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Type of Plant layouts and type of automation - Short notes series for Mechanical Engineers

In the last article, we introduced the concept of CAD/CAM in Industrial Manufacturing. Now, let us talk about the different types of plant layouts and automations in use.

What is plant layout?

Plant layout comprises of the arrangement of physical facilities in a manufacturing plant. The figure below shows the three types of plant layouts, fixed position layout, proces layout and product flow layout.

Let us now look at these one by one.

Fixed position layout.

In this type, the term 'fixed position' refers to the product which is being manufactured. The product remains at one location because of its size and weight and the equipment, machinary which is used in the process are brought to it. For example, an aircraft assembly and ship building are some products which make use of such plant layout.

Process layout.

In this layout, the production machines are arranged into groups according to the type of manufacturing process used. For example, the lathes are in one department, drill machines are in another etc. The process layout is used in job shop and batch production. 

Product flow layout.

If a plant is specially used for the manufacture of one product or class of product in large volumes, the plant facilities are arranged to produce the plant. 

Types of automation.

Automation makes use of mechanical, electrical, electronics and computer based systems to operate and control production. An automated system must be highly felxible to accomodate several product lifecycles. Automation systems are classified into three types: 

  1. Fixed automation
  2. Programmable automation
  3. Flexible automation


Fixed automation

In this type of automation, the sequence of processing operations is fixed by the equipment configuration. The operations in the sequence are usually simple, but due to many such operations and their integrations the complexity comes into play. The features of fixed automation are:

  • High initial investment for customized equipment
  • High production rates
  • Low or no flexibility in accomodating product changes

The example of fixed automation can be mechanised assembly lines and machining transfer lines.

Programmable automation

In this kind of automation, the production machinary is designed with the capability to change the operation sequence to accomodate different products. A programme, which consists of a set of coded instructions which the system can read and interpret, is used to control the operation sequence. To produce new products, new set of coded instructions/ programmes can be entered into the system. The features of programmable automation are:

  • High initial investment for general purpose equipment
  • Low production rates as compared to fixed automation
  • Flexibility to accomodate product changes
  • Most suitable for batch production

Flexible automation

In this automation, manufacturing of a variety of parts and products and can be done. The features of flexible automation are:

  • High initial investment for customized engineered equipment
  • Continuous production of variable mixtures of products or parts
  • Flexibility to accomodate product changes
  • Most suitable for mass production 

So we hope, you have understood the plant layouts and types of automation in this article which is useful for GATE and other engineering exams. In the next article, we will look at different CAD/CAM softwares and their features.

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