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Automation2

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appendage (1)'by devices which automatically transfer work from one machine in a sequence to another; (2) by built-in guides .and feeds; (3) by "monitoring" devices which constantly or. regularly inspect the operation's output and automatically make the 'adjustments to the machine that meters, gauges, etc., indicate to be necessary; (4) by coordinating devices, such as computers, which integrate each machine into a 'larger whole, and which make the whole production line work as one self-operating machine. In general, the devices and techniques for accomplishing this already exist.
Some further features 'are not yet developed: (1) constructing machines which are effectively "self-repairing"; (2) constructing machines which can add new elements to themselves automatically. Neither of these two prob-'lems is more than an engineering problem'; automation hasn't yet reached that stage of practical development where these two features have received much attention. Nonetheless, a fully automatic factory' must incorporate these features.
Thus it is technologically possible, through automation, to eliminate most of the'labor force in industry today. This is not science-fiction; it is fact, as more and more workers will realize shortly.

How Automation Works

The one key principle that underlies automation is the principle of feedback. We shall attempt to make this principle clear through illustration.
Manufacturer Jones.walks into the office of his engineering staff and announces a problem he wishes solved. In his factory there are a number of electroplating tanks which are cooled by water,running through coils placed in the tanks. In this'case it is important to keep the tanks at a temperature of 70. degrees Fahrenheit, with a tolerance of plus or minus two or three degrees. This means that the amount of water1 flowing through the cooling coils must be carefully regu-ilated. If too much water runs through the coils, the tank temperature will drop too low; if not enough water flows through the coils, the temperature of the tank will rise too high.
It is not possible to run a-fixed-amount of water through the coils, for two main reasons: first, the tendency of the tanks to heat up; varies with the amount of water and the temperature of the shop air,; second, the temperature of the water flowing through the coils varies. So the manufacturer has to hire labor to regularly adjust the valves on the cooling coils.
Since Manufacturer Jones, like any successful business 'man, is money-hungry, there is a strong probability that he will perforate an ulcer unless his engineering staff finds a way to drop that "extra" labor from the pay roll.
Fortunately for Jones' ulcers, his engineering staff pops up with a quick and easy solution. On each valve they install a small, reversible motor, geared way down, in each tank they place a thermo-couple, which puts out varying currents according to the tank temperature. Now they take the wires from the thermo-couples and run them to control boxes which regulate the valve motors. When the temperature starts to rise, .the electronic control 'Starts the motor to open-the valve. When the temperature starts to fall, the electronic control starts the motor in the opposite direction to clo^e down the valve . . . and the "extra" workers get their notice.
A simpler but similar device operates the automatic oil-fired central-heating system in a modern home or office-building.
What has been done? Electrical "information" a quantity of voltage, amperage or phase -difference from the output (in these cases, temperature) is transmitted to the device regulating the input (in these cases, a source of cooling or heating).
The same problem might be solved hydraulic ally. The engineers at Jones' might have put a ball of fluid in the tank. Assuming 'that this fluid expanded and contracted in volume fairly rapidly with changes in temperature, they could connect the ball to a .spring-loaded valve on the'water line, so that when the tank temperature went up the fluid would expand, opening the valve; and when the temperature went down in the tank, the fluid would contract, allow- ; ing the spring to force the valve partly closed.
In this kind of solution to Jones' problem, hydraulic "information" about the temperature would have been used to control the device regulating the input. In either case, this transmission of information about outputs to control devices regulating inputs is called feedback. Whether the information is electrical, hydraulic or mechanical, the principle is the same. Many modern computers use all three kinds of information, according to whichever kind is the most efficient and least costly.
Obviously, the same principle can be used to "tie" a reading from a meter, gauge, micrometer, etc., to a small motor or valve on a machine to make the machine "self-adjusting."
What, then, does a: worker do to his machine? He reads a meter, gauge,. micrometer, counter or blueprint: takes an order from some central authority "information" and - adjusts, starts, sets up, stops the machine. The worker, then, represents to the machine a small amount of power used to; adjust controls, and a "nervous system" to handle the nerve impulses (information) to control those iron rnius-cles. The worker does not use all his intelligence, but only a very small part of it,: to do his job on the machine. (Cf. Marx, op. cit., pp. 461-462.) The factory uses the principle of feedback, built into the human being, to control "the variable features

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Page last modified on October 02, 2012, at 03:35 PM