What Are the Trends Driving Technology Suppliers?

From miniaturization, integration and digitalization to customization, modularization and identification, these six trends are shaping the future of automation technologies.

We all hear plenty of news about the factors driving manufacturing businesses toward the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Smart/Digital Manufacturing in general. Customer demands for more custom products and the need for manufacturers to reduce overhead to remain competitive tend to be at the top of these trend lists.

But what about the technology suppliers themselves? Certainly the issues driving manufacturing trends are, in turn, driving the suppliers. But what about specific technology trends? How are those issues driving the day-to-day development decisions at automation technology suppliers?

Jon DeSouza, president and CEO of Harting Americas, recently shared some insights into six factors driving the company’s technology development decisions. Harting is a supplier of industrial connectivity technology for connecting machines to devices and into the communication infrastructure.

Miniaturization. As more data is gathered for analysis, more connection points are required, thus leading to an increased focus on device miniaturization. DeSouza pointed to Harting’s new ix Industrial connector series, which delivers Cat 6A performance for 1/10 Gbits/s Ethernet in 70 percent less installation space than legacy RJ45 connectors.

Integration. The use of protocols to allow systems and sub-systems to share data is a focal point of IIoT enablement. Harting’s MICA, according to DeSouza, can be used as a hub in a decentralized IIoT production environment. “For example, the Harting MICA has been used for energy monitoring in factory settings,” he said. “It can monitor the amount of power used at the machine, measure power quality, provide insights into machine health and ensure process quality.”

Digitalization. While the term “digitalization” is often used in differing contexts, for Harting it means taking things that typically do not transmit data or are analog and making them digital so that they can be integrated into larger IIoT systems. “The flexible configuration possibilities with MICA mean shop floor and machine operations can be retrofitted to perform digital, networked applications for more efficient production processes, predictive maintenance and documentation of process data,” said DeSouza.

Customization. To illustrate how Harting has adapted its products to customer requests, DeSouza pointed to the company’s customization of the hood on its Han-Eco series of thermoplastic connectors. This customization was done to make the connectors more suitable for data center applications. “This is why the customized Han-Eco was selected as the connector for Microsoft’s open-source Project Olympus data center developed through the Open Compute Project,” said DeSouza.

Modularization. The need for flexible, reconfigurable production elements has long been a technology driver in manufacturing. Interest in it has only increased with growing end-user customization demands. DeSouza noted that Harting’s Han-Modular series has been addressing this trend since 1994, by allowing for the combination of multiple connection types into a single interface.

Identification. Another long-term manufacturing trend that has gained additional interest with IIoT is the ability to add tracking functionality via technologies like RFID. Providing this kind of functionality allows for an object to store information about itself throughout its entire lifecycle. DeSouza said Harting’s industrial RFID technology, initially introduced in 2006, has been growing steadily given its reliability in harsh operating environments.

“All six [of these trends] are important for realizing the full potential of the IIoT, including the analytical benefits derived from Big Data,” said DeSouza. “Globally, a great deal of emphasis is being placed on gathering, distilling and analyzing data at the edge and in the cloud, and with good reason because of how it can improve the entire supply chain. At the same time, Harting is very focused on integrated solutions that include power and/or signal transmission, which are indispensable to optimizing IIoT manufacturing.”

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