A session at Inductive Automation’s virtual Ignition Community Conference 2021 featured four system integration professionals offering their viewpoints on the automation trends they see as having been the most impactful this year. The session, led by Shay Johnson, sales engineer at Inductive Automation, featured Jake Hall, business development manager, Feyen Zylstra; Brian McClain, business development manager, Corso Systems; Cody Warren, senior controls engineer, Tamaki Control Ltd.; and Dustin Wilson, senior project manager, Phantom Technical Services.
The rise of “Ethernet I/O on the device level has been huge lately,” said Warren. “I think customers are seeing the value of that as opposed to the hardwired approach. A lot of the work we've been doing the past couple years has been upgrading old, out-of-date PLCs and I/O. And it’s easier to do this with the arrival of IO-Link masters.”
The value of remote
Like every business, industrial operations continue to struggle with maintaining effective operations amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
McClain concurred with Wilson’s comments about the importance of remote technologies, adding, “Remote data monitoring has been a recurring theme we've seen over the last year not just from supervisors, but managers who want remote access to their production data because they may not be able to go into the facility, or it may not be safe to do so.”
Also, “the amount of remote training I have seen happen in the past 18 months is unprecedented,” added Hall.
Hall noted that the lack of in-person conferences since early 2020 has likely contributed to the increased interest in remote training and videos.
Automation project failures
The integrators on the panel agreed that the current heightened level of interest in automation in response to digital transformation trends has been accelerated with the advent of COVID-19. Likewise, the urgency to implement technology to address pandemic-related issues has also increased the rate of implementation difficulties.
“A lot of times, the systems are so complex they’re unable to be communicated effectively to the integration team,” he explained, noting that project changes made during development and implementation, often due to a lack of clear understanding on all sides, can cause costs to rise by 50x.
To avoid this, Hall recommend two things:
- Aligning your projects teams together—is there a detailed complete spec or document that's keeping everything up to date?
- Learn and proof—From the data you're able to collect, are you able to act on it? Then, from your implementation, are you able to define the root causes [of problems]?
The ability to overcome project failures depends on your ability to define the problem and then validate and deliver systems to address it.
From there, “are you able to learn and improve?” Hall asked. “If you can't do those things, you're probably not going to be successful with your implementation.”
Wilson stressed the importance of being able to define your long-term goals for the project. “Once you have your long-term projections, you can model the system correctly so that once you do have all the data available, it has context to it. By modeling your data correctly, you can know exactly where to find all your control points for a motor. Then, when you push those data points into the cloud and you're doing Big Data analytics on them, you’ll have a consistent format for everything in it.”