Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Top 5 in 2014: The technologies and trends that will impact the plant floor in the coming year

February 12, 2014
By Mary Del

Manufacturing AUTOMATION asked a handful of industry experts to name the top five technologies and trends that Canadian manufacturers should watch out for in 2014 and beyond. Like last year, cloud computing and mobile devices were top choices, as was security. Also topping this year’s list is additive manufacturing (3D printing) and the Internet of Things. Read on to learn the role these technologies and more will play in the manufacturing industry this year.

Jim Pinto is an internationally renowned speaker on technology futures, an automation industry writer and a commentator. Sign up for his monthly e-newsletter, read his recent columns and read excerpts from his books, Pinto’s Points and Automation Unplugged, at

1. Cloud computing: Cloud computing is one of the hottest technology fields today. In manufacturing, clear targets include applications such as manufacturing execution systems (MES) and production planning systems (PPS). Having cloud servers to run multiple applications such as HMIs and engineering workstations has many advantages. For automation product and system suppliers, significant gains in efficiency, cost and capability can be achieved as products become more intelligent and connected through the cloud. The key transition point is the movement from an isolated world into the completely connected enterprise, providing vastly increased productivity.

2. Internet of Things (IoT): What GE terms the “Industrial Internet” is about to transform the next decade. Some estimate that 50 billion devices will be IoT-connected by 2020. IoT is starting to spread in factories and industrial plants. The addition of intelligence, via sensors and connected networking technology, will take measurement and control to the next level. Growth will be bottom-up, not top-down.


3. Robotics, 3D printers: Innovations will spark new demand, and global manufacturers will have substantial new opportunities. There will be some super high-tech factories that make smaller quantities of highly specialized products. But there will also be millions of small and medium-sized businesses that will benefit from new materials, cheaper robots and 3D printers that can economically produce a wide variety of products in small numbers. The next generation of robots will be cheaper and easier to set up, and will work with people rather than replace them. The continuing manufacturing drive will be to make more with less — pack more information and knowledge into less matter using less energy, while making more effective products.

4. Mobile devices spread: The use of Wi-Fi-connected tablets, smartphones and mobile devices is starting to generate explosive growth in industrial automation and process control. Integration of mobile technology reduces costs, improves operating efficiency, boosts productivity and increases throughput using existing people and resources. Any process that involves collecting data with paper documents and centralized data entry is a candidate for mobile solutions. Most automation companies are now offering new features and functions using iPad, iPhone and Droid apps. More diagnostics and service functions are now accessible via mobile phones, with cheap two-way audio and video visibility to aid troubleshooting and service procedures.

5. Control systems security: Most automation systems — DCSs, PLCs and RTUs — have been optimized for real-time I/O performance, not for secure networking. In spite of apprehensions over the impacts of Stuxnet and similar security breach events, industrial cyber security has mostly been ignored due to lack of understanding of solution costs. Beyond more newsworthy cyber attacks on commercial businesses, industrial-incidence rates have been relatively low. Many companies struggle to justify what is seen as added cost to secure their operation. In today’s competitive, cost-cutting environment, using traditional return on investment calculations doesn’t seem to work. Here’s the rub: If a system doesn’t have an “event,” then security is an added cost; if it does, it can be priceless.

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

1. Additive manufacturing (3D printing): Additive manufacturing has experienced rapid growth in the last couple of years — in interest by consumers and in the availability of low-cost systems. The PC support at the operating system level for the file formats and printers could drive innovation rapidly. While the technology is still better suited to one-offs and for use in design and prototyping, manufacturers should consider new ways of exploiting the popularity of 3D printing. Releasing 3D design files of replacement parts for consumers to print on their own is a powerful strategy for building customer goodwill and satisfaction. Inviting customers to improve on your designs could be a powerful form of ethnographic marketing to gather product improvement ideas based on real usage.

2. Mobile apps: With 64-bit processers and powerful GPSs, the compute power of mobile devices is allowing tablets and phones to take over the tasks that previously required a PC or specialized instrument. There is no longer any need to limit access to information and data to a fixed workstation. Connected mobile devices can allow information and tools to be brought to the locations where they are immediately needed, and speed the flow of communications throughout an organization. Information can be shared, analysed and acted on as it is being collected. Product solutions catalogues, 3D multi-media maintenance manuals, and a variety of tools for field operations and logistics are some of the creative ways that mobile apps are being used in manufacturing.

3. Cloud computing: Cloud computing is making on-demand software and compute power a reality. Cloud-based ERP, CRM, HR, business process management and engineering analysis allow manufacturers to dispense with the management and maintenance of IT systems. Licensing models that charge on a usage basis mean that costs will track with business growth and revenues. Not every manufacturer needs a super computer every day, but every manufacturer can now access a cloud-based compute cluster when the need arises. Cloud-based storage can also help with disaster recovery by having important functions and data mirrored off-site.

4. Digital marketing: More than having a web page and doing search engine optimization, digital marketing utilizes social media platforms to allow manufacturers to connect directly with customers and engage in meaningful dialogue. With product life cycles shortening, modern product development is becoming a series of sprints or iterations that more closely resembles agile methods in software engineering. Modern digital tools help to integrate the voice of the customer into a rapid development cycle, and help speed the marketing messages in a targeted fashion.

5. Advanced sensors: While still at an early stage, as discoveries in nanotechnology get integrated into printable electronics, new classes of low-cost, low-power devices will emerge. Graphene-based inks are being developed to allow circuitry to be printed on flexible surfaces, hinting at a future when advanced sensors will be printed directly on products or low-cost labels that can be attached to products. In the future, manufacturers will be able to embed intelligent advanced sensors into products or packaging. A product label of the future could embed sensors for chemicals, accelerometers, light sensors, displays, transceivers and computing and power in a disposable package.

Muthuraman Ramasamy (Ram) is a Frost & Sullivan industry manager in the Industrial Automation and Process Controls practice.

1. Collaborative Work Environments (CWE): 2014 will continue to be the year of oil and gas. As the industry has unseen production levels in the U.S. and large finds in Coober Pedy, Australia, it is set to drive significant growth for the value-chain participants. One of the underlying technologies that will see extensive growth is CWE. The decline in a skilled workforce bundled with the need for technology transfer fosters a platform to collaborate with any resource at any time. CWE gives providers the ability to integrate diverse technologies all the way from field devices to corporate systems, and deliver a dashboard-type approach to pertinent issues in real time. As “easy-to-find” oil declines, end users are expected to invest in this technology significantly to secure bottom-line benefits.

2. Security-as-a-service: Connected industries, Internet of Things (IoT) and Internet of Everything (IoE) are some of the trends that are progressively infusing agility and flexibility into the manufacturing world. The market will see competition from non-traditional solution providers as the markets expand into unchartered and near-adjacent territories. The complexity of BYOD (bring your own device), mobile integration and prescriptive workflow processes creates an intrinsic challenge of managing security at the device enterprise level. We also foresee wearable computing devices and augmented reality solutions deeply influencing manufacturing processes. While these are next-generation solutions, managing the security aspect of it is an entirely new challenge that the industry has not thought about. Hence, a smart way to solve this in simple steps is through the as-a-service model. The base technologies would need remote queuing, monitoring, management and continuous network monitoring from an external interface so that threats can be predicted, managed and prevented from disrupting businesses.

3. Industrial mobility: BYOD, smart devices, wearable computing and platform neutrality are expected to sweep changes and drive the future of manufacturing and production. As these next-generation technologies permeate the manufacturing shop floor, it ardently supports the zero-hour worker that is willing to work anytime and anywhere. These key technologies would disrupt many markets like simulation, training, maintenance, services, etc. The industry could also see the development of an app world focused on developing platform-neutral applications for various process functions. This is just the beginning of a billion-dollar industry to come in the next few decades.

4. Prescriptive analytics: The availability of qualified personnel is a challenge faced by several end users across the process and discrete industries. The inability to effectively transfer learned knowledge to the digital natives creates insecurity for end users. However, the influence of software-driven analytics is replacing many of the experience houses to create prescriptive-based actions. A case in point could be that of a control room issue. The prescriptive analytics platform could mine the underlying data and connect issues on its own to provide a dashboard of key problems pertaining to the system. It could then extend it to the kind of suggested actions that need to be executed to resolve the issue. The technology is the algorithms that are written for specific applications to resolve issues in real time with little or no assistance from experienced personnel.

5. Smart energy architecture: Energy efficiency will be a massive trend in 2014. As regulatory mandates drive incremental changes to the industry, the industry will realign to adopt solutions that focus on energy efficiency mandates. There is a growing focus by corporations to be more responsible and to develop strategies to cut down on energy consumption and emissions. The industry is expected to adopt a platform-type approach to tie heterogeneous components to create a homogeneous output of energy efficiency and emissions management.

Mark Davidson is a principal research analyst at LNS Research, with his primary focus being research and development of the Manufacturing Operations Management practice. He has more than 35 years of experience in automation and information technology-based products and services. The LNS Research Blog is at

1. Mobile: After seeing many traditional manufacturing software functionalities, such as HMI and Historians and Enterprise Manufacturing Intelligence (EMI), migrate to the cloud in 2013, we expect to start seeing even more corresponding mobile releases in 2014. In fact, we could see role-based, mashed-up applications that combine HMI, EMI and MES into a single coherent user experience on mobile devices. These mobile-based manufacturing applications will take advantage of smartphones’ native functionality, such as GPS and other location services, cameras, and voice and fingerprint recognition. Accordingly, as BYOD continues to become more commonplace in business, we expect to see manufacturing software vendors roll out solutions that ease concerns with authentication, permissions, loss and cyber security.

2. Big data analytics: The excitement of big data analytics will carry over into 2014 and beyond. We expect to see more enterprise-level solutions that derive intelligence around areas like consumer demand and price optimization, but with the maturity of the space we also expect to see big data analytics go deeper into the realm of the manufacturing shop floor. Manufacturing software vendors will release out-of-the-box applications that push big data analytics to the edge of the shop floor, particularly in the areas of predictive and preventative maintenance. We still see challenges with available talent and expertise for building models and using analytics. Therefore, these out-of-the-box applications will help bring targeted applications of analytics to the masses.

3. Connected everything: The Internet of Things and the Internet of Everything are becoming more than buzzwords in the business world. Manufacturers are taking advantage of the intelligence that lower cost, connected devices can deliver, making the links between people, machines and the environment stronger than ever before. In 2014, focus will be on taming this unrelenting explosion of data by creating solutions that simplify the management of Machine to Machine (M2M) and orchestrated workflows across organizations, along with the associated contextualization of the data. In the past, many companies did not see the value of Ethernet connections all the way to the edge of the network. However, we now expect even the smallest devices and sensors to start becoming connected in 2014. As the issue of cyber security again comes into play, it is likely that we will see the need for updated and even new standards in this ever more connected space.  

4. Cloud/SaaS: 2013 saw manufacturing applications being run in virtualized servers and placed into private, public and hybrid clouds. Features like automatic updates, unlimited capacity upgrades, built-in disaster recovery and universal remote access capabilities are already appearing in manufacturing businesses, and without the capital expenditures and life cycle maintenance costs that come with implementing on-premise solutions. Our research shows that in 2014, accelerated adoption of not only Cloud technology, but also Software-as-a-Service business models, will take place. Nearly three times the current adoption is expected in 2014, and 90 per cent of manufacturing operations software vendors either have cloud offerings or are turning their attention to the cloud in their future developments.

5. Additive manufacturing: PLM/3D design software is shortening design and new product introduction times, and enabling more closed-loop quality processes across the design, manufacturing and life cycle of products. These design and engineering tools are being coupled with the 3D printing/creation of not only prototypes, but production parts as well. We see the cost/performance for creating high-tolerance mechanical parts using these additive manufacturing techniques coming down enough to be a practical option for a subset of manufactured parts and components in 2014.


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