What Is Industrial Automation?

Hampton Roads Automation (HRA)


If you haven’t already heard, Hampton Roads Automation (HRA) is an Industrial Automation Consulting firm serving municipal, commercial, and industrial clients by offering a myriad of services.  If you are interested in learning more about how we can support your projects, please contact us to schedule a virtual webinar to hear a presentation of our services and earn PDH’s.
We’re excited about this new chapter in our professional lives and are looking forward to hearing from you!


What Do You Do For a Living?


The world of Industrial Automation is one of those professions that is a bit obscure.  I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have answered the question “What do you do for a living?” with “How much time do you have?”.  I don’t say that out of arrogance or pride, I say it because most people have no idea what I am talking about when I say I work in these areas:

  • Industrial Automation (IA)
  • Electrical and Instrumentation (E&I)
  • Instrumentation and Controls (I&C)
  • Distributed Control Systems (DCS)
  • Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC)
  • Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA)
  • Etc.!

I have answered that question with “I am a programmer” who works in the “industrial world”.  My close friends and family all have a pretty good idea of what it is that I do for a living, but many people just glare at me when I attempt to explain this field that I work in.  I have also answered people with “I am a computer geek”.  The crazy thing about this topic is that with the exception of Community Colleges, such as New River Community College in Dublin, VA, there are very few places to get educated in this field.  I remain astonished that none of the major Engineering schools have created an accredited “Industrial Automation Engineer” program that actually teaches Instrumentation, Process Control, DCS, PLC, SCADA, etc. with real world applications to prepare someone for this line of work.  I am aware that a there are programs have similar labels, but if you look at the core classes, you will find a mix of electrical engineering and mechanical engineering.  If anyone who is reading this has the power and influence to startup a program of this type, I’d love to be involved!


What is Industrial Automation?


Industrial Automation refers to the field of study and the application of that knowledge to implement modern industrial control system technology to achieve a desired level of process control as specified by the needs of the specific application.  There are many components of Industrial Automation that I will cover in future articles such as Instrumentation, Electrical, Electronics, Data Analysis, Process Tuning, PLCs, DCSs, SCADA, etc.  I will come back to this article and hyperlink each of those terms as I get them posted.  If you are completely new to this realm, the aforementioned term ‘process control’ may have little to no meaning to you.  Process Control in this context is the control of any industrial (or other) process via the utilization of modern technology (I’ll also cover some not so new methods in a future article of process control methods that are gone but not forgotten such as pneumatic control).  The phrase ‘to control a process’ can be applied in a few different ways depending upon the type of process that we are talking about.  For instance, some industrial processes are batch processes where the same set of instructions are repeated over and over to produce the same results (automobiles and food processing are examples of batch processes).  Other industrial processes are continuous control of an endless stream of process related material that must be maintained within a specific set of parameters (wastewater treatment, drinking water, and power generation are examples of continuous process control).  Based on the two previous sentences, you can see that process control has the same baseline definition regardless of the type of process, but can be greatly expanded in several different areas to morph into something completely unique for each process that is to be controlled.  A few great examples of continuous process control that you have probably used many times in your life are: your car’s cruise control system, your home’s HVAC controls, and your oven.  Each of these three items is only able to function because process control techniques and technology have been engineered into each of the systems that ‘controls’ the speed of your car, the temperature of your home, and the temperature of your oven.  There are other items that you may interact with in your daily life that utilize process control as well that you will, no doubt, look at differently after reading this article.


Now that Process Control has been briefly covered, let’s get back to the original question: What is Industrial Automation?


Let’s start with the big picture: we’ve established that industrial processes need to be controlled in some form or another.  Each individual process, regardless of its purpose, must be controlled, monitored, maintained, engineered, researched, tuned, upgraded, repaired, and calibrated by individuals who are trained in any or all of these areas.  The field of Industrial Automation has several different disciplines that when combined have the ability to achieve amazing results that have a direct impact upon our civilization.  We all enjoy the fruits of the labors of Industrial Automation.  Just think about the types of items that are immediately surrounding you.  You are probably sitting in a chair, you are definitely using electricity, and you are looking at a computer screen that is attached to a tablet, PC, laptop, or mobile device.  You are probably enjoying a controlled environment (AC or heat) and probably ate something today that was purchased at a local supermarket.  You are wearing clothes and probably have jewelry on of some type.  Your computer or other device is probably sitting on a desk or table of some sort and you are either sipping water or perhaps enjoying a cup of coffee.  EVERY SINGLE THING I just mentioned is able to be mass produced and distributed thanks to Industrial Automation.  There are very few things that are hand made out of materials that haven’t been processed and shipped in some manner (there are always exceptions!).  At this moment, you should stop and take a moment to consider your surroundings are realize that most of the items that are part of your daily life came from a factory; that factory utilizes Industrial Automation to ensure that its products are consistently created with a high degree of accuracy.  Without this technology, our modern world would look very different.  We would not all be enjoying similar technologies and creature comforts.  In fact, we would be living like our ancestors did in a very different environment that lacked access to mass produced items that we all currently consume.


About HRA


The Team at HRA was brought together by pure fate; our working relationships and close friendships have grown very close over a 20+ year period. We are a TEAM in the truest form of the word. We’ve climbed the mountain of Industrial Automation together and now that we’ve reached the summit we are absolutely excited about the opportunity to share our collective experiences with you…our customers.


If you’re ready to experience “Automation Made Easy”, Contact Us today!





Ryan C. Duke, CAP, MSM
Principal Automation Engineer | Vice President of Finance
Hampton Roads Automation

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