Do you think smartphones, big data and cloud computing don’t apply to your plant or machine shop? Think again. A behind-the-scenes shift by software developers is transforming the way people interact with industrial machines, and creating systems that are as quick, intuitive and responsive as the best smartphone applications.
“I believe there is an optimism about manufacturing,” said Helmuth Ludwig, CEO of the Industry Sector at Siemens USA, speaking at ASME’s Advanced Design and Manufacturing Impact Forum in Buffalo, N.Y. “We are on the verge of a new era in manufacturing. Thirty to 40 years ago, it was about mechanics and hardware-driven advances. Then the electronics came in. Now it’s all about the software. With software, the U.S. can lead the transformation of manufacturing worldwide.”
Speaking at the same conference, Russ Agussa, founder, president and CEO of Iconics, a maker of HMI/SCADA software, said, “Software is driving innovation in mechanical systems, and a lot of software is behind the scenes. Sensors are everywhere and we need analytics. You want to mobilize people to act on information.” That leads to today’s “megatrends in manufacturing,” he said, which are “big data, analytics, mobile, enterprise social [networks] and cloud computing.”
Marcos Taccolini, chief technology officer of HMI/SCADA software vendor Tatsoft, said his company has just completed a five-year, multimillion-dollar investment in rewriting its FactoryStudio software using the latest technologies. He said the rewrite was necessary because “infrastructure designed for 20 years ago can’t work. You apply one more patch, one more patch—and you get a Frankenstein.”
The industrial software revolution underway now “is as big a leap as from DOS to Windows,” Taccolini said. “I saw VAX to DOS, DOS to Windows, and now it’s Windows to .Net, Java and the cloud.” And this is happening as the underlying infrastructure is changing—one CPU to multi-core processors, network speeds up to 100x faster, and user interface devices in diverse shapes, sizes and ability to move.
Makers of HMI/SCADA software and other tools are rewriting their products to make the most of these technologies. For example, every month more industrial automation vendors provide apps that run natively on iOS, Android and Microsoft Windows tablets and smartphones, as well as on other types of mobile hardware. And the range of industrial mobile apps already in use is quite large (see “Industrial Mobile Apps—Who’s Using Them and Why,” on page 40).
Mike Hake, senior facilities technician at an electronics manufacturer in Bohemia, N.Y., uses a compact operator interface running on his Android smartphone to securely monitor and control facility compressors, lighting, air conditioning units, pumps, ovens and other equipment at the manufacturing facility. Hake says that the operator interface makes essential information and important controls immediately available no matter where he’s located.
Hake created the operator interface running on the smartphone, using groov from Opto 22 for building web-browser-based operator interfaces. He uses the interface on his Android smartphone with the groov View app for Android, and provided the interface to several co-workers, who use it on both Android and iOS smartphones. The groov View app was designed for both end users who wish to have access to their automation systems from a mobile device via the cloud, and for machine builders looking to use off-the-shelf mobile devices as operator interfaces and data gathering devices for their machines.
To help engineers, technicians and business managers find industrial mobile apps like groov, Automation World is creating The Industrial Mobility Guide (awgo.to/MobilityGuide). Part online directory, part testimonial to the benefits of mobility, the guide will be a compilation of descriptions, links and use cases like Mike Hake’s that show how industrial users are finding success with mobile applications today.
The new era in manufacturing really is all about the software—software that makes essential information and important controls immediately and securely available no matter where a person is located or what device he is holding. How is that going to change the way you work?