Digital Transformation Leads to Integrated Factories

Digital Transformation Leads to Integrated Factories
Digital Transformation Leads to Integrated Factories
The industry of the last decade witnessed the beginnings of a massive shift towards digitalization strategies. Organizations looking to harness this momentum into the next decade need to know that efficient and effective
digitalization is only possible with multivendor open solutions, which enable efficient and frictionless integration. The computer industry has been on this path for many years and it has been accelerated, by the Internet of Things and a wide range of open source standards. The competitiveness of a manufacturing or process company depends on staff understanding this shift and applying the right technologies to increase profits and efficiency.

Categorizing Manufacturing Success

Automation analysts and vendors frequently categorize manufacturing users, grouping them as innovators, early adopters, late majority and laggards for their adoption of new automation technology. Users today have become significantly more sophisticated, technologically, and with greater cooperation with IT  people are starting to do the categorizing themselves. The critical question manufacturing and process company should be asking: Which automation vendors are innovators and early adopters and which are late majority and laggards?

This categorization should be an important consideration for those in industrial automation, because it determines if their automaton systems will continue to be effective and, more importantly keep their manufacturing and production operations competitive. The computer industry has proven, many times over, that no single vendor can provide as strong a solution as an ecosystem of suppliers, empowered by open architectures. Traditional suppliers make an argument that they are the gatekeeper protecting you from unreliable solutions, but this is tricky business since it is self-serving. The middle ground has been to create gated third-party programs to “protect users”. I believe that incumbent automation suppliers’ major value is in their development of the key elements of systems for overall industrial production that are unique including application software, training, and solid customer service. If they cannot compete on those dimensions, they need to look for different business.

History has proven the impact of technology, and these advances and the related new architectures are changing the directions of today’s industry. The computer industry is the biggest proof. Their transition resulted in a significant larger selection of lower cost hardware and advanced software that didn’t require programming and increased the number of applications possible (think spreadsheets). This expanded the industry dramatically and manufacturers should not hesitate to follow their example.

Birth of the Digital Twin

One of the digitalization solutions that is already seeing use by some manufacturers is the Digital Twin. The continued growth and refinement of software has made it easier for manufacturing and production people to create digital twins with intuitive software and semantics, self-describing edge sensors, devices, and controllers. By doing so the Digital Twin has become one of the most powerful concepts of today’s Industry 4. 0, as it couples virtual plant and process models with physical operations for greater productivity and efficiency, as well as training opportunities. Digital Twins provide a virtual model of the ideal manufacturing operations and processes that are benchmarking actual production metrics in real time. The broadest implementations include all the factors that affect efficiency and profitability of production: machines, processes, labor, incoming material quality, order flow, and economic factors. Implementing Digital Twin concepts is quickly becoming fundamental for organizations achieve real-time integrated manufacturing.

This article is part of Bill Lydon’s Top Trends, his Automation & Control Trends Report for 2020-2021. Download the full report here

About The Author

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 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. In addition to working at various large companies (e.g., Sundstrand, Johnson Controls, and Wago), Lydon served a two-year stint as part of a five-person task group, where he designed controls, automation systems, and software for chiller and boiler plant optimization. He was also a product manager for a multimillion-dollar controls and automation product line and president of an industrial control software company.

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