Collaboration is Key to an Automation Professional’s Role in the Digital Revolution

  • By Bill Lydon
  • The Final Say

Automation professionals have an important role as manufacturing and production are being integrated into the real-time digital business architectures of manufacturers and other industrial companies. A real-time digital business architecture integrates information from sensors to business systems and cloud applications to maximize customer responsiveness, increase profits, and achieve sustainability goals. It also ends the isolation of manufacturing, closing information loops in real time to achieve internal and external manufacturing efficiency and responsiveness.

Industrial automation professionals are helping their employers become leaders in their industries. To do this, the best need a forward-looking mindset that understands and embraces the difference between significant transformational change and continuous improvements that leverage new technology only for incremental gains. Significant transformational change requires system analysis to integrate information technology (IT), operational technology (OT), automation, and controls to achieve efficient and responsive synchronized production.

This integration is now possible given the significant advances in technology, communications, and software. Automation professionals have the knowledge and know-how to end the isolation of manufacturing as a siloed part of the business separate from other business disciplines.

Automation professionals can positively impact their companies by helping everyone understand the possibilities, showing how to make them a reality, gaining organizational support, and convincing management to invest in true digital transformation. This requires taking the initiative to collaborate with manufacturing groups, creating transformative manufacturing processes and applying advanced technologies such as collaborative robots, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and virtual/augmented reality. Good examples of such groups include:

Industry 4.0. Started in Germany more than 10 years ago, a working group developed an 85-page paper that has since become a major focal point for defining and standardizing the digital manufacturing business architectures being adopted by companies and countries throughout the world. Companies are each trying to gain a competitive advantage from the development of Industry 4.0 cyber-physical systems, and the RAMI 4.0 Reference Architecture is a great starting point.

The OPC Foundation. This organization’s standards are becoming the industrial digitalization semantic information models. They facilitate smart data messaging from sensors and controllers by providing inherently usable information rather than cryptic messaging. Semantic data is structured to add context and meaning that is immediately usable by applications—streamlining communications, improving quality, and ensuring data consistency. OPC UA and companion specifications are an example of semantic data models that implicitly define how the information relates to real-world applications. Significant collaborations include VDMA Companion Specifications, and CESMII OPC UA Cloud Library global OPC UA Cloud Library.

ISA’s SMIIoT Division. This newest division of ISA focuses on smart manufacturing, Industry 4.0, and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and related technologies, providing members with a forum for networking and collaboration so they can positively impact their companies and the global manufacturing community at large. 

Automation professionals are an integral part of the efforts to rethink fundamental processes and architectures, to learn from and collaborate with others, and to achieve real-time integration of entire businesses. Industry is experiencing transformational changes. Automation professionals who rise to the challenge will be leading the way to greater manufacturing productivity, efficiency, sustainability, and energy efficiency.

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About The Authors

Bill Lydon is an InTech contributing editor with more than 25 years of industry experience. He regularly provides news reports, observations, and insights here and on