Industry has a golden opportunity to become a fundamental pillar of global economic recovery as the world works to recover from the pandemic. So, how will we get there? Mark Yeeles, Vice President of Industrial Automation at Schneider Electric explains.
Industrial productivity growth was already moving in the wrong direction before the pandemic, averaging at only 0.7%. While worldwide industrial production fell by 11.1% in Q2, due to the global lockdown, only to rebound considerably in the second half of the year.
If the disruption created by COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that industries need agility and resiliency to survive. There’s no doubt that we must take significant steps now if we are to see real improvements in efficiency and sustainability.
The industrial sector is ripe for disruption. It is dominated by closed, propriety systems that are not designed for flexibility and prioritise vendor lock-in over innovation. On the surface, many automation suppliers talk about ‘open’ technology.
However, open automation as it exists today is not open enough, as many suppliers have yet to embrace vendor-agnostic systems, where software from one vendor can run on hardware from another.
As a result, industrial enterprises endure unnecessary engineering expense and delays in rolling out innovation. The consequence is reduced agility and lost business opportunities.
Failure to apply truly open, interoperablestandards for automation tools is costly on all fronts. It’s a ubiquitous challenge that is holding industrial operations back across the world. It’s in everyone’s interest – from vendors, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and machine builders to systems integrators and end users – to find a way through the impasse. Ultimately, like many of today’s biggest challenges, it can only be achieved through collaboration.
By keeping technology built on closed, proprietary systems, we are stunting innovation, while crippling productivity from ‘team work’ between systems, machines and people. We can no longer accept needlessly big engineering efforts, a lack of modularisation or any barriers to resilience and innovation.
A group of co-workers who cannot communicate cannot be productive. Today’s closed automation systems encounter the same difficulties. They can’t simply integrate or collaborate with third-party devices, nor can they be easily upgraded.
In the current paradigm, industrial businesses and workforces continue to be held back by closed and proprietary systems, hampering the highest priority areas, namely innovation, efficiency, sustainability and agility. We are left with an under-optimised sector, propped up by a damaged global economy.
The future is bright
We’ve reached an inflection point. Current industrial automation system architecture has done a good job of advancing industry to where we are today, but to realise the full promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution we need to fundamentally change our technology model.
We now have the computational power and levels of connectivity necessary to overhaul industrial sustainability and operational eco-efficiency. And with the environmental clock running out, we can’t afford to miss this opportunity to use software-centric and data-driven automation to make meaningful change.
An alternative future is bright. According to Accenture, by 2030 the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) could not only add trillions to the global economy but also increase productivity and efficiency for manufacturers worldwide.
A World Economic Forum report in collaboration with Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has suggested that 72% of manufacturers see advanced analytics as increasingly important, while 80% believe increased productivity can be achieved through digitalisation and data-driven insight.
The dawn of an industrial automation app store
Just as the IT world has embraced the benefits of open-operating platforms, now it’s industry’s turn. Universal automation is the world of ‘plug and produce’ automation software components that solve specific customer problems in a proven way.
Think of it as the dawn of an industrial automation app store. The technology already exists to make it possible. The IEC 61499 standard for interoperable and portability can be used to create a standardised automation layer across vendors, similar to the way that the Linux open source operating system helped standardised operating systems across computers.
By removing technology barriers, universal automation allows manufacturing lines and industrial processes to be quickly reprogrammed by engineers as required, even remotely. This heightened agility and productivity is necessary to cater to shifting consumer demand patterns, while also accommodating the limitations brought on by the pandemic.
Facing today’s challenges
The adoption of the IEC61499 standard for interoperability and portability alleviates many challenges facing industry today. Adoption of a common standard across vendors ensures different hardware and software systems can leverage advanced technologies by communicating with each other.
Universal automation eliminates many of the pain points of automation adoption. New technologies can be introduced, upgraded and integrated without wasting time and resources for refactoring. By utilising cyber secure IT architectures and technologies natively within a robust automation infrastructure, manufacturers can integrate advanced data-driven applications easily.
The interoperable system also has great potential for maintenance and efficiency. With a single, open and heterogenous automation system, maintenance engineers can rapidly find and fix faults and incorporate innovative maintenance technologies to avoid issues.
This includes proactive and predictive maintenance – the process of repairing a plant asset before it fails. This type of maintenance lowers risk, minimises unplanned downtime and helps address small faults before they become expensive systematic failures. Indeed, predictive maintenance saves roughly 8% to 12% over preventive maintenance and up to 40% over reactive maintenance.
A different future is within reach. With universal automation, we can achieve intelligent automated operations with production lines attaining self-configuring and self-healing capabilities.
Collaboration is the first step in achieving a new level of industrial productivity and efficiency. We urge everyone in the industrial ecosystem to come to the table and discuss universal automation.
However, we must first develop trust, reduce adoption obstacles, discover new methods to share data, and continue to innovate using a standardised approach before any significant change can occur.
Only by working together to create next-generation industrial technologies can we all benefit from a brighter future for our industries, our society, and ultimately our planet.