The transition from traditional to truly smart dynamically adaptable manufacturing demands the adoption of a high degree of autonomy within automation systems, with resultant changes in the role of the human, in both the manufacturing and logistics functions within the factory. In the context of smart manufacturing, this paper describes research towards the realization of adaptable autonomous automation systems from both the control and information perspectives. Key facets of the approach taken at WMG are described in relation to human-machine interaction, autonomous approaches to assembly and intra-logistics, integration and dynamic system-wide optimization. The progression from simple distributed behavioural components towards autonomous functional entities is described. Effective systems integration and the importance of interoperability in the realization of more distributed and autonomous automation systems are discussed, so that operational information can propagate seamlessly, eliminating the traditional boundary between operational technology and information technology systems, and as an enabler for global knowledge collection, analysis and optimization. This article is part of the theme issue 'Towards symbiotic autonomous systems'.