The use of automatic machinery and systems, particularly those manufacturing or data‐processing systems which require little or no human intervention in their normal operation. During the 19th century a number of machines such as looms and lathes became increasingly self‐regulating. At the same time transfer‐machines were developed, whereby a series of machine‐tools, each doing one operation automatically, became linked in a continuous production line by pneumatic or hydraulic devices transferring components from one operation to the next. In addition to these technological advances in automation, the theory of ‘scientific management’, which was based on the early time‐and‐motion studies of Frederick Winslow Taylor in Philadelphia, USA, in the 1880s was designed by Taylor to enhance the efficiency and productivity of workers and machines. In the early 20th century, with the development of electrical devices and time‐switches, more processes became automatically controlled, and a number of basic industries such as oil‐refining, chemicals, and food‐processing were increasingly automated. The development of computers after World War II enabled more sophisticated automation to be used in manufacturing industries, for example iron and steel.
The most familiar example of a highly automated system is perhaps an assembly plant for automobiles or other complex products. Over the last few decades automation has evolved from the comparatively straightforward mechanization of tasks traditionally carried out by hand, through the introduction of complex automatic control systems, to the widespread automation of information collection and processing.