September/October 2012
Executive Corner

The future of automation

By Mike Caliel

Attempting to define the "future of automation" is a real challenge, especially considering the complexity of today's industrial operations and automation systems. Nonetheless, emerging trends are already beginning to have an impact on manufacturing, framing the future of how our customers will operate in the years ahead. This is an exciting time for an exciting field, and I am enthusiastic about the possibilities and opportunities the future presents.

For years, industry has focused too heavily on technology, rather than on the solutions the technology provides and the issues they solve. But that is going to change. Good technology is essential, but only if it is being used to extract value from the industrial operation it controls. When considering the future of automation, therefore, we must take into account three fundamental aspects of the plant: technology platforms; how those platforms are applied; and the personnel who will use those applications.

Platforms

In the 1980s, most distributed control systems were vendor designed and proprietary. Now companies need open platforms that help them unite and operate their disparate systems, including open-platform control systems. The net result is automation systems will have more standards-based and commercial off-the-shelf technology, as well as components that enable a more open approach. This is critically important. Automation systems must provide a single, real-time view into the full enterprise, including all their plants and the full supply and demand chain-the value chain. These open real-time information and control systems are the key to improving business performance.

Platform scope

Many of today's industrial business variables, e.g., the cost of energy, are fluctuating like never before, sometimes by the minute or even more frequently. As a result, executives need visibility into their fleet of assets so they can manage them as a unified business portfolio. They also need their value chain to drive real-time operational agility, despite these rapidly changing business variables. This will require comprehensive enterprise control systems, which industrial automation suppliers are in the best position to provide.

Over the years, the scope of automation platforms has continually increased as the technology developed. In the 1970s, most industrial automation systems controlled process units or areas. But in the last 20 years or so, some leading systems began to help control entire plants. Today, broader scope real-time enterprise control systems are essential; first to manage interrelated industrial assets as the single business entity they are and also to extract optimal value from those assets. As we move into the future, operators will need to understand the dynamics of their material and energy supply chains, and they will need to manage client orders in a similar manner. Confining the scope of operations to their own business domain will no longer suffice. Real-time enterprise control systems will be needed to drive business optimization.

Solutions

Concurring with the transition to open, federated value-chain automation systems will be new emphasis on applications and solutions that improve operational and business performance. Over the last few decades, industrial automation has emphasized technology that drives results more than the technologies themselves. As technology begins to enable business improvements, the industry will start to reemphasize and build on solutions that drive real-time, measureable performance at every point in the value chain.

Engineers

Because business variables are fluctuating so rapidly, traditional approaches to managing business just do not work-managers, operators, and engineers will have to apply real-time control theory to improve results. This is becoming even more important, and it requires a new breed of engineer focused not merely on process control, but on asset performance, product quality, safety, the environment, and of course, profitability.

The industrial automation industry was shaped by highly talented engineers, such as Greg Shinskey and Carroll Ryskamp, who understood how to utilize technology to drive results. And did they ever drive results! The control engineer of the future will apply skills similar to those used by their predecessors, but they will be measuring the performance of assets, plants, and enterprises in real time and then using those measurements to help control critical business variables.

Traditionally, an experienced control engineer was one of the most valuable resources in the plant. Those days are not behind us, but along with applying control theory to manufacturing and production processes, they will apply the science of control to manage real-time business dynamics. Over time, control engineers will become operations and business engineers, using applications and solutions that address specific dynamic business issues throughout the industrial operation. With real-time business measurements in place, the value of each of these solutions will be readily discernible.

Conclusion

Industrial automation has more potential to drive measureable, real-time performance improvements than almost any investment a company can make. To do so, the technology must be applied correctly and effectively. This has always been the case, and it will be even more evidently the case as we enter a new era for industry. That is why I say this is an exciting time for an exciting field. We are committed to driving value for our customers-there is and will be no better way to generate measureable performance improvements than through the effective application of real-time industrial automation technologies.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Caliel is the president and chief executive officer of the Invensys Operations Management. He has more than 25 years of industry experience, most recently as the chief executive officer of Houston, Tex.-based Integrated Electrical Services, Inc. He rejoined Invensys in January 2012, having served as the president of Invensys Process Systems from 2001 to 2006. Prior to his chief executive role at IPS, Caliel was president of the company's North America, Europe, and Middle East regions, as well as president of the company's Americas region and vice president, North America Operations. He came to Invensys in 1993, initially as the Southwest regional manager, before assuming the position of vice president of sales in 1995. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Distribution from Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y.