Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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TOP 5 IN 2009: Industrial automation technologies to watch for in the new year

February 25, 2009
By Mary Del


This year, with all of the economic challenges facing manufacturers, staying competitive is going to require cost reductions, increased productivity and efficiencies, innovation and the quick adoption of new technologies to help achieve these goals. What tools do you need to survive this challenging environment? We asked five industry experts to name the top five technologies and trends that will impact Canadian manufacturers in 2009 and beyond. Thank you to Jim Pinto, Sherman Lang, Sal Spada, Sivakali Prasad Dasari and Michel Ruel for sharing their thoughts and expertise.

Jim Pinto is an industry analyst and commentator, writer, entrepreneur, investor and futurist. Read his predictions, as well as excerpts from his book, Pinto’s Points, at

1. Industrial wireless. Wireless is shaping up to generate significant new automation markets beyond just wire replacement, stimulating visions of growth. Behind the scenes, large and small suppliers brainstorm for breakthroughs, searching for the millions of unmonitored measurements – the previously "un-measurable" categories, the "if only we had this" measurements. There will eventually be all kinds of new markets because, while wired systems keep getting more expensive and difficult to install, wireless monitoring keeps getting cheaper and easier to implement.
2. Machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. The convergence of smart devices with the Internet is creating a new inflection point. M2M provides major benefits to both suppliers and end users, leading to improved asset management, dramatic cost reductions and enhanced service initiatives. A whole new M2M environment is emerging focused on the issues of how machines communicate, how they are managed, and how the data and information within them can be utilized to add significant value for businesses and consumers.
3. Security services. Most of today’s automation and control systems use the same PC hardware, operating system and communications as broadly deployed personal, corporate office and administrative networks. Worms and trojans can enter plants and factories via the Internet, and through Intranets via widely used mainstream software. In addition, deliberate external or internal intrusion through wired or wireless networks must be prevented. Automation systems security has become an urgent issue.
4. Complex adaptive systems. At the input/output level, most of today’s systems are similar – clumps of I/O connected in deterministic, hierarchical systems that are prone to failure when complexity increases. Increasing I/O point density will confirm the limits of standard control architectures and signal the demise of deterministic control. By contrast, programmable, intelligent, autonomous I/O systems with algorithmic (rule-based) response mechanisms have no theoretical complexity limit. Vastly improved performance and robustness (failure-proof) will be achieved at a fraction of the cost of deterministic hierarchical systems.
5. Knowledge-based software. Within the next decade, today’s concepts of software will disappear. Software will become part of the product, just as today’s firmware is not external and separate. 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 somewhere within the system. The new software will eliminate operator training and dependency. It will bring "automatic" management of operations based on past experience and calculated projections. It will generate predictive diagnostics and operate with heuristics based on accumulation of experience.

Sherman Y.T. Lang is an industrial technology advisor for the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program in London, Ont. He is also a member of Manufacturing Automation’s editorial advisory board.


1. Lean manufacturing techniques. I believe that many manufacturers will adopt strategies to survive the slowdown in the manufacturing sector by eliminating things that are not contributing to creating value. Implementing or furthering lean manufacturing practices will help companies identify the sources of value and waste in their operations.
2. Energy efficiency. The recent rapid ascent in energy prices has highlighted a need to control and reduce energy costs. Systems to monitor and track energy usage, losses and waste will be essential to the first step in plans for reducing energy costs. Manufacturers will be looking for more efficient equipment and processes, recovering energy from heat and other processes, and scheduling production processes to avoid peak energy cost times. Energy audits will help establish baselines for evaluating energy efficiency initiatives.
3. Integrated production logistics and mechatronics. Logistics is a high value-added step in manufacturing. By integrating production systems and logistics systems through intelligent and intelligently designed materials handling systems, manufacturers will reduce bottlenecks and costs. Manufacturers should examine the physical links between production and logistics to look for opportunities to integrate them with IT and intelligent mechatronics.
4. Wireless technologies. RFID will continue to find more applications as costs are driven down and performance improves. Wireless systems for integration of production systems will be used increasingly to provide flexibility and reconfigurability, as well as to reduce costs. Smartphones are evolving into mobile computing platforms that will allow managers, supervisors and shop floor workers to access corporate databases, knowledge repositories and planning systems in real time, in addition to co-ordinating with other workers and collaborators.
5. Green manufacturing technologies. While the elimination of waste and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions are being done with an eye towards environmental stewardship, being green in manufacturing often results in reduced costs. Being green can be as simple as changing designs or processes to produce less waste. Manufacturers will also be on the lookout for opportunities to turn waste streams into revenue streams.

Sivakali Prasad Dasari is an industry analyst in the North American Industrial Automation and Process Controls Practice with Frost and Sullivan. He focuses on monitoring and analysing emerging trends, technologies and market behaviour in the discrete and process automation market.

1. Wireless technologies for asset management. Enhancement in wireless technologies and improvement in industry standards is expected to drive the application of wireless sensor networks for asset monitoring and management. Plants with dispersed assets in a particular geography will significantly benefit from wireless sensor network-based monitoring.
2. Integrated automation control and security. In the global scenario where control systems are increasingly being interconnected with business networks, cyber security is an area of concern for asset owners. Industrial automation solution providers are already devising new product/acquisition strategies to mitigate the cyber security risk by incorporating security enhancement strategies in hardware, software and at the network levels.
3. Unified enterprise-wide control. Manufacturing end users are increasingly connecting plant data to business contextual data, which necessitates the integration of manufacturing application software on a unified platform based on service-oriented architecture. The open architecture enables integration of diverse systems and solutions from independent software vendors to overcome the inherent challenge of system interoperability. Persistent market competition between MES, ERP and automation solution providers drives the development of innovative and industry-common platforms.
4. Remote machine monitoring and maintenance. The technology improvement in fieldbus communications has resulted in the remote monitoring and maintenance of field instruments. This will drive asset owners to adapt with a proactive approach instead of a reactive approach to maintenance.
5. Software as a service – On-demand software. The advent of "cloud computing" will change the manufacturing software pricing and mode of licensing. End users stand to benefit from a comprehensive reduction in IT infrastructural costing due to the use of web-enabled applications. Seamless interfacing between diverse assets on a unified platform, extensive flexibility and scalability are a few key value propositions delivered to end users alike.

Michel Ruel is the founder and president of Levis, Que.-based Top Control Inc., a global company specializing in process control optimization, performance improvement and alarm management. He is an ISA Fellow and a member of the ISA Management Division, the Ordre des ingÈnieurs du QuÈbec, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and the Professional Engineers of Ontario.

1. Plant safety management. Alarm management tools can be used to optimize the performance of alarm systems, improving plant safety, productivity and profitability.
2. Condition-based maintenance. Condition-based maintenance is based on an asset’s actual condition and is performed only when there is an impending fault or failure condition, preventing unplanned downtime and making optimal use of maintenance resources, while maximizing the operational life of plant assets.
3. Predictive equipment failure. This includes advanced data analysis or "data mining" techniques, which are now available to determine the health of assets. These tools allow monitoring applications to identify patterns in the data that are often precursors to a variety of common faults and can therefore be used as predictors. Once detected, the system alerts users to the developing abnormal conditions, allowing appropriate actions to be taken to prevent escalation into serious health hazards or unplanned detractors from production and revenue streams.
4. Control performance supervision or monitoring. This consists of analysing incoming signals (process variables, set points and state/mode) and outgoing signals (controller outputs) to determine if expected performance is reached. All signals are read from the control system via digital communications. The system detects oscillations and equipment that do not behave as benchmarked, as well as process control problems, process problems, operation problems, etc.
5. High-level visualization tools. Such tools display high-level data in a simple and intuitive format so that problems and underperforming areas can be identified at a glance. Technology, such as "Treemap" visualization, is an excellent way to obtain a global understanding of the situation rapidly. "Treemapping" facilitates visual comparisons because it represents the plant (subdivided in areas) and presents a vast amount of information in a single display. Simple controls allow users to change display criteria and to filter the set of data viewed.

Sal Spada is a senior analyst with the ARC Advisory Group. His focus areas include general motion control, material handling, machine safeguarding, computer numerical controllers, robotics, servo drives, and packaging machinery and operations.

1. More efficient motors. There are a couple of dynamics in play that are creating a shift from purely an AC drive solution using asynchronous induction motors, to servo drive solutions using synchronous permanent magnet motors. One of the most significant factors creating a shift is that the rising price in metals is driving the cost of the standard induction motor to a point that the price differential between the induction motor and synchronous permanent magnet motors is rapidly declining in spite of the high cost of magnets. This is because these magnets produce higher flux density, enabling greater power from much smaller synchronous permanent magnet motors. With skyrocketing prices of steel, molybdenum (component in steel) and copper, the cost of magnets is offset by saving in this material cost in a smaller motor. This can be served quite well by the permanent magnet synchronous motors, which offer better dynamic performance, enabling machinery to achieve higher production rates and more energy efficiency.
2. Reducing production line energy consumption. The next generation of machinery needs to be more energy efficient. Many machine builders are now being pushed to make machines more intelligent relative to energy use by incorporating logic that shuts off unnecessary subsystems during operation. This is an emerging opportunity for operations management systems to incorporate functionality guided toward energy management on the production line.
3. High-speed robotics and vision guidance. As more second-tier manufacturers consider automation as a substitute for manual labour on assembly and production lines, the biggest issues will be floor space. With the use of robotics, manufacturers will be able to reduce the requirement for long conveyance lines and minimize overall floor space. Furthermore, robotic suppliers will bring vision-guided robotics to the masses. Effectively, application programming will be replaced by configuration tools. Combining the speeds of the latest robotic mechanisms, such as delta style robots, along with vision guidance is an area in which the market will see significant adoption.
4. Production machinery with integrated and wireless safety. Integrated safety will become a paramount issue in the coming year, as this will lead to increased productivity and energy efficiency. The integration of safety components within an existing automation system rather than to "just add" safety products to a machine or production line clearly leverages both safety and productivity. The automation industry is making concerted efforts in the area of safety by embedding safety capabilities throughout entire product ranges.
5. Virtual commissioning emerges as PLM solution. PLM has expanded from "design and build" to "design, simulate, validate and then build." State-of-the-art PLM systems already enable integration of the product and manufacturing design process. PLM suppliers have been integrating the virtual build world with knowledge captured in physical inspections systems to help users improve their quality. The integration of a company’s PLM system with actual operations management data also enables shop floor work instructions to be automatically updated with ongoing engineering changes. This integration of virtual and real worlds is a major reason why discrete manufacturers are increasingly using digital manufacturing tools. Virtual commissioning is the process of virtually validating the mechanical and electrical aspects of a manufacturing system prior to production. If properly done, manufacturers only need to validate the installation of physical devices prior to production because they will already know the design works.