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The Language of Automation and Robotics


In many sectors, the days of manual labour are long gone. Today, the engineering field of automation and robotics had totally changed a wide range of processes, especially those by which items are manufactured.

At Centennial College, students in the Electro-Mechanical Engineering Technology – Automation and Robotics program are learning the full range of automation theory and practice, from basic circuitry through to its application in an automated system. This knowledge allows graduates to contribute to automotive, food, pharmaceuticals, packaging, aircraft and communications industries, building automation, mining, transportation and power generation sectors. In the field, they’ll work in everything from machine building and installing to robotics programming and technical sales.

No matter what career route Centennial’s graduates take in automation and robotics, they’re all equipped with a cache of knowledge, skills and terminology that helps them to succeed. Here’s a look at some terms familiar to automation and robotics experts.


Automation is both the creation of technology (namely electronics and computer-controlled devices) and its application to control and monitor the production and delivery of various goods and services. When you talk about automation and robotics, you’re usually referring to industrial automation, which involves using physical machines and control systems to automate tasks. In other words, automation is used to perform tasks humans used to complete. An example of automation everyone is familiar with are robotic assembly lines.


A branch of engineering, robotics incorporates multiple disciplines to design, build, program and use robotic machines. With advancements in technology, programming capability is now common in robotic systems, as is the use of sensors and other devices that monitor environmental aspects (think temperature, air pressure, light, motion). In manufacturing, specifically, robots create efficiencies from raw material handling to finished product packaging. They are often used in repetitive tasks that are difficult (such as handling parts too small for human eyes or fingers) or too dangerous for humans. 


This is yet another branch of engineering involved in automation and robotics. It makes use of gas or pressurized air to transmit force and energy. Pneumatic machines need five basic components: a compressor to make air, a reservoir to store air, one or more valves to control air, a circuit to move air between various components, and an actuator or motor to use the air to complete a task. You may recognize the use of pneumatics in your day-to-day life in the form of air brakes on buses or trucks, dental drills and tools such as jackhammers. In automation and robotics, a great example of using pneumatics is a robotic paint machine using compressed air to make an even spray of paint across the body of a car.


Did you just envision a low rider car jumping up and down in a 90s hip-hop video? Hydraulics in cars is installed equipment that allows for a dynamic adjustment in height of the vehicle. Hydraulics is actually the counterpart of pneumatics but it employs liquid instead of gas. So, it’s used for generation, control and transmission of power by using pressurized liquids. Beyond making cars jump, you’ll recognize the use of hydraulics in power steering and brakes on many vehicles, backhoes, and hitch controls of agricultural tractors.

Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs)

PLCs are essentially at the heart of every industrial application today. They are industrial-grade digital computers designed to perform controlled functions. Because many PLCs in the electromechanical engineering field of automation and robotics are modular, the professionals who build them can add an assortment of functions. Among these are motor control, position control and serial communication. PLCs are usually made up of five basic parts: a power supply, a central processing unit, input and output cards, a backplane, and a rack all the parts are placed into. On the outside, PLCs have a programming device and human-machine interface (HMI), so humans can monitor, interact with and shut down the control system.

Written by: Izabela Szydlo