What are the differences between robotics and automation?

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In sectors such as manufacturing and logistics, many professionals are confronted with technologies such as robotics and automation. However, the distinction between these two concepts remains blurred for many. So, before considering their integration to revolutionize a business, it remains important to understand their practical meanings, their specific applications and the conceptual differences between robotics and automation.
What is robotics?

Robotics essentially concerns the design, construction, operation and use of industrial robotic arms and computer systems. The latter are used to process information, control it, analyze data and provide sensory feedback. As far as robots are concerned, these are products from the field of robotics. Clearly, anything involving the use of physical robots can be described as robotics.
The different types of robot in industrial robotics. There are 6 types of robot used in industry:

  • Cartesian robots: These technologies use the Cartesian coordinate system (X, Y and Z) for linear movements along the three axes (front and back, up and down and side to side). All three joints are translational, meaning that joint movement is limited to a straight line. This is why these robots are also called “linear” robots.
  • Articulated robot: Articulated robots simulate the movement and actions of a human arm to a remarkable degree, especially those with a 6-axis robotic arm. These are the most common. However, the number of joints can vary according to application and manufacturer. As a general rule, the more axes a robot has, the smoother its movement and the less “robotic” it looks.

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  • SCARA robots: SCARA (Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm) robots are similar to Cartesian robots in that they move along 3 axes. However, unlike Cartesian robots, two of the joints of SCARA robots are rotatable. They are therefore capable of more complex movements. They are generally faster and more flexible in their movements. Nevertheless, they are less precise.
  • Polar robots: Polar robots (sometimes called spherical robots) feature a combination of two rotary joints and one linear joint. Their design creates a spherical production area.
  • Delta robots: Delta robots (also known as parallel robots) feature three parallelogram-shaped robot arms. The delta robot is usually located above the workpieces, attached to an overhead trestle. As all motors are on the base, the robot’s joints and arms are very light. The delta robot works in the shape of an inverted dome.
  • Cylindrical robots: Cylindrical robots have at least one rotating joint at the base and two linear joints. These technological products are generally used in confined workspaces, and are ideally suited to objects requiring circular symmetry (wires, pipes, etc.).



What is automation?

Automation refers to the use of machines, computer software or any other form of technology to perform tasks usually carried out by human workers. The focus is on the application of these technologies to produce and deliver goods and/or services with minimal human intervention in the workplace.

  • Software automation: Software automation is the practice of creating applications or software to reduce or eliminate human intervention in IT tasks and repetitive, time-consuming cloud operations. Software automation enables players in the digital supply chain to orchestrate resources throughout software production. The most concrete example is the GUI testing process. This type of software automation is a computer application testing technique that involves capturing a person’s activities while interacting with a graphical user interface. These activities can be repeated to independently test the program after certain modifications have been implemented in the base software.


  • Industrial automation: Industrial automation can be defined as the use of technology and robots in industry. This will enable the automatic operation and control of industrial processes without significant human intervention, and achieve higher performance than manual control. There are different types of industrial automation for a company:
    Fixed or hard automation: This is a type of automation in which the configuration of the manufacturing process remains fixed. It is therefore best suited to performing a single set of tasks repeatedly. Programmable automation: Programmable systems involve automated or robotized equipment controlled by programming for batch production. The latter is controlled by a program coded in such a way as to enable it to modify its sequence at any time. Soft automation: also known as flexible automation. It extends the capabilities of programming by allowing controls to be manipulated using specific codes.



The differences between robotics and automation

The terms “robotics” and “automation” are often used interchangeably. There are, however, some minor differences between the two concepts:

Robotics is the process of creating robots to perform a specific function.
Automation is the process of using technology to perform human tasks.

However, there are cases where these terms overlap. For example, robots are used to automate many manual tasks, particularly in the manufacturing sector. It should also be noted that there are several types that have nothing to do with the use of physical robots.

Although in some cases physical robots can be used in automation, most are not exactly created for this purpose. Similarly, there are many robotic products that have nothing to do with automation. Here are a few examples to illustrate the difference between these technologies:

– When a customer writes to a bank’s support team, a chatbot responds, asks for further information and politely asks the customer to leave feedback at the end of the conversation. This is an example of automation without robotics.
– When robots assemble a car in a factory, this is an example of automation with robotics.
– When a company offers robot pets to elderly people for their company, this is an example of robotics without automation.

In short, not all types of automation incorporate robots, and neither are all robots designed for automation. That said, most are used in an automation context, notably in industrial production.