Automation Industry Expert Insights: CODESYS Tech Talk Fall 2021

Automation Industry Expert Insights: CODESYS Tech Talk Fall 2021
Automation Industry Expert Insights: CODESYS Tech Talk Fall 2021

I moderated an insightful roundtable discussion about industrial automation future trends and challenges during the Fall 2021 CODESYS Tech Talk and Users Conference with the following industry leaders and innovators:

Don Bartusiak, president, Collaborative Systems Integration, a tireless champion of open automation systems continuing to be instrumental in the development of the Open Process Automation System standards. Bartusiak’s experience includes 33 years in process control with Exxon Mobil and seven years of process development research with Bethlehem Steel.  

Dieter Hess, cofounder and CEO of CODESYS, has been dedicated to open standards--particularly IEC 61131-3--since founding of the company in 1994. The CODESYS Group is the creator of the CODESYS IEC 61131-3 hardware-independent automation software.

Jose Rivera is CEO of the Control System Integrators Association, a not-for-profit, global trade association with over 500 member companies in 35 countries dedicated to advancing the professionalism of control system integrators. His experience includes a global career in the automation industry working for Siemens, Emerson Electric and Schneider Electric in six countries.

Albert Rooyakkers, founder, CEO & chief technology officer of Bedrock Automation, which designs cyber secure industrial control systems.   Rooyakkers believes industrial control systems must be designed and built from the ground up to protect industrial facilities and infrastructure rather than using bolt on cybersecurity.  Rooyakkers has over 35 years of process control and electronics industry experience holding more than 100 patents in electronics, human interface, mechanical design, system design and cyber security.

Brandon Williams is co-founder & Business Development at, which provides software for industrial digitalization converging IT and OT systems based on open standards. He is committed to open standards and was deeply involved in the development of the Open Process Automation System OPAS standard pilot systems last year. Williams, a former U.S. nuclear submarine officer, has been an investor in and developer of numerous technologies from water treatment to cloud infrastructure.

Each panelist provided automation industry future views and industry challenges.

Don Bartusiak perspectives

Future view
The future will involve expanding the scope of process control and automation beyond production and manufacturing processes. An example is engineering and implementing predictive maintenance to increase production uptime and system availability. Automation will address human factors and reduce the probability and cost of human errors. The industry can learn and draw upon what is being developed and applied in autonomous vehicles.

New technologies, including the Internet of Things, are creating a technology paradigm shift towards artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies.

Technology and business transformation using open architecture automation control systems. The business changes are more challenging than the application of technology.  

Industry challenges
Users really need to understand and become more assertive in talking about their pain points and be motivated to implement transformation using the new tools. Users can’t sit passively and accept the pain they’re experiencing from the status quo.

The industrial control and automation business motivation has always been competitive advantage, and in this day and age the challenge for users is to stay ahead of the pack with the broad concept of digital transformation. The big topics include Industry 4.0, Industrial Internet of Things and OT/IT convergence.   To successfully stay ahead of the pack, users will have to accept some risk and try some things that haven’t been proven with a million operating hours of experience.

A challenge for end users is to be bold enough to go after step change improvements in productivity and step change reductions in total cost of ownership of systems by pursuing open architecture system concepts and open process automation ideas.

Dieter Hess perspectives

Future view
In automation technology software and hardware will become independent which follows a pattern we’ve seen in other areas including computers, servers and cellular phones were software and hardware come from different vendors. Industrial and process automation has resisted this trend with software and hardware bundled. In the future it will be possible to provide automation system software including PLC runtime, machine CNC (Computer Numerical Control) kernel, and industrial communication protocol independent of the hardware platform. This provides a choice to apply the best hardware platform and the best-in-class software for each different task.

It is important for IT and OT to work together to achieve digital transformation. It is difficult to do OT functions in an IT environment but there are many new things that you can do collaboratively in a private or public cloud to improve operations.

Industry challenges
The main challenges are bridge the differences in mentality between IT and OT. IT applications necessarily do not have the awareness or understanding of the importance of availability and real-time response. For example, waiting to respond in half a second is not a problem for IT applications, but responses controlling a machine must be in milliseconds.

IT and OT people must become aware of cybersecurity issues and work together to create reliable and secure systems.

Everyone needs to learn what possibilities and opportunities that additional technologies enable leveraging IT and OT in an integrated system. Most people think of using artificial intelligence for predictive maintenance but of course it is much broader than that with so many applications including optimizing operations, and communications.

The classic automation system consists of field devices, control devices, SCADA and OT systems with the opportunity to extend functions leveraging private and public cloud infrastructure for specific tasks.

Industry challenges

  • Bridging the gap between the different mentalities of OT and IT. For example, explaining real time and availability requirements of OT to IT staff.
  • Building the awareness for security measures and hardware abstraction layers in OT teams.
  • Cooperating to create opportunities with additional IT based infrastructure for OT systems enabling advanced functions. For example, using AI not only for predictive maintenance but also for optimization and other tasks.
  • Also, embracing cooperative engineering and engineering automation (code generation) in cloud-based systems.

Jose M. Rivera

Future view
Regarding changes in automation I like to start from the human perspective we’ve all seen new possibilities brought to us with with all the technology incorporated in our our cell phones, iPads and various smart devices.

In the past, the technology was coming from the employer, but now it’s coming from the consumer, and the worker must try to bring all these opportunities to the workplace. The possibilities of going beyond the manufacturing line and the process extending to the supply chain allowing humans to directly interact. This is the real opportunity with digital transformation, which allows people to view things in different ways throughout the organization rather than in silos.  

If deployed correctly, digital transformation allows companies to gain and retain competitiveness. It requires technology and also demands recognition and leverage of the human element from the operator to the C-Level. Automation will be embraced beyond the engineering departmen and factory floor.

The expectation of what an automation solution encompasses has grown dramatically. The smart phone has taught the masses what can be done with technology. They want to have this replicated at their workplace including factory floor.

Some of the tools, such as AI, have been a bit of a mystery and challenge to implement. The trend is for these technologies to become easier to implement, making deployment of AI and digital automation more intuitive and enabling  a wider group of people to apply. This follows the same pattern as the evolution of industrial automation over the years, with the addition of graphic HMI’s and other technologies making it easier to apply and use.

Industry challenges
The war for talent due to the demographics and skills crisis means everyone will be fighting to get people. This will require more automation and an ecosystem of knowledgeable providers. For example, the Controls Systems Integrator Association members are a resource with knowledgeable people to apply and implement technologies without users having to invest in expensive overhead that will only be used periodically.

The other challenge is proprietary legacy systems that need to change rapidly which is a step change as we just witnessed with the disruptions caused by the Covid pandemic including the need for remote monitoring, troubleshooting, operations, and dealing with supply channel disruptions. Industry needs to drive for interface standardization and the ability to conduct upgrades without the need to “rip and replace” entire systems hardware and software.

If automation and control systems are hard to upgrade that is a big limitation to the competitiveness of companies and our country. That is what many initiatives are focused on including the Open Process Automation Forum. Open architecture provides users the ability to deploy wide range of the best-in-class technologies to be most competitive.

In the United States, the installed automation base is very old, which is troubling because some of this infrastructure is running critical processes such as chemical plants, utilities making them vulnerable to newer threats like cyber-attacks.   As a society we have not given the priority to make the important digital migration happen.

Albert Rooyakkers

Future view
Albert views automation industry future and change in the context of 5 C’s:

  • Consolidation, which means simplicity, consolidation of architecture consolidation of software consolidation of tools.
  • Connectivity is critical to legacy infrastructure to bring older technologies into a modern secure infrastructure and connect it effectively. Private and public cloud is a concept with a set of tools and coupled with the evolution of edge hardware there are many interesting opportunities. The evolution of edge software coupled with edge hardware platforms that have the so much horsepower and capabilities bring cloud applications and functionality right to the edge.
  • Cyber security is the most relevant element with digital transformation that increases cyber risk.  It really should be the cyber secure digital transformation with the expansion of the digital footprint increasing cyber-attack vectors that increase cyber risks if protection is not built into the architecture. If you look at the elements of lifecycle costs five years ago cyber wasn’t there.  Every small, medium, and large customer we are working with accounts for security as a component of lifecycle cost. Making the digital transformation will increase your lifecycle cost if it is not done right. All your existing automation including PLCs and DCS are already digital but were designed prior to built-in cybersecurity protection and effectively are already obsolete.
  • Cost is a number one driver automation suppliers and companies need to think about. From my perspective everything we do we must drive cost to zero and in certain cases you’re not going to get there. Some businesspeople will ask how you can run a business if you drive cost to zero.  I say don’t sweat it because the markets are so huge as you drive it toward zero you are going to win and succeed.


Brandon Williams Perspectives

Future view
We are based in Silicon Valley and participated in the transformation of the telecom and cloud industry seeing firsthand the incredible power of open systems and new businesses and opportunities that have been created for efficiency and productivity. In the digitalization landscape industrial has real problems, opportunities and quantifiable positive return on digital and open architecture investment. Four years ago, we got involved in The Open Process Automation Forum and learned a great deal.  IT and OT have different mindsets and legacy.  IT vendors can’t just back up a truck and unload a bunch technology, that’s not how it works. The OT side of the business is not going to go away since plant people including managers and operators have the knowledge and know-how to achieve efficient operations. The operators might have new technology underneath, but it is critical for them to have access to apply their knowledge and know-how of plant manufacturing and processes for successful operations, safety and security.

The top changes is the movement from proprietary control systems to open control systems delivering greater adaptability, efficiency, and reduced cost. Digital transformation is not new software running on proprietary systems but requires a complete change of architecture as we have seen this transformation in other industries that is unbelievably powerful in yields tremendous benefits.

The new open architecture provides a platform to apply AI and software innovations to dramatically improve competitiveness and profits. The open platform architecture is fundamental for discovering new and innovative ways to increase production and business performance.

Industry challenges
Global supply chains are increasingly less reliable due to geopolitical conflict, ongoing covid disruptions, and unpredictable extreme weather conditions caused by climate change. This will require flexibility, driving the need for adaptable control systems on open platform architectures.

Manufacturing to be competitive and responsive requires automation and control systems be on an equal footing with all of the IT systems and this also exposes it to cyber threat. This requires a continuing evolving focus on cybersecurity to protect against the growing threats of ransomware and national security attacks.

Industry must continue to evolve to give younger workers the modern interfaces and tools they expect and relate to as digital natives.

General discussion

The industry leaders and innovators made the following general remarks: 

Don Bartusiak: Industries that are not embracing digital technologies are not very appealing to the very people, the digital natives, companies need to make the digital transformation. Companies have to show an appealing career perspective to people coming out of college who are math, computer and communications oriented, or they all will go to tech companies. You have to give them a workplace where they feel productive, and if you’re a manufacturing company that doesn’t do that, you’re not going to get the talent you need to survive.

Albert: You need a blend of old and new with several generations. We have people on our team that are in their 60’s, 70s and 20s. You need the mix and match of the wisdom and historical perspective of automation in addition to the young talent that are digitally astute. When the new talent is exposed to the real-world production and physics, they gain a broader understanding and appreciation of industry. Putting the young and experienced talent together can help the younger generation get excited about the industry, factory & process automation. I don’t think it’s hard to find the people who not only are smart, innovative, flexible but also have a curious mind that's willing to learn new things.

Dieter: It is really about combining the abilities of people which are able to create a software architecture with people who know how processes and machines work. It is unbelievable what you can do if you combine both together.

Jose: As things get more complex, we will have to rely more and more on diverse good working teams.

Williams: Modern and open systems provide an incredible toolkit that is a broader canvas removing a lot of closed system barriers enabling creation of new applications. The application of AI, analytics and other open features using a container or virtual machine inside a control system with access to an OPC UA data flow in real-time unlocks opportunities that cannot be realized today with proprietary closed systems. I think it will be somewhat like the Renaissance with new tools and platforms that are going to unlock creativity.

Don: To be successful in the application of AI and other technologies, in my experience you need collaboration between the data scientist and people with domain knowledge; one or the other is not sufficient.

Albert: The tremendous processing power on a chip that can be put in field devices such as sensors and actuators coupled with an understanding of applications will result in AI and expert systems becoming commoditized embedded in devices.  A pump is a pump; a reactor is a reactor; a distillation column is a distillation column; in the free and open world, these tools and AI algorithms are going to be commoditized and made available instantaneously to the people with the same pump, reactor and other devices. The architecture is becoming highly distributed with computing at edge devices that have the software, analytics, AI, tools, cybersecurity must be at each one of those tiny little endpoints.

About The Author

Bill Lydon brings more than 10 years of writing and editing expertise to, plus more than 25 years of experience designing and applying technology in the automation and controls industry. Lydon is also Director North America for the PLCopen organization. Lydon started his career as a designer of computer-based machine tool controls; in other positions, he applied programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and process control technology. Working at a large company, Lydon served a two-year stint as part of a five-person task group, that designed a new generation building automation system including controllers, networking and supervisory & control software. He also designed software for chiller and boiler plant optimization. Bill was product manager for a multimillion-dollar controls and automation product line and later cofounder and president of an industrial control software company.

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