2008 Pinto's Pointers - Technologies & Markets
By : Jim Pinto,
By : Jim Pinto,
In the broad automation markets, there are pockets of technology and market growth that deserve special review. Here are some Pointo's Pointers regarding the top automation technology and market trends that will gain traction in 2008. Success will come to the companies that understand how to combine and coordinate new technology, new thinking and the deployment of effective solutions for customers in global markets.
Automation.com, January 2008
As we enter the last third of the first decade in this new century, here are my pointers and prognostications regarding the top automation technology and market trends that will gain traction in the coming year.
Technology continues to accelerate rapidly in the business and consumer environment. Because of its fragmentation, low volumes and conservative customer base, industrial automation is relatively slow to change. In the broad automation markets, there are pockets of technology and market growth that deserve special review.
Industrial WirelessMost suppliers and end-users recognize wireless as a new inflection point which will generate significant growth in new applications, beyond just wire-replacement. While wireless standards squabbles continue, the grass-roots spread of wireless deployment continues. Completely new projects are generating quick investment payback, and generating pockets of growth.
Midst the "canyons of metal" in the industrial environment, WirelessHART mesh networks with support of multiple industrial network protocols is rapidly becoming standard in the process measurement and automation industry. With several companies using the technology, compatible retrofit kits for millions of already-deployed HART devices will become widely available - a good growth opportunity.
Industrial wireless mesh networks will quickly become integrated with standard plant and office WiFi, WiMax and broadband IT networks. Cisco, the mainstream networking "big gorilla", is following the growing convergence of the IT and automation worlds and has entered the industrial automation arena, hoping to extend its reach from the corporate level to the plant and factory.
It's important to remember that, while the process automation majors are primarily focused on the benefits of wireless-enabled versions of conventional field devices, the full range of potential applications of wireless technology is considerably wider and deeper. There are lots of applications which can use the versatility of self-healing wireless mesh networks and other wireless technologies, and this will contribute to substantial wireless market growth.
My own advice: don't get bogged down in the "wireless wars". Push the inflection point. Develop applications that provide your customers with the significant advantages and benefits of wireless deployment, and you'll find the growth and success your company is looking for.
Embedded intelligence & diagnosticsIt is not sufficient to know that a product has failed; if the failure occurs at an inconvenient time that may result in significant inconvenience and hardship. Indeed, it is more important to signal that failure will probably occur "soon", allowing the user time to organize service and come up with alternatives.
Just as computers have diagnostics for memory (RAM, disk-space and processing load) and provide warnings when these resources are short, most automation products will start to include predictive and preventive diagnostics. For example, if a button appears to be "sticky", then the appliance can perhaps continue to operate, with some precautions. On the other hand, a different kind of "stickiness" might demand immediate remedial action. This is like sensing the rattling in an automobile engine to correct the problem before a catastrophic problem occurs. In the future, that kind of intelligence will reside in many automation products.
Industrial equipment will increasingly contain embedded operating information and self-diagnostics to minimize the need for scarce and expensive factory-service personnel. Beyond just showing causes of failure (after failure has occurred), integrated diagnostics will increasingly be predictive (before failure), preventive (precautionary and deterrent) and advisory (providing maintenance and repair instructions).
Embedded diagnostics will become an important part of all new equipment and will even be retrofitted into old equipments wherever practical, revolutionizing many aspects of conventional factory service. Proprietary diagnostics technology becomes yet another hook that yields continued revenue for suppliers after the initial sale. At the very least, it becomes significant differentiation. Third-party service providers will need the proprietary diagnostics and service equipment before they can provide service.
Machine-to-machine (M2M) communicationsHuge new opportunities will continue to emerge from the convergence of device networking, wireless sensors, machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, and the Internet.
Manufacturers can use their connected products to develop customer service relationships that can ultimately recreate the basis of customer management and generate new revenue streams in an information economy. They can use device-networking technology to reduce (for their customers) the hassles of product ownership, while at the same time helping their own business to reduce costs and pursue new revenue growth opportunities.
M2M does not arrive in the world as a distinct, perceivable product operating in a distinct, controlled environment. Customers won't purchase it like a PC running a specific desktop OS, or equipment that provides specific functions. It will arrive in many different ways, mostly designed not to be directly perceivable by end-users.
M2M will unleash a wave of productivity and efficiencies previously unseen. When products and equipment are continually sending operating information and intelligence, companies that utilize this information will be able to shed costs, explore new revenue opportunities, and solve customer problems as never before.
M2M provides major benefits to both suppliers and end-users, leading to improved asset-management, dramatic cost reductions and enhanced service initiatives. Growth in M2M is still emerging, and will start generating significant productivity results in the coming years.
Within the next decade, M2M will drive totally new opportunities for companies and services involved in device, equipment and machine networking. Large opportunities will emerge for software companies that provide information tools to manage the vast, ongoing streams of device-generated data, and to extract meaningful business intelligence from them.
Security ServicesMost of today's automation & control systems use the same PC hardware (Intel), operating system (Windows) and communications (Ethernet TCP/IP) as broadly deployed personal, corporate office and administrative networks. This generates steadily increasing problems.
As plants and factories are connected to the Internet, and Intranets, worms and trojans can enter through mainstream software. In addition, there may be deliberate external or internal intrusion that must be prevented. Automation networks should be completely separated using routers and firewalls specifically designed for the applications. Parallel installation of separate networks is not a luxury - it should be mandated.
Malicious security breaches, and attacks from outside intruders, are rapidly growing threats for automation systems based on common architectures. Employees and ex-employees may be involved in theft, and retaliation. And there are "hackers" who may do it just for the thrill, or vandals and opportunistic criminals (including terrorists). Plug-in memory ports must not be generally accessible, limiting the possibility of "sneaker-net" - portable memory like floppy-disks or USB memory sticks which may insert a virus or worm intentionally or unintentionally.
Well thought out system security should prioritize and manage network traffic, restrict outside traffic, and give preferential treatment to control traffic. The system must have the ability to prevent problems and security threats before they occur. There should be preconfigured groups and group policies that define desktop and console behavior. For example, operators could be limited to just auto start applications, supervisors could have the next level of security, engineers could be restricted to relevant engineering functions, and administrators could have unlimited access with maximum security (password protection, etc.). Regular and consistent network management is the key to security protection.
Network security comes from proper design, operation and maintenance to provide regularly updated protection. 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.
Consumer tech in industrial automationEthernet technology has now become ubiquitous in commercial business enterprises, and high-speed networking is becoming increasingly common in the home through a variety of consumer devices such as PCs, routers, switches, and wireless hubs. These products will be used increasingly in the industrial controls, factory and process environments.
The difference between consumer/commercial and "industrial" technology is often purely psychological; most consumer products are designed for high reliability in a broad range of environments. And they are functionally equivalent, in many cases - e.g., an Ethernet hub from a retail outlet is not different from that of a more expensive "industrial" hub from an automation supplier.
To assure reliability and performance in factory and industrial plant conditions, hardware installed in industrial environments are presumably designed to perform reliably in adverse conditions - wider temperature ranges, high electrical noise, dirt and dust, etc. In many cases, they are merely "tested" to comply. As CISCO and other main-stream suppliers enter the industrial arena, look for more products to be offered as "industrial" versions.
The rapid growth of Internet access via cellular phones, handheld PDAs and the like, is inevitably rubbing off in traditionally conservative industrial environments. Factory and industrial personnel are increasingly using widely available Internet services such as text messaging, graphic and video transmissions for remote alerts, reviews, consultation, diagnostics and trouble-shooting. Increasingly, remote experts are virtually present, providing greatly enhanced effectiveness and productivity improvements. More and more software applications and systems will become available, specifically for industrial automation applications.
ConclusionGrowth in the industrial automation arena will not be limited to the areas mentioned here; there will be many other parallel areas of advancement. Success will come to the companies that understand how to combine and coordinate new technology, new thinking and the deployment of effective solutions for customers in global markets.
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