29 January 2009

Pinto's Point

Automation technology, market trends for 2009

By Jim Pinto

Here are my views of the top 5 technology and market trends for the coming year.

  • Industrial wireless: Wired systems keep getting more expensive and difficult to install, while wireless monitoring keeps getting cheaper and easier. Wireless is shaping up to generate significant new automation markets and stimulate visions of growth.
  • Machine-to-machine (M2M) communications: The convergence of smart devices with the Internet is creating a new inflection point. M2M focuses on the issues of how machines communicate, how they are managed, how the data and information within them can be utilized to add significant new value.
  • Security services: Most of today's automation and control systems use the same hardware, operating system, and communications as widely deployed personal, office, and administrative networks. Worms and trojans can enter plants and factories via the Internet and through Intranets, plus deliberate intrusion through wired or wireless networks. Automation systems security has become an urgent issue and will be a major growth area.
  • Complex adaptive systems: At the input/output level, most of today's systems are clumps of I/O connected in deterministic, hierarchical systems, prone to failure when complexity increases. By contrast, programmable, intelligent, autonomous I/O systems with algorithmic (rule-based) response mechanisms have no theoretical complexity limit. During the next decade, this type of system will improve performance and robustness (failure-proof) at a fraction of the cost of conventional systems.
  • Disappearing software: Just as today's firmware is not external and separate, software will become part of the product. The only external software needed will be in the browser. Everything else will be "applets" and similar "client-side" operations, triggered by "objects" and "agents" that reside within the system.

So, are you still working with software and hardware that are more than a few years old? Still working with conventional hierarchical DCS and PLC systems? Still updating legacy products? Still selling thermocouples and conventional pressure sensors? Still involved with yesterday's HMI software?

My list is NOT a long-term perspective. It relates to products that will generate growth this year. Compare your projects and involvement against my list. If you think I have left some burgeoning technology out, tell me. If you think I am on track, I will appreciate your feedback.

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Behind the byline

Jim Pinto is an industry analyst and founder of Action Instruments. You can e-mail him at jim@jimpinto.com or view his writings at www.JimPinto.com. Read the Table of Contents of his book, Pinto's Points, at www.jimpinto.com/writings/points.html.