Automation Pyramid: Mastering Industry 4.0

The Automation Pyramid, as a fundamental concept in industrial automation, offers a structured hierarchy for the integration of technologies in production processes. 

From the field level with direct interaction with sensors to the company level for strategic decisions, it forms the backbone of modern production systems. 

In this blog article, you will find out what the different levels of the Automation Pyramid look like in detail, what goals and benefits you can achieve with this structure and what practical applications are possible.

automation pyramid definition

Automation Pyramid - Definition

The Automation Pyramid is a hierarchical modelwhich is used in industrial automation to structure different levels of control and monitoring in production processes. 

This pyramid usually consists of four main levels:

  1. Field level: This is where sensors and actuators interact directly with the physical processes. This level is directly connected to the machines and systems.
  2. control level: At this level, the data from the field level is processed and decisions are made to control the processes. Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and other control units are located at this level.
  3. Control level: This level monitors and optimizes the production processes. SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems are used here to provide a comprehensive view of the processes.
  4. Company level: Strategic business decisions are made at the highest level. This is where production data is analyzed in order to increase efficiency, control costs and improve the company's overall performance.

The Automation Pyramid enables the systematic integration of automation technologies, resulting in efficient and coordinated control of production processes. This model forms the basis for organized and well-structured automation in industry.

The different levels of the Automation Pyramid

The Automation Pyramid consists of several levels, each with specific functions in industrial automation. Automation fulfill. 

The main levels of the automation pyramid are as follows:

  1. Field level

Function: Direct interaction with the physical processes takes place at this level. Sensors and actuators are localized here and collect data directly from machines and systems.

Tasks: Recording of process variables such as temperature, pressure, position, etc. and execution of commands by actuators.

  1. Control level

Function: This level processes the data from the field level and makes decisions to control the processes.

Tasks: Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and other control units are located here. They monitor and control the processes in real time.

  1. Control level

Function: The control level monitors and optimizes the production processes. It provides a comprehensive view of the processes.

Tasks: SCADA systems (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) enable the visualization and control of processes. Comprehensive data acquisition and analysis is carried out.

  1. Company level

Function: The highest level of the Automation Pyramid, where strategic business decisions are made.

Tasks: At this level, production data is analyzed in order to achieve business goals. Decisions on resource allocation, capacity planning and long-term strategic goals are made here.

These levels work together, with data flowing from the field level up through the hierarchy and control commands being passed from top to bottom at the same time. The Automation Pyramid creates a structured environment for the implementation of automation technologies in industry.

automation pyramid goals

Goals and advantages of the Automation Pyramid

The Automation Pyramid offers a structured hierarchy for the implementation of automation technologies in industrial production. 

The aims and benefits of this pyramid are manifold:

Goals of the Automation PyramidAdvantages of the Automation Pyramid
Efficiency improvement: Processes can be designed and controlled more efficiently by clearly structuring the automation functions.Structured implementation: Allows step-by-step implementation of automation technologies, starting at field level and gradually moving upwards.
Quality improvement: Precise control of production processes leads to improved product quality.Easy maintenance: Clear hierarchy facilitates problem identification and maintenance at every level.
Cost reduction: Operating costs can be reduced through automation, in particular by increasing efficiency and reducing errors.Integrated data acquisition: From field level to company level, the pyramid enables integrated data collection for analysis and decision-making.
Flexibility: The pyramid structure allows flexible adaptation to changing production requirements and technologies.Scalability: Companies can scale automation according to their requirements, whether by adding new sensors at field level or by implementing more advanced technologies at higher levels.
Safety: A clear hierarchy facilitates the implementation of security measures and protocols at various levels.Simple expandability: New technologies and innovations can be easily integrated into the existing structure, making the pyramid future-proof.

The automation pyramid pursues goals such as Efficiency increase, Quality improvement, Cost reduction, Flexibility and Security

These goals are achieved through various advantages, including structured implementation, simple maintenance, integrated data acquisition, scalability and easy expandability.

Technologies of the individual levels

The different levels of the Automation Pyramid use different technologies to meet the specific requirements at each hierarchical level. Here are the typical technologies for each level:

  1. Field level

Sensors and actuators: Detect physical parameters such as temperature, pressure, position and execute actions.

  • Temperature sensors
  • Pressure sensors
  • Stepper motors

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT): Networking of devices for real-time monitoring and data acquisition.

  • RFID tags
  • Intelligent cameras

Field buses: Communication protocols for data exchange between sensors, actuators and control units.

  • Profibus
  • Modbus
  • DeviceNet
  1. Control level

Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs): Control units for processing data from the field level and for decision-making.

  • Siemens S7
  • Allen-Bradley
  • ControlLogix

Distributed Control Systems (DCS): Distributed control systems for the coordinated control of multiple processes.

  • Yokogawa CENTUM
  • ABB System 800xA

Field-level buses: Communication between different control components.

  • CANopen
  • EtherCAT
  • AS-Interface
  1. Control level

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA): Visualization and monitoring of processes in real time.

  • Wonderware
  • Ignition
  • WinCC

Human Machine Interface (HMI): User interfaces for interacting with the processes.

  • Siemens SIMATIC HMI
  • Schneider Electric Vijeo Citect

Historian: Stores and analyzes historical production data.

  • OSIsoft PI System
  • GE Digital Historian
  1. Company level

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP): Software for resource planning at company level.

  • SAP ERP
  • Oracle E-Business Suite

Manufacturing Execution System (MES): Coordinates and monitors the production processes.

  • Apriso FlexNet
  • Werum PAS-X

Business intelligence (BI): Analysis tools for strategic decision-making.

Each of these technologies fulfills specific functions at its respective level and enables seamless communication between the levels. The integration of these technologies ensures efficient and coordinated automation of industrial processes.

Role of the Automation Pyramid in Industry 4.0

The Automation Pyramid plays a crucial role in implementing the principles of Industry 4.0. 

Industry 4.0 refers to the fourth industrial revolution, which is characterized by the integration of digitalization, networking and intelligent technologies into industrial production. 

The Automation Pyramid acts as a Organizational and conceptual modelwhich forms the basis for the implementation of Industry 4.0 principles. 

These are some aspects of how the Automation Pyramid is relevant in Industry 4.0:

  • Integration of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT): Industry 4.0 aims to seamlessly integrate IT and OT. The Automation Pyramid provides a structure that connects the different levels of production automation, enabling integrated data communication and information exchange.
  • Horizontal and vertical networking: The Automation Pyramid enables both horizontal and vertical networking. Horizontal refers to the integration of technologies at a specific hierarchical level (e.g., integration of machines at the same level), while vertical networking enables communication between levels (e.g., data exchange from the field level to the enterprise level).
  • Flexibility and adaptability: Industry 4.0 strives for flexible and adaptable production systems. The Automation Pyramid provides a structured basis that enables companies to react flexibly to changes, whether by adding new sensors at field level or by implementing advanced technologies at higher levels.
  • Real-time data and analysis: Industry 4.0 emphasizes the importance of real-time data and analysis for data-driven production. The Automation Pyramid enables real-time data to be collected at field level and analyzed at higher levels, leading to fast and informed decisions.

Overall, the Automation Pyramid provides a structured basis for achieving the goals of Industry 4.0, including increased efficiency, flexibility, transparency and adaptability in industrial production.

Challenges

The automation pyramid faces various challenges that can influence its implementation and use. 

Challenges that you should keep in mind are:

  1. Interoperability: The different levels of the automation pyramid often use different technologies and standards. Ensuring seamless interoperability between these systems can be a complex task.
  2. Safety: With the increasing networking of the various levels, the risk of cyber attacks. The security of automation systems, especially at field level, is crucial to prevent unauthorized access and data manipulation.
  3. Scalability: The automation pyramid must be scalable in order to cope with growing requirements and data volumes. It should be possible to add new devices, sensors or applications without significant effort.
  4. Legacy systems: Many companies use older automation systems that were not designed for Industry 4.0 from the outset. Integrating such legacy systems into modern automation solutions can be a challenge.
  5. Data security and data protection: With increased data collection at various levels of the automation pyramid, protecting this data from unauthorized access and complying with data protection regulations is crucial.
  6. Implementation complexity: The introduction of automation solutions at every level often requires extensive training and implementation work. The complexity of these processes can be a challenge for companies.
  7. Cost: Investments in the modernization and integration of automation systems can be considerable. Companies are faced with the challenge of weighing up the benefits of these investments against the costs.
  8. Dynamics of the market: The rapid development of new technologies and industry standards can make it difficult for companies to keep up with the latest developments and update their systems accordingly.

These challenges require careful planning, a clear strategy and often collaboration with experts to ensure successful implementation and use of the automation pyramid.

automation pyramid use cases

Use Cases

Below you will find three use cases for the automation pyramid in various industries:

Production industry - Automated production line

Problems:

  • Manual interventions in the production line lead to efficiency losses
  • Difficulties in adapting quickly to production changes

Solution:

  • Integration of automation technologies at field level for a continuous and efficient production line
  • Quick adaptation to production changes thanks to the integration of control systems

Example: Automated production line in the automotive industry

A car manufacturer integrates robot systems at field level to perform various assembly steps automatically. This includes welding, painting and assembly of components. This automation makes the production line more efficient and flexible to respond to different vehicle models and requirements.

More information about the Digitalization of the construction industry can be found in the linked article.

Energy supply - Automated monitoring of power grids

Problems:

  • Manual monitoring of power grids is labor-intensive and inaccurate
  • Delays in the detection of faults in the electricity grid

Solution:

  • Use of SCADA systems (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) at the control level for real-time monitoring of power grids
  • Automated detection of faults and rapid response through integration of control systems

Example: Automated monitoring of power grids in the energy sector

An energy supply company implements SCADA systems to monitor power grids in real time. These systems continuously collect data on current flows, voltages and other relevant parameters. In the event of faults, an automatic notification is sent and the control system enables a rapid response to rectify problems.

Logistics - Automated warehouse management

Problems:

  • Manual warehouse management processes lead to errors and delays
  • Difficulties in the efficient management of stocks

Solution:

  • Implementation of warehouse automation systems at the control and management level
  • Automated management of stock levels, picking and shipping for efficient logistics

Example: Automated warehouse management in logistics

An e-commerce company uses warehouse automation systems that utilize automated storage and retrieval machines and conveyor belts. These systems enable the automated storage, picking and retrieval of products in the warehouse. Precise and efficient warehouse management is achieved through the integration of sensors and control systems.

These examples illustrate how the automation pyramid can be used in different industries to automate manual processes and increase efficiency, even if specific AI technologies are not considered.

green box with konfuzio logo

Support automation with Konfuzio

Konfuzio is an AI platform for intelligent document processing that transforms unstructured data into actionable insights. 

Through image recognition and text extraction, Konfuzio automates the processing of documents, Optimizes business processes and enables precise data extraction for various applications. 

The platform is flexible, customizable and supports companies in various industries in the automation of document workflows.

Konfuzio & Automation Pyramid = Perfect Match?

The automation pyramid and Konfuzio can work together at several levels of industrial automation to enable more efficient and intelligent processes. 

The cooperation can look like this, for example:

  1. Data acquisition and field level:

    The automation pyramid comprises the lowest level, the field level, on which sensors and actuators operate. 
    Konfuzio provides support here by enabling image recognition and text extraction at field level. 
    This includes the automated capture of information from images and text documents in real time.

  2. Process control level and control:

    Processes are monitored and controlled at the control level of the automation pyramid. 
    Konfuzio extracts data from unstructured documents and integrates it into the automated decision-making process. 
    For example, invoices, reports or other documents are analyzed to provide information for decisions at this level.

  3. Monitoring and diagnosis:

    At the monitoring level, Konfuzio and the automation pyramid work together to improve pattern recognition and diagnostic functions. 
    Konfuzio offers, for example, image recognition for the visual monitoring of installations or OCR (Optical Character Recognition) for the automated analysis of text documents.

  4. Management and company level:

    At the corporate level, Konfuzio helps to transform unstructured data into business information. 
    This is useful for decision-making at higher levels of the automation pyramid, including planning and strategic management.

  5. Continuous optimization and learning:

    Konfuzio supports you in developing machine learning models based on the collected data. 
    The automation pyramid then uses these models in real time to continuously optimize processes. 
    For example, you could use image recognition to detect anomalies at an early stage and trigger preventive measures.

The integration of Konfuzio into the automation pyramid offers the opportunity to take advantage of intelligent data processing and machine analysis at all levels of industrial automation. This leads to more efficient, more accurate and more agile production.

Conclusion - Konfuzio and the automation pyramid create intelligent synergies

The automation pyramid plays a decisive role in the industry by harmonizing the hierarchy of automation levels and enabling efficient, coordinated processes. 

The integration of applications such as Konfuzio, an AI platform for document processing, reinforces this effect by making intelligent use of unstructured data. 

For the future, there are indications that advancing technologies such as machine learning and advanced analyses will further optimize the automation pyramid and open up new potential for Industry 4.0. 

The combination of established hierarchies and innovative AI solutions therefore promises a pioneering development in the field of industrial automation.

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