Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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TOP 5 IN 2010: Automation technologies to watch for


January 27, 2010
By André Voshart

Topics

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 adoption of new technologies to help achieve these goals. We asked five industry experts to name the top five technologies and trends that will impact Canadian and worldwide manufacturers in 2010 and beyond.

Author and Topic Index

Jim Pinto
1. Industrial wireless.
2. Embedded intelligence and M2M.
3. Cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS).
4. Plant and factory security systems.
5. Robots are coming.

Eric Byres
1. Industrial security and safety integration.
2. Industrial wireless.
3. Virtualization.
4. Industrial cloud computing.
5. Host Identity Protocol (HIP) for control systems.

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Marc Ostertag
1. Integrated safety.
2. Energy-efficient drive systems.
3. Predictive maintenance.
4. Remote machine monitoring and maintenance.
5. Embedded communication services.

Anders Lif
1. Usability enhancements.
2. The integration of the “top floor and shop floor.”
3. Convergence of IT and SCADA.
4. Mash-ups.
5. Shrinking workforce tech.

Sal Spada
1. Adaptive production machinery.
2. Design tools integrated with automation for mechatronic optimization.
3. Robotic safeguarding solutions.
4. Sensor networks become viable options.
5. Motion control safety functionality improves machine utilization.



Jim PintoJim Pinto

  • 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 www.jimpinto.com.


1. Industrial wireless.
Wireless is an enabling technology for new applications beyond just wire replacement. The new ISA standard has finally been tested and approved; this will, hopefully, stimulate broader applications for a variety of end users. My hunch is that new applications, with changed processes and procedures, will adapt to the new wireless capabilities. This could generate revenue breakthroughs for burgeoning wireless networking technologies waiting in the wings. We’ll see more wireless products announced in this coming year, and it could spark a new phase of growth that will re-energize industrial automation.

2. Embedded intelligence and M2M.
The “pervasive Internet” is still emerging, and in spite of the economic slowdown, will burst through in the coming decade with a plethora of products and applications. Embedded intelligence and connectivity is what machine-to-machine (M2M) is all about. Large assets will include self-monitoring procedures, reporting up the hierarchy with information such as uptime and downtime, diagnostics, usage and failure patterns, and more. All this invisible information about assets, costs and liabilities will become available at an affordable price, generating new revenue growth for leaders.

3. Cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS).

This is a burgeoning new area in the commercial and office business environments, and growth will spill over into factories and process plants. All but the most critical components will be run “in the cloud” — it’s simply a matter of how local or how distant the hardware and software resources are located. The switch to cloud resources will occur because of the growing obsolescence of capitalized hardware, plus continuing support for rapidly changing software. Something’s got to give, and what will change is the mix of local, capitalized hardware and software versus cloud resources. Albeit with some lag, industrial automation will follow the growth in this fast-growing arena.

4. Plant and factory security systems.
Most of today’s automation and control systems use the same hardware (Intel), operating system (Windows) and communications (Ethernet TCP/IP) as broadly deployed personal, corporate office and administrative networks. This generates steadily increasing problems. Worms and trojans can enter through mainstream operating systems and software, plus there may be deliberate external or internal intrusion. Good network security environments include high-security routers and firewalls that block outside intrusion but do not affect required performance. Automation-systems security has become an urgent issue, perhaps even a critical one. Providers of effective security protection solutions and services will generate good growth over the next several years.

5. Robots are coming.
Robots with integrated vision and touch dramatically changes the speed and efficiency of new production and delivery systems. Robots have become so accurate they can be applied where manual operations are no longer a viable option. The biggest change in industrial robots is that they will evolve into a broader variety of structures and mechanisms. In many cases, configurations that evolve into new automation systems won’t be immediately recognizable as robots. For example, robots that automate semiconductor manufacturing already look quite different from those used in automotive plants.



Eric ByresEric Byres

  • Eric Byres, CTO of Byres Security, is an expert on SCADA and critical infrastructure security. He has been responsible for numerous standards, best practices and patents for industrial networks.


1. Industrial security and safety integration.

In many companies, there is a growing realization that industrial safety and industrial security are actually two sides of the same coin. Whether the cause is an unsafe act or a security breach, the impact is the same — personnel safety is in jeopardy. Adopting a common methodology for both is more cost-effective engineering. Expect to see combined safety-security consultancies to dominate the SCADA/process security markets and the emergence of new audit and analysis methods that tightly integrate safety and security on the plant floor.

2. Industrial wireless.
This has been on everyone’s lists for several years now, yet product in the field has always seemed to be another year away — so why include it again? Because with the ratification of the ISA100.11a Wireless Systems for Industrial Automation: Process Control and Related Applications standard in September and the release of a WirelessHART Device Registration Procedure document in August, it means real products for both wireless standards are going to start appearing in earnest. Once they do, then we will see wireless migrate from a curiosity to a core technology on the plant floor.

3. Virtualization.
A virtual machine (VM) is a software implementation that executes programs just like a physical machine. For example, my laptop contains several VMs that act as virtual PLC programming and network analysis laptops; they allow me to keep my personal computer, my office computer and my field laptop all independent (making application conflicts far less likely and my regular PC far more efficient) yet only carry one laptop. But the real benefits are in server applications: you can replace dozens of lightly loaded “hard” servers with one powerhouse server and then run multiple applications in their own VM. It is having a major impact on automation, and the cost savings in hardware and management can be enormous.

4. Industrial cloud computing.
While there is little chance that we will soon see the direct control of processes (no cloud PLCs), there are lots of support applications in industrial plants where cloud computing makes sense. For example, today’s long-term data historians and asset management systems can be situated on servers almost anywhere in the company intranet, so pushing the data storage and access out to secure, externally managed server in the “cloud” is not a big technical shift. The challenge is trust. As standards develop for ensuring good third party management of data and engineers realize the real cost of maintaining a secure server and trust those whose only job is maintaining that server, the shift will happen.

5. Host Identity Protocol (HIP) for control systems.
Every list needs a long-term, crystal-ball prediction, and this is mine. The trouble today with the Internet (and TCP/IP in general) is that it is too easy to impersonate any device or person on the network and send spoofed and harmful messages — just look at your spam folder. HIP is a new protocol that will allow devices to automatically prove their identity in a secure manner. Once their identity is proven, they are allowed to access other systems and services based on the rights associated to that identity.



Marc OstertagMarc Ostertag

  • Marc Ostertag is the North American president at B&R Industrial Automation.

1. Integrated safety.
Safety will further progress to an integrated part of the control solution. Besides the obvious benefits, such as reduction of wiring, project commissioning and maintenance, this will really start to change the way machines react to various safety-related events, such as breach of light curtains, etc. Machines will be able to react smarter by going into a safe state versus coming to a grinding halt. In the end, this not only increases the safety of the machine but vastly reduces downtime — and this is where the smarter safety will very quickly pay off.

2. Energy-efficient drive systems.
Energy efficiency will continue to be a major driving factor for all industries. The biggest source for energy losses is in motion-related system parts, such as servo drives. While it has become common practice to link servo drives and help share one drive’s excess energy while braking with another drive that is accelerating, the new generation of drive systems can take this further and put energy back into the power grid. Such drives with power factors close to one will greatly reduce the energy used by manufacturing lines. The savings realized per year quickly outgrow the cost of the drive system by a large margin.

3. Predictive maintenance.
More and more we will see machines that can monitor their actual state with regards to maintenance. The big driving factor here is downtime versus uptime. Every time a machine requires unscheduled maintenance, the costs are huge since most are part of manufacturing lines that are consequently shut down. If, for example, the machines that had to be shut down could have already announced their maintenance needs, all service work could be executed at the same time. This reduces lifetime costs by a huge factor. The technology is there; it requires machine builders and end users to define the execution.

4. Remote machine monitoring and maintenance.
This is not a brand-new technology, per se — it has been around for years. Most control systems will have the functionality built-in to allow for remote access in order to be able to monitor the machine and troubleshoot any potential problems. Unfortunately, in many cases the machines are not hooked up to the company-wide Intranet and even if they are, they often are not granted any outside access. What is needed is a sensible policy at the site that takes security concerns into consideration as well as trying to reap the potential benefits remote access promises.

5. Embedded communication services.
More and more, PLCs are becoming more intelligent. One good example is integrated communication services, such as OPC servers embedded in the PLC. This brings the realization of site-wide data connection and data collection to the controller level and can, in many cases, make additional PCs obsolete. It also allows for a much cleaner integration and thus helps make processes and operations more transparent.



Anders LifAnders Lif

  • Anders Lif is the global director of product and industry marketing with IFS, which offers a range of ERP and manufacturing software solutions.

1. Usability enhancements.
Designing business applications for improved efficiency lets IT support departments and manufacturing staffs handle greater responsibility with the same or fewer staff. Human-computer interaction has become an important science when designing IT systems for optimum usability and for driving employee efficiency as an important part of the system design. We have seen usage of systems increase after usability enhancements as well, with more than 100 percent following the redesign of an OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) software module, which allows a manufacturer to get more value from their investment.

2. The integration of the “top floor and shop floor.”
This has been discussed and developed for at least the past decade, but there are more and more examples of integrations between automation equipment and business applications that really make sense. The classic example is predictive or condition-based maintenance, but you will also start to see examples where you are able to automate administrative work processes based on data exchange between PLCs and business applications.

3. Convergence of IT and SCADA.
IT systems are getting more and more “real time.” Even if we never talk about micro seconds update in business applications, we have access to information in a much more transparent way than before — and this also drives a redesign of the user interface to deal with more information in the same screen. IT systems are looking more and more like SCADA systems as speedometers, trends and different graphical representations are used to illustrate more complex data patterns.

4. Mash-ups.
These integrations of business software and web functionality will become more and more frequent. An example is the mash-up combination of existing Internet maps, like Google Earth and Microsoft Bing, with work order systems in an EAM/CMMS application. Suddenly, users are able to see work orders plotted geographically across a map, enabling much more efficient planning for field service technicians performing after-sales service at customer sites. Mash-ups are often a cheap way of creating new functionality by combining already-existing technologies and solutions in new ways and can be expected to be more common in the coming years.

5. Shrinking workforce tech.
In Western economies, the baby boomers are about to retire, leaving a smaller generation to replace them. This leaves many companies in an interesting situation, but IT and automation can help them handle the same (or more) work with fewer people. Manufacturers will also need to capture the “tacit knowledge” of their retirees through social networks or Web 2.0; tools like forums, wiki articles, blogs and other devices are all great at involving and engaging people in debates where their tacit knowledge is released and stored for future reference. These are also becoming an interesting part of the business-applications design in upcoming years as they prove to be an efficient way to interact and collaborate within companies and over borders.



Jim PintoSal Spada

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

1. Adaptive production machinery.
In practice, there are innumerable process issue considerations to take into account when seeking to implement a solution. The complexity of the process is the primary reason major CNC suppliers won’t get directly involved with adaptive machining solutions. The issues with regard to tooling include tooling profile, tooling coatings, tooling variation, work piece material, work piece material variation, machine tool characteristics and surface finish quality. These process variables are not an area of expertise for the CNC suppliers, so major CNC suppliers do not want to get engaged directly with the end-use manufacturer.

2. Design tools integrated with automation for mechatronic optimization.
Mechatronic support services include comprehensive simulation tools for testing primary as well as alternative machine concepts. Such tools create a virtual machine environment to test a prototype and production machine performance. In this phase, machine builders can run tests for machine cycles, sectional speed capabilities, bottlenecks and safety. As a result, machine builders can modify or configure machines for optimum performance and high productivity. Mechatronic support services can not only eliminate the need for building multiple physical machines prior to production, but can also speed actual machine deployment.

3. Robotic safeguarding solutions.
Robotic suppliers are introducing innovative solutions that provide protection from the inside out rather than the pervasive outside-looking-in approach. These innovations are based on the concept of “work envelope limitations,” which is more akin to a designed-in safety approach, than an add-on safety approach. A designed-in safety approach provides an opportunity to improve the productivity of the work cell by constraining the movement of the robotic arm based on the location of the production worker and the perimeter fencing.

4. Sensor networks become viable options.
IO-Link is a low-cost, point-to-point wired sensor network that offers improvements in deployment, continuous operation, and diagnostics for the most widely used types of sensors. An IO-Link sensor transmits standard digital or analog output signals and provides additional serial data communications with the control unit as master to exchange parameters such as the measuring range, sensitivity, time delay and operating mode. Because the serial data transmission needs no additional wires and the output signals are compatible, it is possible to use standard cables and connectors and combine or mix IO-Link devices with standard devices.

5. Motion control safety functionality improves machine utilization.
Integrating safety functionality into servo drives and other motion control equipment is one of the most intriguing drivers in the machine safeguarding market. Embedding a safety controller and safe I/O right into a servo drive eliminates the need for a separate safety controller and I/O. Safety functions are integrated directly into the drive, eliminating the need for external power contactors and speed monitoring equipment and enabling local control. Many view this trend not as a threat the machine safeguarding market, but as a move toward incorporating increasingly more safety functions in machinery.