Weaving a Tapestry of Automation Technology

Jan. 1, 2013
The things I see coming in the fullness of time are those that are built upon the control platforms that help us manage plants and factories more effectively.

Welcome to 2013—I hope. I’m writing this editorial days before the end of the world, according to an interpretation of an old Mayan calendar. Whether we are crumpled at the bottom of the “fiscal cliff” is also unknown now. Such are monthly magazines.

Assuming we’re all still around to read this, I thought I’d take a shorter view about automation than the Mayans and a longer view than our political leaders seem to be able to muster. While there are still improvements in control platforms, programming, sensing and motion, the things I see coming in the fullness of time are those that are built upon the control platforms that help us manage plants and factories more effectively.

Mentioning Cloud Computing in a publication targeted to enterprise information technology people doesn’t even draw a yawn any more. Automation people are moving with the usual haste (meaning “not quickly”) toward adopting cloud technologies. The reason is that “the cloud” is a place to house lots of information. Expect to read more about the cloud. Also expect to hear your suppliers talking more about it.

Building huge repositories of information does no good unless there is a way to make it all understandable and to deliver it in distinct ways to help people make decisions. Fortunately, another IT innovation is available—analytics. Look for the various technology suppliers to bring out advances in analytics, dashboards, operator screens, mobile support and more.

Something has to feed that beast, and arrays of connected devices often talking among themselves and databases without human intervention are that something. The evolution of this technology has been painfully slow—just like everything else in our market. The Internet of Things, the Pervasive Internet and the Industrial Internet are just some of the new names for this new world of connected devices. Automation companies as diverse as GE and

Advantech have made this technology a cornerstone of strategy. There will be ever greater connectivity using all the strands of networking technology we’ve discussed for the past 10 years.

One other technology and standards thread is required to weave this information-rich industrial future. That is interoperability. I recently visited a Belden plant where wiring cables are manufactured. Management researched new Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) applications. One manager told me, “I sure wish that these packages would communicate with other software packages such as our enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.”

OPC UA has been more than five years in development. In 2012 we began to see a critical mass of applications and products. OPC is one industry standard for interoperability that has proven itself for many years. The advancements that come with UA make it even more valuable. The Open O&M Initiative is yet another industry-led interoperability standard that is beginning to gain mass in the oil & gas industry. Watch for more to come this year.

This issue marks the second year of reporting on the results of our open-ended reader poll of companies you choose to be on your “First Team” as automation suppliers. You’ll also find a section where a variety of automation suppliers are promoting their products and solutions and asking you to go online and select them as a Leader in Automation. These are a couple of ways you can make your voice heard.

This year also marks the 10th Anniversary of the founding of Automation World. I joined the start up team with Dave Harvey and Jane Gerold in Feb. 2003 with first issue published in June, and I owe both much gratitude for having confidence in me as the founding editor. It has been a lot of fun.

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