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Don’t believe what you read: Automation is ready to empower, not replace workers

Robots and electronic design automation will make manufacturing and design more productive, efficient and accurate

By Dave Perkon, technical editor

Technology will leave you behind if you try to stop it. I’ve written several columns on the subject, with one of them titled,"Automation for the people."

That's you, and you need to automate, including the use of robots and advanced design software. Automation should create new jobs and opportunities, not government regulations.

I’ve read many articles slanted to make automation look bad. Some keep hinting that automation or robots will be replacing personnel in more than 50% of occupations, some say 70% of all occupations.

Then, to make it even worse, the authors point out that the jobs will be quickly lost. The reality of these anti-automation articles is that they exaggerate without considering the slow pace of change in the automation industry. Regardless of the actual speed at which automation, software and artificial intelligence affects occupations, I can assure you that it will, so plan for that.

If robots are bad, shouldn't we also be concerned about eCAD software. That's electronic computer-aided design, also called electronic design automation (EDA). Not only are we replacing manufacturing workers with robots, the automation is replacing those who design it, as well. What will happen to the engineers?

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For those out there who fear automation and think a safe space is needed to be free of it, you should know, I have been using eCAD for decades as a control system designer, and this helpful software has just made me more efficient by automating many of the tedious tasks and a lot of the calculations and data entry. More of that would be great.

The software makes me a better controls engineer, just as robots make the personnel on the assembly lines better, more efficient and more productive.

An automation-biased professional may quickly see these anti-automation articles for what they are—politics making a slippery mess on the factory floor—and somebody will get hurt. These dripping opinions include taxing and regulating automation, re-distributing the profits due to gains in productivity and many similar story lines. I like to focus on automation and better ways to do things, which requires knowledge, experience and innovation.

These sky-is-falling articles won't stop automation of any type. However, it can affect where automation puts down its roots, or where it doesn't.

In my mind, regulation of automation removes the incentive to excel at things, hurting innovation. I wonder if the state will let me use eCAD when they find out it makes me a better engineer. Software automation toolsets that help a control system designer efficiently draw, edit and document electrical schematics and related control panel layouts and part lists should be a requirement, not something regulated or taxed.

I started out drawing mechanical and electrical designs on paper. I was quite the artist, and the drawings looked great.

Early in college and at the start of my career I was introduced to computer-aided design from various suppliers. Going from paper to digital made a huge difference, and that is a trend still continuing today in many ways, 35 years later, with the digital twin as a popular example.

Even with the big step from pencil and paper to digital drawings, especially when it came to editing and storing the designs, there were still many manual functions that needed to be done. Creating electrical symbols and getting the lines on screen were still tedious processes. All the components and connecting wires, terminals and dots were manually inserted or drawn. Then the wire numbers, device designators and cross-reference information needed to be added.

Although eCAD requires training to become efficient with all of its features, once the knowledge is gained, it's much quicker to create designs by selecting electrical schematic symbols from an extensive library of components.

These eCAD symbols also contain much more data now. They include an actual part number that can automatically be added to a bill of materials. They also include current-carrying capabilities and other specifications to provide error-checking functionality.

Subcomponents can also be added to these symbols creating an assembly that includes the fusing, wiring and terminals needed to properly integrate the component. The result is fewer missed or forgotten parts.

The eCAD electrical toolsets—the added automation—also help with creating panel layouts. Picking all the parts out of a schematic and making sure they are included in the proper control enclosure is automated. At a minimum, there is an automated list of components that must be included in the panel layout, right on screen. This automation also ensures changes to the schematic make it to the back panel for wiring.

Even more automation makes electrical documentation simpler. The tedious work and double-checking the results are no longer necessary. With eCAD, it's now an automated report. Creation of terminal strip layouts, wire lists, bill of materials and other documentation are possible through a click of an icon or from a dropdown list of reports.

The result is as expected: automation increases production. There should be no additional fees for being more competitive and capable. Some stories just ignore the facts and real examples, but let’s not get bogged down with the industrial politics of things (IPoT) and what in the future will be dead-end jobs (DEJs). Instead, let's automate and learn to use it.

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