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Consumer Technology Drives Automation

If anything is clear about the future of factory and process automation, it’s that interaction with industrial devices will likely differ little from how we interact with our personal smart devices.
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The annual ARC World Industry Forum is a good venue for meeting with a wide variety of automation suppliers and getting a feel for where the collective head of the automation industry is at—for the moment, at least.  At this year’s event, it’s clear that the interaction and interoperability of consumer technology devices are going to be the big drivers of automation system advances in the near term.

So that you can have a feel for what I’ve been hearing and seeing lately, here’s a rundown of few announcements and conversations I’ve encountered while at the ARC event this week:

• In a conversation with Rob McGreevy, vice president of product management for Wonderware and Invensys Operations Management, he told me that Invensys now has some 600 smart devices accessing its systems via the cloud at 75 sites around the globe. He added that a big trend he sees in this area is connecting real-time production and historian data and putting it into context for decision-making via mobile apps. McGreevy says this Invensys’ focus on this trend was initially targeted at operators, but it has increasingly gained the interest of executives both to support their own decision-making, but also to justify the investment in adopting this new technology.

If the user likes the module app, he can then select it and pay for it on the site, then download and install it while the main application is still running.

• On the new software product innovation side, Inductive Automation announced its soon-to-be-released (March 4, 2013) Module Marketplace. Of course, software modules for industrial applications are nothing new, but Inductive Automation’s approach to the market appears unique. Here’s what they’re doing: First, they are making modules that work with their Web-based HMI/SCADA and MES products available via an online marketplace where users can try the products for free for 2 hours. If the user likes the module, he can then select it and pay for it on the site, then download and install it while the main Inductive Automation application is still running. Screens may need to be refreshed once the new module app is installed, but no restart of the system is necessary. In addition, Inductive Automation is opening up access to its core apps so that third party developers can create module apps for use with the company’s systems. All of these apps will be available for download on the Module Marketplace site. Bottom line: Think of an iTunes App store for industrial production software and you’ll understand Inductive Automation’s Module Marketplace. I’ll have more to report on this new development once it’s officially released.

• While not quite following the app store model like the Module Marketplace, GE has launched its own Web store to showcase and sell its control products. Currently, the nearly 180 products available in the store focus on GE’s PACSystems RXi Controller, the RXi Industrial PC and RSTi I/O systems. The company plans to have all of GE Intelligent Platforms’ automation products available in the online store by summer. The site also features a “Build Your Product” guide to help engineers figure out what they need to create an optimal control system for their project. In addition to GE’s news about its Web store, the company has also just launched a platform agnostic-dashboard system that reportedly can aggregate data from any system or device in your facility accessible via URL. You can see my write-up on that release here.

• And if you missed the news post yesterday about the TIA/OPC collaboration on agnostic M2M connectivity, check out the news here. In essence, it’s simply more evidence that the ease with which we connect and interact with our smartphones and tablet devices is spreading to industrial automation sector in a big way.

David Greenfield has been covering industrial technologies, ranging from software and hardware to embedded systems, for more than 20 years. His principal areas of coverage for Automation World focus on technologies deployed for factory and process automation. Contact David at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @DJGreenfield.
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