Major Automation & Control Trends in 2012 | Automation.com

Major Automation & Control Trends in 2012

January 162012
Major Automation & Control Trends in 2012
January 2012
 
By Bill Lydon - Editor
 
This is an update expressing my thoughts on major automation and control trends for 2012. These opinions are based on a wide range of inputs from users, suppliers and industry consultants, and from attending numerous industry forums, conferences and trade shows every year. Years of hands-on experience as a designer and applier of automation and controls in the field are also reflected in these opinions. I invite readers to contact me to critique and share any other trends or expand on the trends listed below.
 
Ethernet
 
My 2011 Thoughts
The two dominant growing communication types for industrial automation systems are standard TCP/IP Ethernet and a number of industrial network protocol standards on Ethernet. The TCP/IP Ethernet IT network has become the workhorse bridging information between automation and business systems. Industrial protocols have converged to a few mainstream protocols for sensor/actuator networks, with the dominant being Modbus, DeviceNet and Profibus. The growth of Ethernet communications at the controller level has seen an increase in the number of protocols for industrial automation including EtherNet/IP, PROFINET, EtherCAT, SERCOS III, Modbus TCP/IP, POWERLINK, IEC 61850, Foundation Fieldbus High Speed Ethernet (HSE), and CC-Link IE. The biggest question will be how far up the architecture will industrial Ethernet protocols be accepted for business systems.
 
2012 Update
Ethernet use continues to increase with protocol additions for safety, motion, and energy.
 
Another growing development is controllers that have standard TCP/IP connection in addition to industrial Ethernet protocol connections. The TCP/IP connections are used to communicate information directly to the business enterprise systems.
 
Information Leverage
 
My 2011 Thoughts
Systems monitor a wider number of real-time data and the industry has been finding ways to refine that data into useful information for improving operations and identifying problems before they occur. Accelerators for this trend are more powerful low cost computers, wireless sensors, and analytical software. The lower cost of computing power has enabled the use of sophisticated analytical software for operations improvement. This has opened the door for companies to find more ways to use analytics to improve efficiencies. Predictive maintenance is a fast-growing area of analytics that is used to predict problems before they occur, avoiding interruptions in production. In addition to lowering downtime, this also maximizes the use of skilled maintenance people who are in short supply.
 
2012 Update
 
Over the year there are more examples of users and suppliers going beyond software dashboards to use the power of computing to create actionable information and, in some cases, advanced control. 
 
Information Synergy
 
My 2011 Thoughts
Automation people are learning how to go beyond simply providing IT-based business systems with information to collaborating and creating new ways to improve operation and efficiencies.
 
2012 Update
This is just beginning to emerge. An example is workflow software integration between enterprise and automation systems.
 
Retrofit & Upgrade
 
My 2011 Thoughts
In the U.S. and Europe, manufacturers are more likely to keep existing systems and add newer features and functions to conserve capital. Other new and growing markets are installing new systems.
 
2012 Update
Almost every automation supplier has a wiring system and some offer a software conversion program to move customers from an old system to a newer one, preserving existing sensor wiring.   Many users see more value in leaving the systems as is and bolting on new functions. Software add-ons at the top end of these older systems are used to add asset management, advanced control, and other functions. Gateways have become extremely popular to add newer controllers, sensors, and wireless sensors to existing systems at the bottom end. The life of the I/O hardware, controllers, and sensors of old systems are proving to be far longer than the 10-year life originally envisioned.
 
Remote Monitoring
 
My 2011 Thoughts
Today’s systems have the ability to support powerful remote monitoring which allows experts to help solve plant problems without the need for travel. This ability will grow in importance because of a shrinking pool of experienced people and growth in developing countries.
 
2012 Update
Remote monitoring continues to grow with the need to leverage the shrinking pool of experts. There are numerous developments in this area. Fieldbus Foundation launched its Remote Operations Management (ROM) solution in 2011 which provides a single integrated infrastructure built specifically for process automation. Cellular phone technology is being used more often to implement remote monitoring since it is readily available and easy to deploy. Cyber security is a major issue for remote monitoring.
 
Mobile Operator Devices
 
My 2011 Thoughts
Mobile devices have decreased in cost dramatically and allow operators to manage multiple machines while moving around a plant. This ability includes the use of Smartphones, tablet computers, netbooks, and notebook computers. There is growing use of integrated video in these devices that enables the person in the plant to consult with experts and “show” problems in real-time.
 
2012 Update
The use of the iPad and other tablet computers has grown dramatically over the last year. Users tell me it is a “no brainer” application because they require virtually no software changes and devices are low cost.
 
Virtualization
 
My 2011 Thoughts
Virtual machines enable sharing of hardware resources which allows multiple applications and operating systems to run on a server. Virtualization is simplifying support, increasing reliability, and improving performance of systems. Consolidating automation software from multiple computers on a virtual system also eliminates Ethernet switches and routers which simplifies systems and increases performance.
 
2012 Update
Users have embraced virtualization since it is easy to deploy, increases performance, and yields big savings. A frequent comment I hear from users is that automation vendors in some cases have been slow to bless virtualization for use with their software.   This has not stopped users whose IT departments generally understand virtualization and help them deploy it.
 
Enterprise Automation System
 
My 2011 Thoughts
Industrial plants of any reasonable size are unlikely to have a single control system architecture installed and the trend is to unify operations. This is going to be accomplished more often by selecting a unifying software architecture supplied by one vendor. This platform will incorporate a high performance real-time database; support various standards including OPC, multiple native protocol drivers, ERP interfaces, and IT database interfaces.
 
2012 Update
There are a few suppliers that have truly integrated software solutions. The majority of suppliers however still have loosely coupled software applications that do not make for a cohesive enterprise control system.
 
Energy
 
My 2011 Thoughts
There has been more concern about energy conservation because energy costs are a bigger "raw ingredient" of production. A larger concern is the global demand pull that will lead to increased prices and shrinking supply. Concerns about potential shortages will keep interest in energy conservation strong. This trend is leading to metering use and finding ways to more efficiently use energy in operations.
 
2012 Update
There have been some practical products brought to market to attack energy conservation including wireless steam trap monitors, clever combustion control, and energy efficient motors.  These classes of products are used save energy directly rather than simply auditing use.
 
PROFINET with the addition of PROFIenergy provides a framework for implementing active energy management automation and control strategies. I expect there will be others who will implement similar schemes since it takes the core of energy management and power demand control and moves it to open architecture.  
 
There are also more sophisticated approaches to save energy in machines by taking advantage of using regenerative forces to transfer energy created within the machine from drives and hydraulics, which dramatically lowers energy consumption. 
 
Raw Materials Optimization
 
My 2011 Thoughts
Global demand pull is increasing prices and decreasing supply of raw materials. Smart companies will respond by applying advanced optimization technologies to maximize output from production.
 
2012 Update
This is still an emerging area with only a small number of companies applying advanced optimization to increase efficiency. Most companies applying these technologies will not allow case studies to be published since they view this as a competitive advantage.
 
Information Security
 
My 2011 Thoughts
Advanced and more sophisticated cyber-attacks on industrial and process plants have created greater concerns and interest in securing databases and networks. Viruses and worms prey on networked systems, while remote workers tend to expose critical company data to industrial snoopers through holes in weak remote systems. There will be more security technology, assessments, training, and certifications.
 
2012 Update
Cyber security, like airport security, looks like it is here to stay with many solutions and developments. The ISASecure program, an industry initiative focused on automation, gained momentum in 2011 and there are products that have achieved ISASecure status. ISASecure provides standards which recognize and promote cyber-secure products and practices for industrial automation suppliers and operational sites. The standards address devices, systems, supplier practices, and user cractices.
 
Wireless
 
My 2011 Thoughts
The growth of wireless applications will continue exponentially.
 
Automation and control engineers that I talk with are using the technology to save money and implement new innovative applications. There are multiple standards but most users don’t seem to focus on the standard - they are simply applying wireless to solve problems that have high payback, regardless of the standard. Even if users have to throw away the radio in two years to replace it with something meeting a standard, it is a sound investment today. Industrial wireless standards will be more important in the future if wireless technology is used for most of a system installation.
 
Wireless Ethernet, 802.11, is becoming the plant information backbone utility.
 
The 6LoWPAN movement is relatively new but strong. By incorporating IEEE 802.15.4 (low-cost, low-speed ubiquitous communication between devices) into the IP architecture, it has the potential to be a game changer worth watching.
 
2012 Update
Wireless applications continue to expand but two developments standout.
 
The Chinese industrial sensor network standard, WIA-PA (IEC 62601), based on 802.15.4, achieved IEC standard status and is on the way to being the Chinese national standard. This development had surprised both WirelessHART and ISA100 camps.   This is significant since China is such a major growth area for automation and controls. There is speculation that due to China’s market size, WIA-PA is only going to be used in China. I do not share this view and believe over time WIA-PA is likely to be adopted widely, with products being exported from China. I also suspect that WIA-PA will develop a solution in the 900 MHz and lower range that increases signal penetration through walls and other obstacles.
 
The WSAN, Wireless Sensor Actuator Network, is be being specified as a wireless network solutions for discrete devices including, proximity sensors (inductive, optical etc.), light barriers, pilot devices, pneumatic/hydraulic actuators and I/O modules. The WSAN specification has been completed and is under review. This is a coordinated effort by the Wireless Cooperation Team (WCT) which was formed by the Fieldbus Foundation, HART Communication Foundation, and Profibus Nutzerorganisation e.V. (PNO). The purpose of WCT is to develop an interface specification and compliance guidelines to integrate a universally accepted wireless solution into the HART, FOUNDATION Fieldbus, PROFIBUS and PROFINET communications networks. The common interface is intended to make it easier for automation end-users to take advantage of evolving wireless technologies in discrete applications.  
 
Ethernet Driving to Sensors
 
My 2011 Thoughts
Ethernet is starting to be used more often at end devices including motor drives, vision, flow sensors, motor control centers, safety relays, and analytical instruments. There is an emerging movement for IP addressed sensors since it leverages standard IP technologies.
 
2012 Update
This continues to evolve. It’s most interesting to note that smarter devices with Ethernet communications are becoming available. For example, last year a very small vision camera was demonstrated communicating on Ethernet with a complete IEC 61131-3 controller embedded in it.
 
What do you think?
Contact me to share your thoughts on trends in the automation industry.
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