Industry noise, hype, buzzwords, and automation professionals
By Bill Lydon
There is an overwhelming amount of information, buzzwords, and predictions about how manufacturers need to adopt new technologies or go out of business. There certainly is change in manufacturing and production driven by world competitors all trying to apply a wave of new technologies to become winners in their industries.
Technology advances are created by exponential levels of increasing computing power, software advances, artificial intelligence, and communications. New technologies have been adopted in high-volume applications, including smartphones, gaming, virtual reality, online shopping, search engines, speech recognition, and a range of consumer products, driving the cost of the technology down dramatically. At the same time, manufacturing changes are being driven by a number of factors:
- There is a worldwide recognition that low-labor cost is not a winning strategy.
- Manufacturing technology is not advancing at the rate of consumer and business systems.
- Technology advances are creating opportunities for dramatic manufacturing improvements.
- Real-time synchronization of enterprise and industrial processes is recognized as means to be more competitive.
- Real-time analytics deliver greater productivity and profits.
To put this into focus, consider smart watches that are selling for under $150 U.S. These devices are like a mini-SCADA system with an embedded processor, 12-bit analog/digital converter, local human-machine interface/display, wireless communications, three-axis accelerometer, vibration motor, complex sensors, embedded software, embedded time series data logging, and a free cloud application for data logging and alerting. Further, these are relatively rugged devices. Smartphones are another example, and I'm always amazed how they survive being carried in the back pockets of blue jeans.
The stage has been set for dramatic changes in manufacturing with automation as a key element for success. In particular, manufacturers and production organizations in developing economies are not encumbered by legacy automation and can easily adopt newer technologies to compete.
Automation should be viewed as a core business function that is critical for success for a manufacturing organization to prosper. The measure of intelligence is the ability to change. -Albert Einstein
In this environment of change, automation professionals who can sort out fact from fiction and hype from reality are important. Reactive investments adopting new technology for the sake of doing something new generally have a low probability of success and can be catastrophic. These investments also have an opportunity cost, since there is a limited amount of money available to be invested. Alternatively, sitting on the sidelines and making no investments in new technology can cause the manufacturer to be less competitive and lose market share, profits, and jobs. If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old. -Peter Drucker
Automation professional's responsibility
Manufacturing and production companies need knowledgeable automation people to be successful. This also means that automation professionals need to remain knowledgeable by keeping up to date on technology and methods. The focus should be on increasing productivity through automation and leveraging data to achieve the goals of modern manufacturing, including synchronized manufacturing, advanced optimization, overall equipment effectiveness, real-time maintenance monitoring, predictive maintenance, and tracking and tracing.
ISA offers a wide range of opportunities for automation professionals to stay up to date and also participate in the development of industry initiatives and standards. ISA also provides opportunities to share ideas by networking with other members, which can be invaluable in helping sort out hype and reality.
Earn management value
Automation professionals should be a key part of the management team, and this must be earned. Management will listen if automation professionals share reasoned information that links technology investments with business performance to make the company more competitive and profitable.
There have been times in history when there were radical changes in technologies and methods that transformed industries, creating winners and losers. Describing Industry 4.0, many discuss past advances in technology including mechanization, mass production assembly line, and automated controls. At each stage, those that adopted appropriate new technologies and methods became winners, and the others were losers.