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What Does Automation Mean to You?

What Does Automation Mean to You?

When you hear the word “automation,” what’s the first thing that pops into your head? Many of us immediately jump to robot assembly lines in massive factories churning out products at lightning pace.

But there’s more to automation than robots and physical production.

In this article we’re going to explore software automation, and the benefits it can bring to your shop.

What is automation?

In simplest terms, automation is a combination of a trigger, a set of conditions, and an action.
For example, let’s look at the behavior of an automatic tool changer:

  1. Condition: The machine program reaches a specified point
  2. Trigger: The computer sends a tool change command to the ATC
  3. Action: The ATC changes the tool

You can create more complex automations by stringing together multiple simple automations. But at the end of the day the same principles always apply.

Automation allows us to delegate rote tasks to machines, which are much better at this kind of work than humans. After all, machines don’t make mistakes – they do exactly what we program them to do.
With the time saved by delegating the repetitive work, we can focus on the work that is uniquely human – tasks involving reasoning and judgement.

What is software automation?

In the physical world, repetitive tasks often involve moving physical objects – bar feeding, tool changing, etc.

In the digital world, repetitive tasks involve moving data – either manually entering data from one system into another, or manually compiling data from multiple systems into a single location. Like physical automation, software automation allows us to delegate these tasks to computers.

The efficiency gains that can be achieved with software automation are astonishing. Physical automation is limited by mass and gravity, but software automation is limited only by the processing power of your computer and your internet connection. A computer can move thousands of records per second, accomplishing more in five minutes than a human could in a day.

Software automation is built on the same principles as physical automation: triggers, conditions, and actions:


Software automation is triggered by events. There are two ways to tell if an event has occurred inside a software product:

1. The software can tell you (push notifications)
Ex: “A new customer ACME Inc. was created”

2. You can ask the software on a regular interval (polling strategy)
Ex: “Were any new customers created since I last checked?”

Automations triggered by push notifications are more efficient than those that rely on polling, but both can achieve similar results.


Conditions are essentially filters, and take the form of an “if” question. “If a customer is located in X region,” or “If a customer is in Y industry.”

Conditions can be combined with the boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT to create more complex conditions:

“If a customer is located in X region AND that customer is NOT in Y industry”


Actions involve interacting with a software application in one of these four ways:

  1. Create a new record
  2. Read an existing record out of the application
  3. Update an existing record
  4. Delete an existing record

Putting it all Together

Let’s take the examples from above and combine them into an automation.

  1. When a new customer is created,
  2. If that customer is located in X region and is not in Y industry,
  3. Update the customer record and assign sales rep Z.

Can you think of a way you could combine triggers, conditions, and actions to automate a task in your workflow?

When it comes to creating software automations, the possibilities are essentially limitless.

What can software automation mean for your business?

Have you ever found yourself manually updating the cost of raw materials or hardware based on a price list you received from your vendor? How about manually compiling weekly or monthly reports based on information scattered across your ERP, your email inbox, and a bunch of spreadsheets?

If your shop’s business processes involve moving or entering data manually, software automation can help. Software automation means:

  • More output from the same amount of input.
  • Less risk of clerical error when moving or entering data.
  • Better engagement from your employees, who now get to focus on higher-value work.

How to Get Started

There has never been an easier time to get started with software automation.

Modern software products often come with automation built in natively. For example, you could schedule an automatic email follow-up with a customer, or automatically extract the text data from a PDF. Check your software vendors’ website, or do a quick Google search, to learn more about the automation capabilities.

You can also create automations between two or more software products using a technology called an API (Application Programming Interface). An API makes it possible to receive triggers and perform actions without having to physically interact with the screens of an application’s user interface.

Not sure if your software has an API? Ask an AI tool like ChatGPT. You’ll be surprised at how detailed the responses will be for the following prompts:

  • “Does X software have an API?”
  • “Can I pull historical data from X software using the API?”
  • “Can you give me a link to the API documentation so I can learn more?”

Alternatively, reach out to your software vendor and ask for their recommendations on how best to create your desired automation with their software.

Automation and process improvement is a lifelong pursuit, not something you can achieve in a day. The first step is always the hardest, but you can make it easier using one of the tips above. Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to automating the repetitive processes in your shop, and freeing up your team to focus on higher-value work.

See how Paperless Parts can automate manual, repetitive tasks in your quoting process today.

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Rob Carrington is the founder of Carrington Manufacturing Solutions, and a former member of the product team at Paperless Parts. Rob leverages his expertise in software architecture and process optimization to help manufacturers craft a digital strategy and become more data-driven. Rob also has a YouTube channel dedicated to digital transformation and continuous improvement for job shop manufacturers.