2011 proved you can run the plant like a video game, a point Siemens drove home with the creation of Plantville. Network and safety continued to merge as Ethernet furthered its gains as the networking backbone and wireless expanded. Here are five stories that show the year's advances in automation and control.
1. Networking safety.Safety and networking continued to grow in importance in 2011. The diagnostics available with networking can have a direct impact on reducing downtime. The better the diagnostics, the faster a user can troubleshoot a system to get it up and running again, thereby increasing productivity and creating a safer environment.
2. Ethernet and wireless networks. Ethernet and wireless networks continued to merge in 2011. Used for cable replacements or extensions, wireless can create a transparent, secure, high-speed point-to-point link between two remote devices or networks, replacing expensive and damage-prone wiring. Plant operators are using wireless replacements and extensions of Ethernet to link remote sites, support mobile devices, overcome physical obstacles, and address cabling reliability problems.
This GhostBridge unit provides a wireless connection to Ethernet.
3. Smartphones. The smartphone is the new PC. Mobility is becoming critical for running a plant, and the smartphone is easier to cart around than a laptop. With mobility and ease of use in mind, control vendors started releasing applications for the iPhone in mid-2011. Some of these apps gave operators connectivity for control, monitoring, and data acquisition. Plant operators gained access to detailed real-time control system information.
I totally agree with you Rob, that gaming technology like Plantville and mobile platforms are going to have a huge impact on automation and manufacturing operations in the next couple of years (as if they haven't already). I don't think the mobile question will just be answered by the smart phone, however. I think you're going to see a real leap in how the iPad and other tablets get used on the factory floor this year as new mobile apps come out addressing needs in this space.
Yes, it will be fun to watch it develop. There are a number of applications and developments in factory intelligence that that are showing up now that would be hard to imagine just a few short years ago. I agree about tablets. I can see a lot of applications that would work on a table that wouldn't be as useful on the small screen of a smartphone.
The merging of Ethernet and wireless, along with the rise of mobile platforms for plan operations, parallels what I've been hearing in machine vision for the last couple of years. Actually, intersects is a better word, since MV is becoming a bigger deal in several types of plant operations, not just QA.
That's a good question about PCs in automation, Chuck. The change would be a matter of retiring those old, huge IBM machines. I think most industries welcomed the change. I'll never forget visiting a magazine distributer in the 1980s and seeing their new, small server. It was in the "computer room." The room was about 20' x 20', fully cooled. All it had inside was a server that was smaller than a coffee table.
As I recollect, it took a bit longer. People were still getting used to digital vs. analog. But I remember the PC movement gathering steam and excitement. It wasn't like today, when someone probably said "smartphone" and got the response, "Sure. Sounds good. Go with it."
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