27 May 2020

Where does automation go next?

If large industrial machines like turbines and aircraft engines were once the big data pioneers, most of us now live in a world in which all kinds of devices come with integrated sensors that collect a wide range of data. In the factories of the world, 2020 is expected to be the year in which over 50% of industrial assets are connected to some form of data collection. Everybody knows data holds the key to optimization and competitiveness, but as the amount of data and the variety of its sources increase rapidly, getting the best out of the data in a meaningful way is a big challenge. If you like to leverage and utilize data intelligence, raise productivity and meet the requirements of a more and more IT driven industrial world, you better start dealing with these five topics, that will influence future automation scenarios:

1) Next level of flexibility due to changing customer or market requirements

Today, it’s common sense, that social media has the power to change consumer demands within hours. Sometimes it’s predictable, e.g. during soccer world cup or the Super Bowl. But sometimes changing market requirements are not predictable. The current situation caused by the Corona virus, proves this. Of course, this is an outstanding case. Manufacturers needed to act fast. They changed their production to provide people with masks or they even invented new medical ventilators within days. We all hope that the global human society is emerging from the current crisis even stronger. Nevertheless, it will influence the industrial arena for a long time. Even companies that have not had the challenge to serve the increasing demand of individualized products, should now start to think about modular and flexible productions.

GPA Innova, Respira

2) Flexibility in production needs intelligence

We need flexibility in manufacturing. What are the key enablers for a more flexible production? For sure Artificial Intelligence is one of them. Artificial Intelligence is capable of processing large amounts of data in ways that were never possible before. With increasing computing capacities and other trending technologies such as edge or cloud computing, AI can provide cognitive to machines, e.g. perception, reasoning, learning and autonomous decision-making. Therefore, autonomous systems will be an integral part of future factories. They may appear as AGVs to shape a new standard for intralogistics or as robots, that mount components in a control cabinet without having been programmed for the task. In both scenarios Artificial Intelligence sets the foundation for modular production, thus enabling efficiency for a lot size of one.

3) Automation will move to the edge

You’re almost there. You almost have the recipe for a modular and flexible production. What’s missing? IT technologies are starting to come down to the shop floor, where edge devices already have computing power to run specific applications and orchestrate communication with other parts of the factory. So, Edge Computing is another key technology. It will change automation architectures in the upcoming years and create a renaissance on the shop floor. In combination with Cloud Computing it provides a new dimension of flexibility, scalability and data processing power. In real-time. This becomes crucial, when we have a production line, where multiple autonomous systems collaborate, where the environment changes consistently because of an incredibly high number of product variants.

4) An intelligent factory’s favorite meal is data

These innovations hold great promise for automation systems and are being integrated step by step into our standard portfolio. But they won`t be truly effective without consistent, possibly standardized interfaces and maximum data flow. End-to-end integration – in which data flows freely thanks to consistent data management with globally valid standards and uniform interfaces – is like the land of milk and honey for a smart factory. This is why our automation concept Totally Integrated Automation offers horizontal and vertical consistency throughout the machine, line and factory levels. The concept maximizes data flow and facilitates simulation of control systems, virtual commissioning and ongoing data-based optimization. Consistency in databases and libraries makes programming easier and faster, combining all the steps in the value chain. This greatly enhances the work of machine builders and system integrators across various disciplines, shortening time to market and reducing the use of resources, all while maintaining the highest quality and reliability. Added to this is TIA’s open architecture, which makes it easier, for example, to integrate machines from third-party providers or to integrate a new machine into an existing production line.

5) Industrial Security is the salt in the soup

Have you ever tried French Fries without salt or Cocoa without sugar? Each meal needs this one final ingredient, which must not be missing. In our future automation scenarios this is Industrial Security. Digitalization and the associated increasing connectivity unfortunately attract cyber criminals. It is no secret that cyber-attacks, especially in industry, are increasing. The more machines and systems are connected, the more potential targets need protection and the more likely a cyber-attack becomes, especially where OT and critical infrastructures are concerned. This is not, how I would have painted a perfect automation world. But it’s a fact, and we (the automation supplier, the manufacturer, and as private individuals) must deal with it together. As a trusted automation supplier security has the highest priority to us. We use up to date security standards for our portfolio and build security into our products When deployed within a defense-in depth environment, Siemens products and systems provide state-of-the-art security and data protection, accomplishing the primary mission of automation worldwide.

In my next blog article I will talk about a holistic security approach that covers all levels simultaneously which is essential to keeping industrial facilities safe.

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