Running the plant has become a matter of adopting technology and adapting to it. In 2011, the world of automation and control saw a wide range of technology advances, from software to integrated safety, and from cloud computing to collaboration between control and IT.
2012 will see an expansion of new technologies as tools introduced in 2011 get deployed. The leading technology -- whether wireless systems or diagnostics -- is going mostly into greenfield plants, and most of those tend to be in Eastern Europe, Asia, and South America -- low-cost labor areas. Even so, some of the new technology is also appearing in brownfield developments in North America and Europe.
What we'll see through the deployment of new technology is higher productivity, greater throughput, and safer plants. These developments in technology are beginning to draw young engineers. After all, the plant can now be run like a video game. Older engineers have been leery of new technology, while the recently graduated engineers find the technology the most attractive aspect of running a plant.
Click the image below to start a slideshow highlighting automation & control technologies that will flourish in 2012:
Increasing Simulation in Automation
Plant updates can be tested before operators throw the switch on the control system. The use of simulation will likely expand considerably in 2012. Simulation is being used in new plant development, plant updates, and in configuring the plant for new products or for greater optimization.
The advantage is the ability to test the system before it is deployed. The result is a significant reduction in set-up costs -- both labor and time –- and greater optimization. Plant operators report that the reduction in set-up costs alone covers the cost of using simulation. This photo shows an example of simulation used to configure robots.
(Source: Simx Simulation.)
The real takeaway from reading this very spot-on automation trend wrap-up is that plant floor contral and automation systems are definitely following in the footsteps of mainstream enterprise business systems in terms of leveraging the same new technology hot buttons. Advances in graphics (i.e., gaming-like capabilities), cloud computing, smart software, and remote monitoring functionality are all poised to radically change how the plant floor is run and monitored and bring far greater efficiencies and transparency to plant floor operators.
Yes, and the benefits are measurable. That's always been critical in plant operation. The benefits always have to be measurable or the tools don't get deployed. In the case of recent technology the benefits come in reduced energy consumption, increased uptime, less unplanned maintenenace and less maintenance altogether, quicker changes, and improved communication from supply through the delivery of finsihed materials.
Rob, thanks for the overview. Looks like some pretty exciting trends and new developments to watch for. I'm especially interested in increasing simulation: it's good to see this powerful technology put to very practical uses in factories. I also liked the diagrams in the Connected Automation System and Cloud Computing in Automation slides. If a picture can say 1,000 words, a diagram can say 5,000.
Alongside this article, I'd like to recomment that readers check out my story, Top 5 Roadblocks to the Digital Factory of the Future. This is an important trend, the ability to rapidly adapt (repurpose) production lines, using graphical programming tools and networks PLCs to which software can be downloaded via network links. This is a big part of the ability to go rapidly from prototyping to production.
Yes, the plant floor is definitely following in the footsteps of mainstream enterprise business systems. The question is, how much will this trend accelerate when plants who aren't yet using Ethernet finally migrate to Ethernet-based automation systems? Rockwell Automation claims that only about 60% of the equipment they sell is Ethernet-based. What happens when the other 40% finally make that move?
Alex, thanks for the link to your article. What a fascinating trend! It makes me think of the production version of what IT has been working on for awhile, the "agile enterprise," or whatever they are calling it now, for BPM.
Good question, Chuck. I would think the difference between the 60 percent and the 40 percent of Rockwell implementations can be tracked along greenfield versus brownfield plants. Ethernet is likely going into most new plants as well as some upgrades at existing plants. But I'll bet a lot of the existing plants are not going to Ethernet with their upgrades.
Rob, that division sounds a lot like what I've heard about using Ethernet for machine vision networks: it's being deployed in new systems, and not so much in existing ones, because of the difficulty of re-engineering and re-configuring hardware and software, as well as training.
Rob, I don't know the geographic distribution of where new machine vision installations are going in vs older installed base. What I do know, though, is that there are still a lot of older analog camera systems in Asia, especially Japan, so that's not considered an area where GigE is likely to take hold, at least for awhile.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.