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automationthe use of mechanical or electrical machines such as robots to undertake frequently-repeated PRODUCTION processes to make them self-regulating, thus avoiding human intervention in these processes. Automation often involves high initial capital investment but, by reducing labour costs, cuts VARIABLE COST per unit.
Automation can be applied to mass production, PRODUCTION-LINE operations which are performed in a fixed sequence with high volumes but in a relatively inflexible way, where changes in the process to accommodate product changes are difficult and costly to implement (fixed automation). Automation can also be applied to lower volume BATCH PRODUCTION type operations, allowing in this case for greater flexibility in accommodating product changes by reprogramming the numerically-controlled machine's/robot's instructions to facilitate rapid changeovers (flexible or programmable automation). See FLEXIBLE MANUFACTURING SYSTEM.