I give up. To me, the end of the decade is next year figuring there was not a year 0, then the beginning of the new calendar was year 1 and the end of the first decade was year 10. Oh, well, mainstream media just can’t wait to jump into wrap-up frenzy. So, me, too.
The last 10 years in industrial technology was busy with new buzz words—heavier on marketing than on substance in many ways. We breezed through Industrie 4.0 with its cyber-physical systems. Then we had Internet of Things borrowed from the consumer, largely iPhone, space. But borrowing from GE advertising of the “Industrial Internet”, the “Industrial Internet of Things” became originally the European counterpoint to Germany’s Industry 4.0 and then grew into general adoption.
Not finished with all this buzz, the industry discovered “digital”. We had digital twin (derived from cyber-physical systems). But these had to be connected with the digital thread. And all led into a digital transformation.
Let’s take a look at some specific topics.
Much of the foundation was laid in the decade before. Maybe I should say decades. The industry started digitizing in the 1980s. It’s been building ever since. Through the first decade of this millennium great strides were made in control technology, usability, sensors (both sensitivity and communication), networks moving from analog to digital and through field buses to Ethernet.
In this decade, most companies grew by acquisition of smaller, innovative companies and start-ups. The remaining automation giants pieced together strategies based on visions of which companies to acquire and what customer solutions were required. Looking ahead, I’m considering what additional consolidation to anticipate. I think there will be more as the market does not seem to be growing dramatically.
Most innovation came in the realm of data. Decreasing costs of memory, networking stacks, and other silicon enabled leaps in ability to accumulate and communicate data. Borrowing software advances from IT, historians and relational databases grew more powerful along with new types of data handling and analysis coming from the “big data” and powerful analytics technologies.
Another IT innovation that finally hit industrial companies was adoption of “cloud” with the eventual development of edge. Instead of the Purdue Enterprise Reference Model of the control/automation equipment being the gateway of all data from the processes, companies began to go sensor to cloud, so to speak, breaking down the rigidity of PERA thinking.
It is now old news that digital is everywhere. And, it is not a sudden development. It has been building for 30 years. Like all technology, it builds over time until it’s suddenly everywhere. The question is no longer what is becoming digital, nor is it speculating over marketing terms like digital transformation.
The question about digital everything is precisely how are we to use it to make things better for humans and society.
Sensors—At least by 2003, if not before, I was writing about the converging trends in silicon of smaller and less expensive networking, sensing, processing, and memory chips and stacks that would enable an explosion of ubiquitous sensing. It’s not only here; it is everywhere. Not only in manufacturing, but also in our homes and our palms.
Design—CAD, CAM, PLM have all progressed in power and usability. Most especially have been the development of data protocols that allow the digital data output of these applications to flow into operations and maintenance applications. Getting as-built and as-designed to align improves maintenance and reliability along with uptime and productivity. And not only in a single plant, but in an extended supply chain.
Networking—The emergence of fast, reliable, and standardized networking is the backbone of the new digital enterprise. It is here and proven.
Software—Emergence of more powerful databases, including even extension of historians, along with data conversion protocols and analysis tools provides information presented in an easily digestible form so that better decisions may be made throughout the extended enterprise.
Industry press have talked about IT/OT convergence until we are all sick of the phrase. Add to that stories of in-fighting between the organizations, and you have the making of good stories—but not of reality or providing a path to what works. As Operations Technology (OT) has become increasingly digital, it inevitably overlaps the Information Technology (IT) domain. Companies with good management have long since taken strides to foster better working relationships breaking the silos. Usually a simple step such as moving the respective manager’s offices close to each other to foster communication helps.
Speaking of IT and OT, the modification of the Purdue Enterprise Reference Modal to show data flowing from the plant/sensor level directly to the “cloud” for enterprise IT use has enticed new entrants into manufacturing technology.
If we are not forced to go through the control system to provide data for MES, MOM, ERP, CRS, and the like, then perhaps the IT companies such as Dell Technologies, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Hitachi Vantara can develop their compute platforms, partnerships, and software to provide that gateway between plant floor and enterprise without disturbing the control platform.
Therefore we are witnessing proliferating partnerships among IT and OT automation suppliers in order to provide complete solutions to customers.
Remember—it is all meaningless unless it gets translated into intelligent action to make the manufacturing supply chain more productive with better quality and more humane.