Automation World Readers Voice Innovation Needs and Concerns

In October, Automation World conducted an Internet survey asking readers about their feelings regarding automation innovation. Almost 100 responded, sharing insights, concerns and their outlook for the future. Here are some of the responses compiled by Contributing Editor Alex Anderson.

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What are the top technical or business practice innovations of the past five to 10 years that have had the most impact on your job? And why?

“As a small-business owner competing against larger companies, the advances in CAD/CAM (computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing) technology have made the software more affordable for smaller operations like mine,” says Michael Jarrell, Owner of Carmel Valley, Calif.-based Emtech LLC. “This computer technology has allowed my company to offer this as a supplemental service that has given me the recognition from buyers that may have overlooked me in the past. It has also allowed my company the ability to machine parts more effectively and efficiently.”

Jordan Ehst, of Lebanon, Pa.-based Automatic Farm Systems, tells us that lower-cost “microbrick” programmable logic controllers (PLCs) have been important for his company. “They have allowed us to move from a mess of relays to a flexible, potent controller that easily allows expandability and on-site modification. It also allows us to automate small systems that in the past would have required clumsy, high-maintenance electrical systems or manual controls.”

“Many companies are using one form of automation or other,” says Meidad Vaknin, general manager for Compax International (93) Ltd., in Yoqneam, Israel. “The last five to 10 years gave us automation engineers, more communication capabilities, stronger CPUs (central processing units) and more memory. In communications, fast Ethernet and cellular infrastructure are now available for the industry; we can use spread spectrum for distributed network infrastructure, making remote sites work together like one big machine. Applications are being integrated easily, and databases are more standardized. If I need to select one word to emphasize the last decade’s changes, I will put my money on standards. This will allow us to integrate systems from different providers, delivering our customers a better, more efficient, cost-effective system.”

“The Blackberry,” asserts Brian Taylor, business development manager, Siemens. “[It gives you the] freedom to get more completed in the day without feeling the rush to return to your PC (personal computer) or dedicate your evenings to returning messages.”

What innovations would you like to see from suppliers that would boost the performance of you and your plant?

Amidst the expected demands for more reliable parts, easier to follow user manuals and training tools, better customer service and lower prices, we found a wide variety of requests:

Chris Bowman, technical product and service supervisor for TR Electronic, in Troy, Mich., wants to see real-time wireless communications across Ethernet protocols.

Meanwhile, Chris Weigmann, project manager for Carmel, Ind.-based ITT-Tech, would like to see more vendors becoming true partners with their customers, offering more innovative products, easier installations, better instructions for software products and better communication.

Related Sidebar - Additional Survey Comments on Automation Innovations
To read the article accompanying this story, go to www.automationworld.com/feature-6426.

Jose Gonzalez Valero, hydrocarbon measurement assessor at Pemex, in Mexico City, Mexico, has a laundry list of wants. “Wireless, fieldbus-Modbus integration and standards, distributed control systems for small applications, plant information integration for analysis. Instrument application for small installations for oil-and-gas upstream production.”

One respondent who preferred to remain anonymous said, “I’m a supplier, but I hope we’ll deliver more solutions and services based on open standards.” And several people agreed that better, more effective standards are important.

What new technologies do you think will most affect automation in the next few years, and why?

This question gave readers the opportunity to play industry analyst and predict the course of innovation over the next few years (probably with the same level of accuracy). Like the wish-list question, responses were varied, but the clear winner was the anticipated impact of wireless technologies on plant operations, which was mentioned by no fewer than 20 percent of respondents. Wireless input/output (I/O), wireless Ethernet, wireless units, wireless communications, radio frequency identification (RFID), wireless control, wireless networking including WiMax and Zigbee and wireless fieldbus were all featured.

For example, Eugenio F. da Silva Neto, business development manager for Switzerland’s Endress+Hauser Process Solutions AG, told us, “Pervasive and ubiquitous technologies like wireless, smart middleware-like agents and semantic Web technologies, and aware-based services [will have an impact]. And I hope ‘green technologies and platforms’ will arrive and stay in our industry.”

Miguel Mejia, corporate IT demand manager for German eyecare supplier Carl Zeiss Vision International GmbH, believes that robotics will be important. “Robots will be more self sufficient, able to make decisions on process and quality. [I also expect] a new wave of RFID integration and implementation, accompanied by improvements on industrial networking.”

“Abnormal event detection,” says process control engineer Doug Lutz. “If someone or some company can actually make real progress in this area that is repeatable, transferable and reliable, then we have the potential to make a real dent into preventing incidents and therefore prevent more serious loss of process containment in refineries and chemical plants.”

“I expect we’ll see advancement in machine safety,” responded one anonymous reader. “That is, integrating intelligence into motion/drives, and field devices such that the need for separate relays and logic elements separate from machinery control will now become an integral part. This is akin to the movement of integrating motion, process and logic into one integrated platform. Machinery safety is the next integration element in machinery automation on the horizon.”

Finally, an anonymous respondent told us, “I think the trend in my area (DCS) will be the McDonaldization of the product.  Managers don’t like to rely on technical experts.”

Where will be the source of innovations in automation?

When asked where the next wave of automation innovations would come from, your responses were split fairly evenly across Supplier (33), Electronics (47) and Internet (31). There were several write-ins, with Services, Integrators and Owner/Operators getting one vote each while End Users and the Consumer earned two each. (Readers were allowed to vote for more than one option.)

Related Sidebar - Additional Survey Comments on Automation Innovations
To read the article accompanying this story, go to www.automationworld.com/feature-6426.

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