Manufacturing at a crossroads?
By Bill Lydon, InTech, Chief Editor
Is the manufacturing industry really at a crossroads requiring major investment in new automation systems?
Vendors and consultants presenting at the conferences and industry events I have been attending are delivering this message. There are a number of words and phrases used to describe these new architectural models, including digitalization, Industry 4.0, Industrial Internet of Things, and smart manufacturing. There certainly are exciting technologies being discussed that can improve manufacturing, but I generally come away thinking about a number of questions.
Are these technologies ready for application today? When I have asked detailed questions at a number of these presentations, the answers typically have been that some of it is available now and a number of functions and features will be available at a later time (six months, one year, in the future). A case in point is a presentation by a major company promoting its big data and analytics offerings. Numerous people asked specifics about functions and were told many will be available at various projected times in the future. I finally asked, “With all these functions and features not completed, should users wait before investing?” The vendor responded, “No, and users should make investments now.” Certainly vendors desire to sell what they have now.
The task of automation professionals is to sort out what new technologies are stable and will add value to their organization. This cannot be done by simply reading vendor press releases and literature and attending sales presentations. It requires doing homework to understand these new technologies, asking questions, and reviewing proof sources. Verifying the functionality and stability of a vendor’s offering by asking questions is certainly not being negative. Simply asking the vendor to demonstrate the new technology in operation is a fair request in the evaluation process.
I certainly believe there are a lot of great new technologies that can be applied to improve efficiency and productivity, but in this wave of new technology, there is a high probability that a number of things will not be solid.
The influx of the technology we see in consumer products and computing that can be applied to industrial automation makes me wonder if there will be a significant architectural change in systems. Think about what happened in a relatively short period going from the simple basic cell phone to smartphones and a major open ecosystem of applications at a significantly low cost.
Is the industry close to a major automation and control system architectural change driven by new technology? Automation professionals have a responsibility to their organizations to understand and guide their employers in the adoption of new technology.