

Manufacturers' representatives serve as a regional sales and technical resource for automation component and device manufacturers. They often handle multiple products and call on both end users and distributors. They provide product demonstrations, training, and seminars. Typically a manufacturers' representative's income is a percentage of all products sold within his or her territory. For some specialized products, such as instrumentation, the representative may sell directly to the end user.

Manufacturers' representatives are often used by smaller companies that cannot afford to have a full-time salesperson within a territory. In this case, the representative is expected to prospect and follow up leads within his or her area. Other representatives may work directly for the manufacturer and cover a large geographical area. In this case, they often evaluate applications and perform training.

1.4 Distributors

Distributors sell products directly to end users. They usually fall into general categories, such as fluid power, electrical, or industrial supplies. Often distributors have branch offices over a region or nationwide. A distributor with a physical location who keeps product on the shelf is known as a stocking distributor.

Most distributors do not have exclusive rights to a product within a geographic area but compete with other distributors. Exceptions to this are Allen-Bradley and Siemens, who generally only allow one distributor in each territory. In exchange for this exclusivity, they attempt to control pricing and require the distributor to employ a technical support staff.

1.5 Machine Builders

Machine builders are different from OEMs in that they build machinery customized for a specific purpose. Although they sometimes specialize within a field, such as material handling or inspection and gauging, they will often take on any project they feel comfortable executing.

Machine-building companies can vary in size from four or five people building small machines to large firms with hundreds, or even thousands, of employees spread over multiple locations. Larger machine builders house various departments, as described in Sub-Section. 2 (below).

Machine shops often branch out into machine building. They may form a relationship with a systems integrator or controls company to design and build machines.

1.6 Systems Integrators

Systems integrators take separate systems and combine them into a functioning entity that operates as a whole. They are usually oriented around controls and IT but often have mechanical capabilities or partnerships with machine builders.

A company that does programming and/or panel building is often referred to as a "controls house." These companies are typically fairly small and do systems integration also. An example of systems integration on a small scale would be integrating test equipment, such as leak testers or gauging systems to a machine control system.

This usually involves displaying results from the test and overall machine status on a touch screen.

Larger integrators often focus on specific industries, such as wastewater, environmental control, or chemical processing. Others may take on any type of job above a certain dollar figure. Closely related to systems integration companies are engineering firms. These companies usually perform some systems integration tasks and subcontract others. They usually employ professional engineers that can stamp or certify documents for large projects.

1.7 Consultants

Consultants are often used to provide expertise in a specific area of a project. They may have expertise in business enterprise systems, lean/Six Sigma, or a technical specialty, such as vision, data acquisition, or software. They may charge by the hour or week, or they can be kept on a retainer.

2. Departments and Functions

Business organizations usually have three basic functional areas: operations, finance, and marketing. Automation and manufacturing activities fall within the area of operations, which is responsible for producing goods and services for consumers.

Most of the companies involved in the industrial and automation fields are incorporated businesses with a variety of departments.

Companies may be public (owned by stockholders) or privately held.

The functions of the departments may differ depending on the size and type of business. Larger companies and corporations tend to have more layers of management. A business with fewer layers of management is said to have a "flatter" organizational structure. Some large conglomerates separate business activities into completely independent organizations, each with its own structure. Manufacturing plants and product divisions are often organized this way, with little day-to-day interaction with a corporate headquarters on operational issues.


FIG. 1 Organizational framework.

Stockholders VP Manufacturing VP Finance VP Sales VP Engineering VP Quality Six Sigma Research & Dev. Product Design Marketing Inside Sales Outside Sales Human Resources Payroll Accounting Purchasing Payables Receivables Maintenance Production Chief Executive Officer (CEO)


2.1 Management

There may be various layers of management, depending on the size of the organization. Usually there will be a single executive-level president or CEO (chief executive officer) with final decision-making authority. If the organization is large enough, there will be various layers of management below this in charge of each department or function. Titles for these may range from vice president to director or manager. Managers at the VP level are likely to be specialists in several areas. Managers at the CEO, president, and vice president levels are often referred to as upper management.

Below the upper-management level is middle management.

This includes plant managers and department heads. For larger organizations, this second tier of management may operate in geographically different locations. Large manufacturers often have plants in different states or countries with management reporting to a headquarters. These functions may be fairly autonomous, requiring little oversight. Plant managers often have final decision-making authority on personnel and capital projects up to a certain cost.

Department heads have responsibility for such areas as production, maintenance, quality, personnel, accounting, and marketing. They may report to both the plant management of their facility and to the vice president of their functional area.

Lower management is responsible for direct supervision of production and maintenance workers. Job titles include line supervisors, foremen, or lead. Managers in this position have extensive experience in their craft or on the production equipment they supervise. They are often promoted from within the ranks of experienced machine operators.

2.2 Sales and Marketing

All businesses need ongoing efforts to present their products or services to customers. The vice president of sales generally leads this department for larger companies and may have several department heads under his or her supervision.

Marketing materials may include television and radio advertisements, printed brochures or flyers, and social network marketing campaigns. An Internet presence is an important part of marketing. Web sites provide information about a company's products and services and must be maintained and updated after they are established.

Sales efforts may involve outside salespeople who call directly on customers. Outside sales personnel demonstrate products, provide information, and maintain a relationship between companies. They also seek out new customers and follow up on sales leads. For highly technical products or systems, they often must have an engineering background or degree. Inside salespeople take orders from customers online or by phone. In some cases, they may assist outside sales with prospecting or customer research. Applications and technical support staff members help solve customer problems and answer product related questions. Training seminars and classes are used to familiarize customers with company products and improve the perception of the product.

2.3 Engineering and Design

For businesses involved in manufacturing, the engineering department is responsible for product design, making changes to the product, ordering and installing new production equipment, and generally taking care of technical changes related to machinery. The department usually falls under a vice president of engineering or engineering manager, depending on the size of the company. Product or design engineers are responsible for the creation of drawings for the products themselves as well as tooling used in the manufacturing process.

Process-control-based companies also often have large engineering departments that design and install their own equipment. Since much of this equipment is customized to the process, it is often more cost-effective to modify a process internally.

Many of the products used in process control are commercially available or easily outsourced to vendors, such as reactors and pressure vessels. Design engineers in these departments often design components and piping in a modular manner and then contract fabrication and installation services.

Within the organizational framework, there is also often a research and development (R&D) department or team that may operate under a separate VP. The R&D process involves design and testing of new products or modifications to existing ones. They may also design new machinery and processes to produce things in a different way.

Whereas some research and development endeavors are focused on the development of products, others may attempt to discover new knowledge of scientific and technical topics to uncover opportunities for products and services that do not yet exist.

The PPAP is a standard used mainly in the automotive industry to ensure that component parts are made in a consistent manner and meet the user's needs. As part of this process, the design, manufacture, and testing techniques of a manufacturer are examined and documented. There are 18 elements within this process, extending from the initial design through qualification of production machinery and sample production parts. Two of these steps involve a standardized tool called failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA).

The design FMEA (DFMEA) evaluates the potential causes of failure within a part on a per-component basis. It identifies causes, establishes severity levels, and relates them to other components. As potential problems are identified, this gives designers an opportunity to correct problems. A process FMEA (PFMEA) considers the same elements in the manufacturing process. The PFMEA follows the steps defined in the process flow and determines the effects of failures in machinery and worst-case consequences for products, equipment, and personnel. This evaluation is of special concern to machine builders as they must comply with results of the analysis.

2.4 Maintenance

The maintenance department takes care of the equipment and facilities. Also known as maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO), personnel in this department are responsible for mechanical, plumbing, or electrical repair of the building and production equipment within it. The maintenance department is usually a subdepartment under manufacturing. Facilities and equipment maintenance may be organized into different departments.

Routine maintenance activities are separated into scheduled maintenance and preventive maintenance. Scheduled maintenance includes activities that keep equipment in working order by replacing worn devices and assemblies before they fail. Preventive maintenance involves activities such as lubrication, cleaning, and other actions that prevent age-related equipment breakdowns. Shutdowns are often held annually or semiannually to accomplish major repairs or upgrades; installations are also common during these periods.

Machine breakdowns (unscheduled maintenance or repair) and upgrades must also be handled as required.

MRO software can be useful in managing scheduled maintenance activities. This tool can help increase system availability and uptime, track machine BOMs, and schedule routine maintenance tasks. It also creates a record of activities that can be useful for production. MRO software tracks component data, such as "as designed," "as built," "as maintained," and "as used." It can be used to manage repair inventory, store serial numbers, keep track of warranty and guarantee documents, and track machinery service history. MRO software is often integrated with other enterprise business software.

Total productive maintenance (TPM) is a program for improving machine availability. Equipment and tools are put on proactive maintenance schedules that involve operators in the maintenance of machinery. An aggressive maintenance schedule will include "deterioration prevention" techniques that identify issues as soon as possible and attempts to prevent problems from occurring. With added operator involvement, maintenance technicians are liberated from mundane maintenance tasks and enabled to focus on urgent repairs and proactive maintenance activities. TPM techniques rely on the 5S system used in lean manufacturing.

2.5 Manufacturing and Production

In a manufacturing company, most of the personnel are in the production department, which is usually under the control of a vice president of manufacturing, who generally reports to the CEO. When facilities are located in multiple geographic locations, plant managers usually report to the VP of manufacturing. Other subdepartments in the manufacturing sector include production control and scheduling, shipping and receiving, tool design, maintenance, and various industrial engineering functions.

Manufacturing engineers are often placed in charge of the installation, operation, and improvement of production lines. As such, they spend a lot of time on the factory floor evaluating machinery and production efficiency. They are often also involved in the supervision of production activities. Production supervisors oversee the stocking of raw materials and components required for the manufacture of products. They also interface with maintenance in ensuring that equipment is kept in safe working order.

Production employees often operate production machinery that can be quite sophisticated. Consequently, they are often trained in the care and maintenance of machinery and systems. Machine operators may be responsible for the upkeep of their assigned machine. Since they spend most of their working hours with the machine, they often get to know its quirks better than maintenance or even the company that initially built the machine.

2.6 Finance and Human Resources

The finance department includes purchasing, payables, receivables, payroll, and accounting. These are often separated into subdepartments, which report to a VP of finance or a comptroller who oversees accounting activities and auditing of company finances.

Purchasing directors or managers are responsible for the acquisition of goods and services. One of the jobs of the purchasing department is to obtain goods at the most advantageous terms to the company. This requires negotiation skills on the part of the buyer.

Some products have a standard pricing arrangement that is nonnegotiable, but machinery and contracts are often sent out for bid. Evaluation of proposals and offered services are part of a buyer's skill set. Some purchasing agents set up "blanket" or "master" agreements for longer-term consumables in order to reduce the administrative costs of repetitive orders, also requiring negotiation.

Organizations often use a checks and balances system to ensure that the system remains ethical, often having different acquisition activities report to different senior managers. Departments involved in the buying process can include purchasing or buying, receiving, engineering, accounts payable, or plant management. As a two-way check if purchasing orders are issued, accounts payable will often process the invoice independently, checking with the requisitioner to ensure they received their order.

Accounts receivable is responsible for billing a company's customers for products sold and delivered. Accounts payable pays vendors for goods and services purchased. These functions often fall within the purchasing department but, as mentioned previously, may report to different supervisors. Payroll is a function that falls within the realm of finance but interfaces with human resources.

The purchasing department issues purchase orders to vendors for raw materials, components, machinery, and other items. Technical items are usually selected by engineering or maintenance staff; the vendor for these items, however, may be selected by purchasing. This can cause problems if the vendor has provided a service in the expectation of receiving an order.

The human resources department is responsible for the well being of the company's employees. They handle employee benefits, such as health insurance and 401k and benefit plans. Attracting new employees, selecting and assessing them, and sometimes terminating employment are all duties of the human resource management (HRM or HR) department. The department is usually under the supervision of a VP-level personnel director.

Training usually also falls under the direction of HR. Employee training and education through the company may be handled internally or outsourced, depending on the subject matter. Companies also sometimes outsource human resource functions or use consultants.

The human resources department is also usually responsible for labor relations in unionized plants. Collective bargaining agreements are negotiated between the union and the HR department.

The human resources department often administers employee benefit plans or payroll. These programs may be outsourced or run by specialists within the organization. HR is also often involved in the mergers and acquisitions process.

2.7 Quality

The quality department is responsible for the output of the company product in terms of individual product conformance to standards, quantity of scrap material, and efficiency of the process. Quality can be defined in various ways, depending on the product, but one way to think of it is the degree to which performance of a product or service meets or exceeds customer expectations. Quality control and quality assurance are usually placed under the direction of a vice president of quality. This department often has decision-making responsibility that supersedes that of the manufacturing and production departments.

A quality management system (QMS) is an organizational structure containing procedures, processes, and resources to implement quality management. Historically, quality control involved finding the defects in manufacturing before they left the factory. The methodology has changed extensively in the past 50 years or so because of implementation of standards and competition from foreign and domestic manufacturers. Personnel within the quality department are expected to be well trained in modern quality techniques and often specialize in specific areas.


There are many quality management techniques that have been developed and formalized for manufacturing. Standards such as ISO 9000 require that companies are audited for compliance periodically. ISO 9001 certification requires that a company is committed to the methods and model defined within the standard.

This means that procedures for manufacturing and quality control have to be developed, documented, and followed, which requires time, money, and paperwork. This, in turn, can lead to fairly large quality departments within corporations that are required by customers to be certified. ISO 9000 standards include system requirements, management requirements, resource requirements, realization of requirements, and remedial requirements.

Another standard that companies often must comply with is ISO 14000. This standard concerns what an organization does to minimize harmful effects to the environment caused by its operations.

The standard focuses on three major areas: management systems, operations, and environmental systems. Certification for this standard also falls within the domain of the quality department.

Total Quality Management

TQM is a philosophy that involves everyone in the organization in an effort to improve quality. There are many programs and techniques that have evolved from this philosophy that directly impact business operations and methods. There are a number of TQM practices that are identified within a wide variety of resources, including training courses and books. These practices include continuous improvement, involving everyone in the organization, and meeting or exceeding customer expectations. Cross-functional product design, process management, supplier quality management, strategic planning, and cross-functional training are also elements of the TQM philosophy.

The TQM concept was originally developed in the United States in the mid-1900s by several management consultants but was not widely accepted. The philosophy was adopted by Japanese automakers in the 1980s, and a number of new concepts were added.

Among many other Japanese terms, kaizen-a Japanese term that means continuous improvement-made its way into the terminology of quality management as the philosophy evolved.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a business management strategy originally developed by Motorola in 1986. As of 2013, it is widely used in many industrial sectors. Statistically, Six Sigma means that there will be no more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities in a manufacturing process.

From a quality perspective, the term refers to improving the quality of process outputs. Six Sigma achieves this goal by identifying and removing the causes of defects and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes.

Six Sigma uses a project methodology called DMAIC, an acronym for Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control-a method used for improving existing business processes. In each step of DMAIC are several tools that can be used to achieve the next step of the methodology. Another tool used for creating new product or process designs is Define-Measure-Analyze-Design-Verify (DMADV)-also known as Design for Six Sigma (DFSS). Statistical tools used in the Six Sigma methodology include histograms, Pareto charts, regression analyses, scatter diagrams, run charts, and analyses of variance.

Six Sigma creates a special infrastructure of people within the organization composed of Master Black Belts, Black Belts, and Green Belts who are experts in these methods. Executive management is a critical component of an effective Six Sigma project, and "buy-in" at this level is a necessity. Each Six Sigma project carried out within an organization follows a defined sequence of steps and has quantified financial targets (cost reduction and/or profit increase).

2.8 Information Technology

The IT department takes care of the company computer systems related to both hardware and software. It spans a wide variety of areas that include computer software, information systems, computer hardware, databases, security, and training. Depending on the size and structure of a company, the manager of the IT department may be at a VP level (VP of information technology or chief information officer [CIO]) or at a network administrator level.

IT provides businesses with several types of service that help execute business strategy. The department maintains business enterprise, office, and CAD software, including associated databases and security. It maintains and improves existing network and hardware systems, and it is often necessary for IT personnel to write programs and software utilities to integrate existing software and databases.

Security is an important part of a company computer network.

The IT department is responsible for developing and enforcing policies to safeguard data and information from unauthorized users.

Virus software, firewalls, and password control are all part of an IT professional's domain.

IT also maintains multimedia equipment for companies. Phone systems are often tied into a company's computer network. Larger companies use computers to answer and route telephone calls, process orders, update inventory, and manage accounting, purchasing, and payroll activities. Training on computer software and systems within an organization is also often the responsibility of IT personnel.

cont. to part 2

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