Bill’s Top 10 Automation & Control Trends for 2017 – Convergence, Divergence, or Chaos?

Bill Lydon of Automation.com offers educated insights on the trends that will shape automation in 2017, discussing ten of the most influential trends that he sees playing a prominent role in the industry this year.

  1. Internet of Things (IoT) Technology Will Cut Automation Costs

    The discussions surrounding Internet of Things (IoT) concepts, and the technology impacting the industry, are becoming more intense. The ongoing developments of technology and products are driving the Internet of Things with connected innovations including higher-performance processors, sensors, analytic software, vision systems, cloud computing, new communications (wireless & protocols) and highly distributed system architectures, among many other products.  Developments on the way include products like Intel’s new modular Compute Card platform, which has all the elements of a full computer, including Intel SoC, memory, storage and wireless connectivity with flexible I/O options.

  2. Leaner & Flatter Architecture Will Come to Automation

    Tthe evolution to streamlined 2-3 layer automation systems is starting to occur, increasing performance and lowering future software maintenance costs.  In the new model, controllers communicate information to all levels directly from level 0/1 to level 4/5 using the appropriate protocols and particularly using WEB services.

  3. Open Industrial Automation Architectures Will Simplify Integration

    Open industrial system architecture, along with the application of advanced technology, is intended to create more responsive, efficient, and flexible manufacturing that tightly integrate ecosystems of customers, suppliers, manufacturers, and distribution logistics.  Achieving these goals requires frictionless communications and interaction between enterprise systems, manufacturing field I/O (inputs/outputs) including sensors, actuators, analyzers, drives, vision, video, and robotics to achieve increased manufacturing performance and flexibly.

  4. Vendors Must Embrace Portable Applications

    One of the most challenging issues facing the automation industry is the lack of multivendor portability of applications and this must change.  The drivers behind open automation architecture initiatives recognize that without open ecosystems, providing portable applications between vendor platforms, innovation is stifled.   The IEC-61131-3 standard, along with PLCopen standards, provide two basic frameworks for supported, multi-vendor portable applications. Vendors need to enthusiastically embrace either these standards, or another new industrial control application open architecture interchange and reusability standard, or computer industry solutions will fill the void and traditional suppliers will suffer.

  5. Operational Technology (OT) & Information Technology (IT) Merge

    The progressively tightening integration of Operational Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) continues to grow, as business systems are evolving to handle real-time transaction processing, satisfying requirements for real-time synchronized manufacturing operations.  Innovative vendors are already providing building blocks designed to accomplish the vision of the connected enterprise. There are a number of industry standards that are being leveraged: OPC UA, B2MML, PLCopen OPC UA, and IT database interfaces.

  6. Edge Devices Will Flourish

    The rapid rise of Internet of Things concepts and technologies, including high power/low-cost processing and communications technologies, is enabling new intelligent nodes, which operate at the network edge to improve manufacturing performance and efficiency.

  7. Democratizing Analytics and Edge/Cloud Historians Boost Big Data

    Driven by a wide range of IoT implementations, outside of industrial automation, significant developments have brought users a new generation of cloud services and tools to create analytics. Driven by a wide range of Internet of Things applications, these cloud-based tools, with refined integrated design environments, provide platforms for users and industry experts to create and deploy economical analytics.  These platforms significantly lower the cost of implementation and help broaden the range of applications where analytics can be applied.

  8. Smart Sensors Will Be Everywhere

    “Plug and play” smart sensors and control devices, which use embedded intelligence and do not require external software, have been proven to provide benefits (HART being a recent open architecture example) by providing increasing amounts of contextual data. The cost of implementing smart sensors has dropped dramatically, with the most recent IO-Link addition that is gaining rapid adoption.  There are also Ethernet sensors, that communicate using industrial and related protocols, which provide data for automation and communicate directly with business systems.

  9. Wireless Networks Will Be the (Cheaper) Standard

    IoT developments like these may also be the driving factor that lowers the cost of wireless sensors, which had been limiting the number of applications deployed. The installation of wireless points is still in its infancy, considering that they are still dwarfed by the number of hardwired devices being installed today.  The prominent industrial wireless standards today include ISA100.11, IEC62591 (WirelessHART), IEC62601 (WIA-PA developed in China), ZigBee, and 802.11.

  10. Collaborative Robots Will Become More Affordable

    The number of collaborative robots exploded in 2016. These new breeds of light and inexpensive robots are designed to work cooperatively with people and integrate vision systems along with advanced software to provide situational awareness.  These robots have average prices which have dropped significantly under $40,000, making them suitable for a much very larger number of applications.  The rate of robot adoption is accelerating throughout the world, particularly in China.

Bill’s Bottom Line – Big Competitive Risk. Bigger Opportunity

As these automation and control trends evolve, users and automation suppliers are faced with both risk and opportunity. The first risk is adopting these technologies before they are proven and suffering through the resulting growing pains. This is a significant challenge for business, but less dire than the second. By not adopting these automation trends and technologies at the point of stability, companies are at risk of the Blockbuster effect- where competitors use technology to be more responsive and efficient to their consumers’ needs, taking business away or even crippling from your company in the marketplace.  The challenge with these major shifts in technology is that it is difficult to determine what is valuable and when to invest. Companies that are able to embrace these transformational changes will outpace their competition and thrive.

>> Read more by Bill Lydon, Automation.com, February 6, 2017