Towards Balanced Automation The concept. Manufacturing industries worldwide are facing tough challenges as a consequence of the globalization of economy and the openness of the markets. Progress of the economic blocks such as the European Union, NAFTA, and MERCOSUR, and the global agreements such as GATT, in addition to their obvious economic and social consequences, provoke strong paradigm shifts in the way that the manufacturing systems are conceived and operate. To increase profitability and reduce the manufacturing costs, there is a recent tendency towards establishing partnership links among the involved industries, usually between big industries and the networks of components' suppliers. To benefit from the advances in technology, similar agreements are being established between industries and universities and research institutes. Such an open tete-cooperation network may be identified as an extended enterprise or a virtual enterprise. In fact, the manufacturing process is no more carried out by a single enterprise, rather each enterprise is just a node that adds some value (a step in the manufacturing chain) to the cooperation network of enterprises. The new trends create new scenarios and technological challenges, especially to the Small and Medium size Enterprises (SMEs) that clearly comprise the overwhelming majority of manufacturing enterprises worldwide. Under the classical scenarios, these SMEs would have had big difficulties to access or benefit from the state of the art technology, due to their limited human, financial, and material resources.