Automation World: What are some of the challenges facing manufacturers?
Aubert Martin: First, the manufacturing sector is facing challenges from the competitive global environment. Successful companies are using innovation and technology, finely adjusted for quality and speed. Automation can help productivity and quality and help manufacturers face challenges with complexity of products. The need to be more flexible, and the trend to more global competition are the two elements that are setting the agenda today. How can this be fixed? Especially in the United States and other countries with high labor costs and other disadvantages, the only way is to bring in the right technologies for automation. Siemens has developed the strategy of Totally Integrated Automation (TIA) and Totally Integrated Power (TIP), which is a platform to adopt different applications of automation and power. It also brings necessary benefits for customers, such as cost reduction, time advantages and higher efficiency. Three key elements are how to manage data, how to reduce engineering cost and how to standardize communication. This plays a role in all automation.
If you have a consistent platform compared to a huge number of legacy systems, it brings benefits in productivity, quality and speed. Look at the automotive industry. It must produce cars with high quality with also the complexity of large numbers of models and types. In this industry, like many others, innovation and automation are driving the competitiveness.
AW: What are the trends in manufacturing?
Martin: One significant trend in hybrid industries is to deal with process and discrete manufacturing, as well as look into the complete supply chain, from inbound to primary process to secondary processing—that is, packaging—to outbound logistics. The key is to have integrated systems that use the same platform for the whole application. Further, they need to reduce lifecycle costs. What this means is the automation platform must be able to perform in different areas. In the past, there were technologies such as distributed control systems for process manufacturing and programmable logic controllers for discrete. Today it’s possible to have both in one box plus motion control. That means that technology is merging.
Another trend is the integration of our business and manufacturing processes, so-called manufacturing execution systems (MESs), which are gaining much more visibility. MES is the layer between the enterprise level (financial) and the control level. It is necessary to link the two layers with real business data and process data to optimize the company. This is a fast growing market that can already demonstrate many savings. Some applications include food and beverage industries, where tracking and tracing is becoming more and more important. It can only be done with a consistent system with data consistency.
Also, if we are going to reduce the complexity for our customers, then we need to simplify and standardize automation. Solutions suites reduce engineering cost, make systems more plug-and-play, reduce time for startup of new production lines and improve usability for maintenance.
AW: How will manufacturing get there?
Martin: Pressure is coming from the market, so manufacturing has no choice. There is now a lot of investment in automation because of global competitiveness, the need for increased quality and for speed. Launch time is dramatically reduced through the right automation. It’s not that we have to convince customers. They see why they need to invest in automation. Manufacturers are investing not for capacity but for productivity, quality and speed.
We have to prove the return on investment for every proposal.