Advantages and Disadvantages of Automation


Is automation “good” or “bad”? There are arguments on both sides of this issue. On one hand the cost of production on a per item basis is generally lower, on the other hand it is often said that automation takes jobs from people. The following is from the first chapter of my book:

Human beings have been making things for many thousands of years. Originally most products were made on an individual as-needed basis; if a tool was required it was fashioned by hand and in turn used to make more tools. As time passed, more complex techniques were developed to help people accomplish fabrication and production tasks. Metalworking technology, weaving looms, water-driven grinding mills and the development of steam and gasoline engines all contributed to a greater ability to make various products, but things were still generally made one at a time by craftspeople skilled in various techniques. It was only after the industrial revolution and common use of electrical energy and mechanisms that manufacturing of products on a large scale became commonplace.

Some disadvantages of automation are:

• Technology limits. Current technology is unable to automate all desired tasks. Some tasks cannot be easily automated, such as the production or assembly of products with inconsistent component sizes or in tasks where manual dexterity is required. There are some things that are best left to human assembly and manipulation.

Economic limits. Certain tasks would cost more to automate than to perform manually. Automation is typically best suited to processes that are repeatable, consistent and high volume.

• Unpredictable development costs. The research and development cost of automating a process is difficult to predict accurately beforehand. Since this cost can have a large impact on profitability, it is possible to finish automating a process only to discover that there is no economic advantage in doing so. With the advent and continued growth of different types of production lines, however, more accurate estimates based on previous projects can be made.

Initial costs are relatively high. The automation of a new product or the construction of a new plant requires a huge initial investment compared to the unit cost of the product. Even machinery for which the development cost has already been recovered is expensive in terms of hardware and labor. The cost can be prohibitive for custom production lines where product handling and tooling must be developed.

• A skilled maintenance department is often required to service and maintain the automation system in proper working order. Failure to maintain the automation system will ultimately result in lost production and/or bad parts being produced.

A few advantages of automation are:

Replacing human operators in tasks that involve hard physical or monotonous work.

Replacing humans in tasks performed in dangerous environments such as those with temperature extremes or radioactive and toxic atmospheres.

Making tasks that are beyond human capabilities easier. Handling heavy or large loads, manipulating tiny objects or the requirement to make products very quickly or slowly are examples of this.

Production is often faster and labor costs less on a per product basis than the equivalent manual operations.

Automation systems can easily incorporate quality checks and verifications to reduce the number of out-of-tolerance parts being produced while allowing for statistical process control that will allow for a more consistent and uniform product.

Economic improvement. Automation can serve as the catalyst for improvement in the economies of enterprises or society. For example, the gross national income and standard of living in Germany and Japan improved drastically in the 20th century, due in large part to embracing automation for the production of weapons, automobiles, textiles and other goods for export.

Automation systems don’t call in sick!

Overall, the advantages would seem to outweigh the disadvantages. It can be safely said that countries that have embraced automation enjoy a higher standard of living than those that have not. At the same time, a concern is often aired that automating tasks takes jobs from people that used to build things by hand. Regardless of the social implications, there is no doubt that productivity increases with the proper application of automation techniques.

What do you think? Is automation “good” or “bad”?

*Check out this follow-up post on June 6, 2016


Electrical Engineer and business owner from the Nashville, Tennessee area. I also play music, Chess and Go.

16 Comments on “Advantages and Disadvantages of Automation

  1. As you said, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. However, that doesn’t mean that all processes should be automated. In many plants the best results come from a mixture of the two.

  2. hello sir/madam,
    i been going through all the blogs about automation i cleared with mind that all inventions has their advantage and disadvantage .Here with automation but i doubt about HOME AUTOMATION where as in 21st century is it necessary or has become mandatory in every one daily life. what about people thought towards HOME AUTOMATION ?
    thank you

  3. I have known all about automation but what is confusing me is that when I google about stores automation then I’m given results of automation alone. Does this mean that automation alone and stores automation mean the the same? and the advantages and disadvantages of stores automation and those of automation alone are they the same?

    • Not sure what you mean by stores automation… Probably Google is not sure either since that is not a typical term. Do you mean “storage and retrieval” which is a technique used in warehouses, Amazon, etc., or do you mean “stores”, as in retail stores that use barcodes and track transactions? These two fields are served by different kinds of automation companies.

  4. According to my knowledge and my point of view Yes the advantages weigh more than the disadvantages but the disadvantages have a more severe effect on humans

  5. i have been ask to Google the three types of material handling but u keep always giving me the equipment of material handling does this mean that equipment use of material handling is the types of material handling

    • Funny thing about that… people can make up whatever definitions they want and then ask what the answer is… It sounds like you are trying to answer a question from a class. If so, I’d use whatever definition the instructor or book gives you. Robotic, manual and animal-assisted? Active, passive and virtual? Conveyors, fluid and wind-driven? Ahhh the possibilities are endless…

  6. Yes, I agree with this article. Industrial automation replaces the tasks performed by humans with the use computers, robots, and information technology for handling different processes and machineries in an industry.

  7. Can anyone point me to a single process that is widely accepted by society, which involves decision making with possible exposure to risk of death or injury to one or more humans, where the human operator has been totally replaced by automation.

    Theoretical example: Complete air flights using autopilot with no human pilots in the cockpit.

  8. It makes sense that automation would work great in areas where humans would have a hard time doing the job. Having some kind of automatic unloading machine would be great if you had to get heavy objects off a truck or something like that. That way you don’t have any injured employees but you still get the job done well.

  9. Hello Frank,

    As you said advantages seem to be outweigh the disadvantages but I think it mainly depends on the situation where it is implemented.Thanks a lot for sharing this post.

  10. I still don’t understand why is automation supposed to be a threat for human jobs… It will not remove jobs, it will transform them. Probably all the experience gathered from years working in automation can be used in designing new processes, tools, efficient layouts…

    Those tasks which do not require thinking end up with less stimulated workers and I think their experience can be greatly appreciated. It’s a different thing if they do not search for the way to acquire those options or if the industry does not know how to recognize that (like current businesses cannot do with the elderly)…

    Anyhow, even though industry offers a wide range of options for IIoT, the comparison between digital and analogue is still considerable. See the article for that topic:

  11. There are benefits of automated software testing, at the same time, it has its demands and drawbacks in it. Just like other methods in software development, there is no perfect one. Automated software testing requires a higher skill level of team members, increase tooling needs and requires more initial developer time and I think these are some of the disadvantages of automated software testing.