Technology types

There are different types of technology: fixed, flexible, hard, soft, product, operation, equipment, cutting edge, innovation, clean, among others.

Beyond its types, it is important to remember that although we tend to associate technology with electronic devices, technology is any knowledge or resource applied in a specific area. The invention of the wheel, for example, was one of the greatest technological inventions of mankind.

The classifications of the types of technology vary according to the authors. Each of them takes into account if the technology can have more than one use, if it produces a tangible or intangible good, if it is applied to a product, an operation or a process, etc.

According to its versatility

In 1967, the American sociologist James D. Thompson proposed two general types of technology in his book Organizations in Action: Fixed and Flexible Technology. Since then, other authors have proposed new categories, but their classification is considered pioneering. According to Thompson, the technology can be:

1. Fixed technology

It is technology designed to serve a single purpose. Therefore, it cannot be used for purposes other than those for which it was created. In addition, fixed technology evolves very slowly, unlike other types of technology that require constant updating.

The fact that fixed technology has only one function makes it highly specialized, ensuring superior performance over the use of flexible technologies.

However, its upgrade limitations translate into high maintenance or replacement costs. In addition, you run the risk of becoming obsolete more quickly.

An example of fixed technology par excellence are oil refineries, made up of a series of infrastructures and procedures dedicated exclusively to the transformation of oil into its different derivatives, such as gasoline or diesel.

2. Flexible technology

Flexible technology is one that has several uses, since it can be adapted or complemented with other technologies or products. This means that you can change its operation or the purpose for which it was created.

This capacity for adaptation is efficient and economical for companies, since they do not have to invest in several fixed technologies, but the same type of technology can serve to cover several of their needs.

An example of flexible technology is the blockchain , which allows the digital storage of data that cannot be lost, modified or deleted. This makes it used in cryptocurrency transactions, in the food industry to track products, or in electoral systems.

According to the product obtained

Depending on whether the technology is used to obtain tangible goods (such as physical products) or intangible goods (methodologies or knowledge), it is classified into:

3. Hard technology

It refers to the production or manufacture of machinery or devices that can be used as final products or as parts of a larger structure.

Hard technology is directly linked to the processing of raw materials, therefore, its development depends on physical, chemical or biological processes that allow the transformation of materials into finished products.

Hard technology is probably the type of technology that we have the most access to in our day-to-day lives, since it involves the manufacture of any device that allows us to perform a task.

Examples of hard technology can be anything from a fork to a screw, to a hair dryer, a car, a cell phone, or computer hardware.

4. Soft technology

It is about all the methodologies, processes, knowledge that although they are not tangible, (since they are not physical products), they constitute an asset or material of value, because they complement the use of hard technologies. In other words, hard technology would be the object and soft technology is the knowledge of how to use that object.

Many soft technologies are supported by areas of knowledge such as psychology, communication, statistics, administration, marketing, accounting, among others.

Examples of soft technologies can be agile methodologies, which help to manage projects efficiently, software production and digital marketing strategies.

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According to your application

The technology can be applied in the design phase of a product or in production processes. In each case, it is classified into:

5. Product technology

They are all the processes, tools and information that make the development of a product possible. This includes from the raw material to make a product, master formulas, testing methods, product evaluation reports, technical specifications, instructions for use, etc.

In other words, product technology is all the knowledge involved in making an artifact. It is knowing how to do something, or what in English is known as know how. This knowledge is protected by law with registrations or patents, so it cannot be reproduced without permission from the manufacturer.

An example of product technology is the Coca-Cola formula.

6. Operation technology

It is the constant updating of methods, procedures, knowledge and devices in order to drive improvements in production processes. Operating technology promotes efficiency by stimulating higher productivity with fewer resources and in less time.

This type of technology has many applications in business, corporate and industrial environments, where constant improvements to existing processes are always being sought to save resources.

An example of operating technology is long-distance communication systems, which have evolved from letters and the telegraph to instant messaging or video calls.

7. Equipment technology

It is the technology developed by the manufacturers themselves as a complement to their products. In some industries, the manufacturer only develops the device, but the technology is implemented by others. This is the case of cell phones, whose applications are developed by third parties.

In computer technology, the manufacturer handles both processes.

An example would be the LED technology of today’s televisions. This technology is developed by the television manufacturer itself and is integrated into the device.

According to your level of innovation

Depending on how novel a technology is for the moment or context in which it is used, it is classified into:

8. State-of-the-art technology or high technology

It is about the most advanced knowledge or devices for the moment in which they were designed. Although it can be understood that high technology may be better than the previous ones, the reality is that since they are processes or artifacts with little time on the market, it is not always possible to determine their true scope or efficiency in the short term.

In addition, the implementation of state-of-the-art technology implies high levels of investment that not all companies or individuals are willing to make.

Examples of cutting-edge technology for the current moment would be the internet of things, the 5G network, biotechnology and artificial intelligence.

9. Adequate or intermediate technology

Also called appropriate technology, it is all knowledge, method or artifact that helps to solve a problem, in a way that is compatible with the cultural, economic and social conditions of the environment in which it is going to be applied.

The term “adequate” refers to solutions according to the reality of the population to which they are directed. These are generally disadvantaged communities where the implementation of state-of-the-art technology can be unsustainable in economic or environmental terms.

An example of suitable technology would be solar cookers used in populations that lack access to electricity or gas.

10. Low technology

Low technology is all knowledge or devices that are already obsolete with respect to high technology or that only require artisan or mechanical work to function.

Low technology is still used despite more advanced technologies. In this sense, low technology is cheap and in many cases, energy efficient.

Examples of low technology are trades such as blacksmithing and pottery or homemade methods for making artisan beverages.

According to the production system

In 1953, researcher Joan Woodward conducted a study in the United Kingdom to understand the development of structures in organizations. From there emerged a classification of three types of technologies used by companies according to their form of production:

11. Production technology by units or projects

They are the activities that result in a unique product. This type of technology not only applies to finished products (tangible goods) but also to procedures (intangible goods).

Examples of unit production technology are those used in the construction of buildings, ships or airplanes.

12. Mass production technology

This technology involves process chains that generate a continuous production line for consumer goods in batches.

Mass production technology requires standardized procedures, coordination of tasks and qualification of human resources for specific tasks.

An example of this type of technology is the automotive industry, in which a very well geared production line is required to produce and assemble the parts of an automobile.

13. Continuous flow technology

It refers to continuous work processes for the production of products or services. Unlike mass production technology, which requires human intervention in the execution of tasks, continuous flows are automated, thus only monitoring the process is required.

Examples of continuous flow technology would be a hydroelectric plant.

According to the type of organizational management

Charles Perrow, professor emeritus at Yale University, focused on studying and classifying technology according to the management of an organization. Perrow classified it into four types:

14. Routine technology

Routine technology is the knowledge and procedures that are already defined and are easy to understand by the people who must carry out the task.

As its name indicates, these are routine or repetitive tasks and are associated with a centralized structure, on which decision-making depends. In addition, its results imply low uncertainty, since the process is already known.

Examples of routine technologies would be the production of software for mass consumption and the bureaucratic procedures that are applied in government agencies.

15. Non-routine technology

Contrary to routine technology, this type of technology lacks routine standardized procedures. It usually involves a variety of very high tasks, so it is not possible to have a defined solution for each case.

Examples of non-routine technology would be all the tasks associated with creative processes, such as graphic design, tailoring or the manufacture of custom shoes.

16. Artisan technology

Artisanal or manufacturing technology is empirical knowledge, a way of doing things that lacks formal knowledge, it is autonomous with respect to decision-making.

This type of technology is characterized by zero or minimal use of tools or machines, since in most cases it refers to manual processes. In other classifications, this category of Charles Perrow is known as low technology.

Examples of artisan technology are weaving or ceramics.

17. Engineering technology

They are the knowledge and procedures that, although they are standardized and centralized, are flexible and may require different types of solutions, so their results may vary.

An example would be aerospace engineering, in which each project to be developed requires a different solution than others already proposed. If a SpaceX rocket fails, the same technology is required, but with a new solution.

Other types of technology

18. Information technology (IT)

It refers to the use of telecommunications equipment and systems for the storage, processing and transmission of data. These equipments include computers, phone lines, and wireless signals.

When audiovisual networks are integrated into these computer systems then they are known as Information and Communication Technologies, or ICTs. This convergence between the two systems is what makes it possible for televisions or cell phones to transmit their content on the same cabling network shared with computer systems.

An example of information technology is when we use a telephone to make video calls or when we view web content from the television.

19. Operational Technology (OT)

Operational technology is the use of hardware or software to monitor, control, or change devices or processes within an organization.

Their use is usually reduced to industrial environments and their main characteristic is that they do not depend on the management or supervision of human resources, since they can function almost autonomously.

An example of operational technology is Supervisory Control Systems or SCADA, which allow data to be viewed in a graphical interface that shows the status of the system in real time. In the event of an error, the operator can stop the production process immediately, detect the source of the failure, correct it and reactivate the production process.

20. Clean technology

Also called green or environmental technology, it refers to any device, service or process whose use is sustainable, that works with energy efficiency or that has a minimal impact on the environment.

This type of technology makes minimal use of non-renewable natural resources, and is present in different productive sectors:

Energy : in this case, the goal of the technology is to reduce the use of fossil fuels or nuclear energy. Solar energy devices are an example in this sector.

Waste treatment : covers the recycling and reuse processes of products or raw materials, such as the recycling of plastic, glass or paper.

Hydraulic: are all the processes that allow saving water, such as those carried out by wastewater treatment plants.

Logistics : these are the practices of a company to reduce its impact on the environment, such as reducing energy expenditure or carbon emissions (CO 2 ).

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