Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Top 5 in 2015

February 23, 2015
By Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Key trends and technologies your plant floor could see this year

Feb. 23, 2015 – Our January/February issue staple is back — Manufacturing AUTOMATION has compiled the top trends and technologies Canadian manufacturers should watch out for in the upcoming year, as predicted by a handful of industry experts. While last year’s responses centred on additive manufacturing (3D printing) and the Internet of Things, this year’s experts offer a more diverse mix of predictions. Most noted are sensors, smart and connected networks, and mobile technology as major trends of the year. As Kevin Prouty of Aberdeen Group told us (the second expert listed), he believes 2015 is about “consolidating the gains in automation and information systems, and pushing the boundaries in other areas.” That said, is your business ready to take on the New Year?

Jim Pinto is an international speaker, technology futurist, automation consultant and writer.

1. Internet of Things (IoT): The Industrial Internet will transform the next decade. Some estimate 50 billion devices will be IoT-connected by 2020. Intelligent sensors and networks will take measurement and control to the next level. Processes will self-govern with intelligent devices that can measure performance and take corrective action to avoid unscheduled breakdowns. This will dramatically improve productivity and efficiencies in the production process and throughout the supply chain. IoT is starting to spread rapidly in factories and industrial plants. Growth will be bottom-up, not top-down.

2. Smaller, cheaper sensors: Every manufacturing business today is looking at new sensor technologies to streamline processes and improve quality control. System developers and manufacturers are looking for smaller, cheaper sensors. Many sensors are still too physically large and expensive, which limits widespread use in IoT. Wearable sensors will monitor employees in hazardous environments and, in the case of an emergency, will track the location of each employee in the factory.

3. Cloud computing: More manufacturers will invest in leading-edge cloud computing technology because it reduces capital expenditures and IT labour costs. Cloud computing technology transfers the responsibility for running on-premises hardware and software to cloud computing providers to handle ongoing work such as software upgrades and hardware maintenance. The benefits typically include quicker deployment and operational flexibility. The cloud helps to optimize operations by enabling collaboration among remote mobile workers and suppliers, allowing fast and secure access for data-driven decisions. Significant gains in efficiency, cost and capability can be achieved as more products become intelligent and cloud-connected. Technology maturity still prevents some manufacturers from running mission-critical applications in the cloud.


4. 3D printing in manufacturing: Just a decade ago, it would have been unthinkable that modern manufacturing could be done without factories, machine tools and economies of scale. 3D printing is reshaping product development and manufacturing. Today, manufacturing is possible without tooling, large assembly lines or multiple supply chains. The idea of do-it-yourself manufacturing is really coming to the forefront.

5. Mobile devices in automation: Today, the omnipresent smartphone has more power than a super-computer of just a couple decades ago. The use of WiFi-connected tablets, smartphones and mobile devices is generating strong growth in industrial manufacturing. Handheld devices can be used to report the status of every fixed device in the factory, giving personnel mobile access to real-time, actionable information. This reduces costs, improves operating efficiency, boosts productivity, and increases throughput with existing people and resources. Diagnostics and service functions can be accessible via mobile phones, with cheap two-way audio and video visibility to aid troubleshooting and service procedures. More and more employers are allowing BYOD (bring your own device), as manufacturing employees are increasingly working beyond the “four walls” of the factory.


Kevin Prouty oversees all research operations at Aberdeen Group, and is responsible for creating and delivering research deliverables to educate end user organizations to action regarding their use of technology to address business challenges.

1. Security: Years ago, as an automation engineer, I wondered why anyone would ever worry about PLC or DCS security. I thought to myself, “who would waste their time hacking into those plant systems?” Boy was I wrong. What we’ve come to find out is that there is no silver bullet for system security on the plant floor. An Aberdeen report on industrial network security shows companies are aware of the threat and striving to reach the same level of security as their IT brethren.

2. Safety systems: 2015 will be the year safety systems stop being the sorry stepchild of the automation world. Aberdeen research shows almost half of high-performing companies have integrated their safety systems with their plant automation systems. This single platform approach to automation is a key safety and operational efficiency foundation.

3. Wireless networking: 2015 is again a water-shed year for industrial networking. It will be the year wireless and wired are treated as equal partners. Factory automation people still look askance at wireless as a backbone, but our research shows over half of high-performing manufacturers will look to wireless as their primary communication technology in 2015.

4. Industrial Ethernet: Industrial Ethernet has continued to grow up. It is not the science fiction all-encompassing web we envisioned 30 years ago, but its ubiquity is a sign of its growth. In 2015, it will be in almost every plant. But even as we enter the second half of this decade, there is work to do. Our report on Industrial Ethernet shows only 33 per cent of manufactures still use it to enable complete interoperability across their enterprise.

5. Self-manufacturing machines & products: I am not going to get into the Internet of Things, a phrase I would love to never hear again in 2015. However, one interesting aspect of the drive for more software and technology in manufactured products is the wealth of information now available from those products. I have stumbled upon innovative companies that are turning on the embedded technology early and are allowing a machine to collect its own manufacturing information. This is leading to an upsurge in pre-shipping testing and diagnostics. Manufacturing systems are now being configured to collect and analyze all of this self-collected data, which is being integrated into self-collected field data. In the end, a machine can warn an operator when something is wrong in its own manufacturing. SkyNet is just around the corner.

So there you have it. No flying cars, but a steady pace of leveraging technology and information for a better manufacturing tomorrow, today.


Paul Miller, senior editor and content director at ARC Advisory group, has been a “student of the automation industry” for almost 30 years. Prior to Arc, Paul was a contributing editor to several automation publications and, before that, he served as media relations director for a global industrial automation supplier.

1. Intelligent, configurable I/O: With many of today’s owner-operators focused on reducing automation project costs and duration, intelligent, configurable I/O has emerged as an important technology to do so. Unlike conventional DCS I/O which must be defined at an early stage in the project and does not easily accommodate the inevitable late-stage project changes, the latest generation of intelligent I/O can be characterized and configured via software. This increases flexibility and allows late-stage changes to be made without adding significant cost or project delays.

2. Condition-based maintenance: Traditional calendar-based or reactive maintenance approaches are not only costly in themselves, they can also result in even more costly production interruptions. In contrast, today’s condition-based maintenance avoids unnecessary maintenance and enables critical maintenance to be performed based on actual need. Software-based predictive capabilities can also provide early warning of impending failures. The emerging Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) holds promise to bring predictive and condition-based maintenance to the next level.

3. 3D printing: While still in its early stages, 3D printing or “additive manufacturing” is emerging as a game-changer for manufacturers. Already widely used for rapid-prototyping for product design, increasingly, ARC is seeing this technology being implemented to manufacture actual parts and products, particularly those that do not lend themselves well to conventional detractive manufacturing approaches.

4. Smart sensors: While smart sensors have been gradually supplanting conventional sensors for many years in industrial operations, they are now reshaping the automation landscape. Today’s microprocessor-based smart field devices with on-board processing capabilities and full bidirectional communications can typically generate 20 to 50 times more readings beyond the primary value (PV) to increase confidence in the measurements. The vast amount of data (big data) available from the thousands of smart sensors distributed across an industrial plant can be used to support predictive maintenance and process optimization.

5. Virtualization: Virtualization is the separation of an IT resource from specific physical hardware. Virtualization can be applied to any IT resource, including servers, storage, desktops and networks. While virtualization has become a highly mature IT technology, it also plays an increasingly important role in industrial automation, particularly wherever server hardware is used. Virtualization reduces the costs and resources required to purchase, implement, and support server hardware and software. Virtualization is also finding its way into selected (non-control-related) embedded devices within automation systems.


Naveen Kumar, Frost & Sullivan senior industry analyst, holds five years of consulting experience in the industrial automation space. He helps companies achieve growth, innovation and leadership with his expertise in corporate strategy and competitive intelligence.

1. Pervasive sensing: In response to new operational mandates in a variety of rugged environments, asset management and optimization will come centre stage once automation integration ends. However, development has been hindered by high cost and implementation difficulties. In this situation, pervasive sensing technology has the potential to enable easy access to process and asset data not captured with traditional systems. These robust wireless sensors do not require complex installation, intensive maintenance or calibration once installed. According to Emerson, pervasive sensing is expected to more than double the existing $16 billion measurement market over the next 10 years by helping production facilities enhance site safety, reliability and energy efficiency. From GE’s perspective, pervasive connectivity is poised to transform the expectations of industrial machines.

2. Edge computing: As availability of pervasive sensors and pervasive connectivity evolves, edge computing will likely place computing applications, data and services at the logical extremes of a network. This technology enables analytics and knowledge generation at the source of the data itself. With the emergence of cloud-based industrial automation platforms, edge computing technologies can help improve performance, achieve greater uptime and lower total cost of ownership (TCO). In this case, only select data makes it into the central data stores of Level 4 for further processing in the cloud. This will tremendously improve data processing capabilities and create significant value without complex data transportation and management.

3. Cloud SCADA: When data generated from various sources can be aggregated in the cloud and combined with third party inputs, there lie significant opportunities to utilize data in unprecedented ways. One option is to directly connect SCADA applications to a control network with upstream processing occurring in the cloud. Another is to allow SCADA applications to be hosted entirely in the cloud and pass instructions back to the control device inside a corporate network. With improvements in industrial control systems (ICS) security, cloud SCADA may penetrate quickly owing to its ability to significantly reduce costs, achieve greater reliability and enhance functionality.

4. Industrial apps: With the emergence of pervasive sensors and connected networks, the next key area will be industrial apps similar to those in the consumer world. Development of industrial software will become cheaper and more responsive to customer needs with the adoption of the “mass innovation” model using a global community of third party developers. Developers can create “industrial apps” that use consumer-grade technologies and provide easier access to data sources. For end-users needing more specific applications to suit their manufacturing processes but do not want to spend more for unused features, a generic platform with options to choose different features could revolutionize the industry.

5. Autonomous automation: Autonomous automation consists of software agents to help adapt computer controlled industrial machinery and processes. This functionality self-manages unfavourable conditions and self-optimizes according to evolving requirements. Each machine module in the production line has advanced algorithms represented by the software agent, self-manages the process, and works in coordination with other modules. This approach will distribute intelligence by allowing machines to learn over time and increase their ability to respond to situations autonomously. This technology applies to several closed loop automated systems to work in tandem and optimize human intervention.


Matthew Littlefield founded LNS Research in 2011 and is now president and principal analyst, overseeing LNS’ coverage of the industrial value chain. A recognized industry expert and sought after public speaker, Matthew spent five years at the Aberdeen Group leading the global manufacturing research practice prior to founding LNS, and five years working with several global manufacturers in both engineering and shop floor management roles.

1. IIoT platform category emergence: In today’s marketplace, no IIoT platform vendor can claim a one-stop shop in the industrial space, nor is it even agreed upon what would need to be delivered by a one-stop shop. In 2015, a consensus will emerge as to what should be provided by such an IIoT platform; likely this will be around four core capabilities, including: application development, connectivity, analytics, and cloud. In today’s marketplace, most vendors can offer two, some may be able to claim three. As new innovation, acquisitions and partnerships emerge, leaders and laggards will also emerge. There will also be movement in how existing automation and software vendors leverage these platforms to develop new solutions in quality, EHS, MOM and APM.

2. Big data, narrow analytics: Manufacturers today are awash in data, but as it has been said before, still lag in intelligence. The challenge previously has been accessing credible and up-to-date data, as well as having an accurate model of the manufacturing environment. Today, big data analytical solutions are generally very broad with vanilla statistical tools. In 2015, many new analytics vendors will emerge to use big data analytics to solve very narrow industrial analytics problems, addressing the gap that many manufacturers have limited data science expertise. Examples of these narrow analytics could include: production planning and scheduling, reliability, quality vision, employee health and safety.

3. Social collaboration: We are all accustomed to social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more. However, even though a machine can have a Twitter feed, it doesn’t mean it should. In 2015, enterprise-focused collaboration solutions will make their way to the plant floor. This will enable benefits of social collaboration tools, like: the capture of tribal knowledge, collaboration across sites, extending the reach of limited expertise, and search. However, it will do it in a way that will keep information and automation professionals happy regarding security and control.

4. Smart connected assets: Advances in networking and connectivity technologies, especially with the increasing number of partnerships between traditional IT/telecom and industrial automation vendors, will enable OEMs and asset owners to offer new services and business models. In industries like machine building, industrial equipment manufacturing, oil field services and more, there will be a dramatic increase in offerings of remote monitoring and reliability as a service.

5. Smart connected operations: As Internet-enabled technologies and analytical capabilities push to the edge of the manufacturing network, new modes of manufacturing will be enabled. This will include the creation of cyber-physical and self-organizing systems that will move away from central orchestration to distributed orchestration. Machines, materials, assets and people will communicate independently and make local decisions based on connectivity to the larger supply and demand chains that will increase flexibility and allow new modes of manufacturing like mass-customization.

This feature originally appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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