Year 2020 outlook from Polytron: Digital era of manufacturing

Polytron, among the three 2015 System Integrators of the Year, offers advice, looking 5 years ahead, in honor of CFE Media’s 5-year anniversary. Connectivity, network security, and predictive analytics will be among the changes in automation, controls, and instrumentation by 2020, adding competitiveness along the way.


Control Engineering, as part of CFE Media, continues to help subscribers envision and implement a more productive future starting with the technology tools available today in advanced automation, controls, and instrumentation. Courtesy: Mark T. Hoske, ConBy 2020, manufacturing enters a true digital era. On the way, it is imperative that manufacturers provide more precise and advanced access to technical and reference materials so that operators and technicians are better prepared to operate and maintain existing and new technology. Without an at-your-fingertips availability of maintenance and technical knowledge, the younger workforce will be unsuccessful—incapable—of operating and maintaining the systems on today's plant floor.

Polytron, among the three 2015 System Integrators of the Year, offers advice, looking 5 years ahead, in honor of CFE Media’s 5-year anniversary. Eight technology predictions cover sustainability, connectivity, network security, network upgrades, more intuitive human-machine interfaces (HMIs), safety, predictive analytics, and upgrades.

Requirements for 2020 now

For the past few years, industry discussions have included words like "Smart Manufacturing," "Industrial Revolution 4.0," "Advanced Manufacturing," "Intelligent Manufacturing," "Industrial Internet," etc. We are now entering the true digital manufacturing era. The Digital Era uses technology to deliver a system of 3-D visualization, data analytics, and multilevel collaboration tools to optimize and manage the manufacturing process—from the plant floor to the C-Suite.

Five manufacturing technology requirements for 2020 already are being implemented:

  • Total manufacturing system integration from supply chain to distribution
  • Visualization into plantwide systems for highest level of operational efficiency
  • Predictive maintenance systems for sustainable machine operations and increased uptime
  • Faster access to real-time manufacturing data
  • State-of-the-art network for higher bandwidth, wireless, and greater security.

As a system integrator, Polytron develops solutions for all these areas and applies a combination of "intelligent" technologies from multiple providers to deliver a fully integrated manufacturing system.

The following points provide more detail into our predictions for the future expansion of technology solutions for higher efficiency, flexibility, and sustainable manufacturing in a competitive market.

1. Sustainability: Manufacturers require data access applications at the point of decision for energy monitoring, operational efficiency, workforce and operator safety, and predictive maintenance. This will be integrated as an automated and integral component of the manufacturing process. These factors demand constant real-time data flow throughout the plant delivering the right data to the right person at the right time.

2. Broader connectivity of people and devices: The evolving manufacturing environment requires the ability to seamlessly communicate and collaborate using integrated technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud-based computing, mobility, and automated workflow for a faster, smarter, manufacturing environment.

The digital era, from the plant floor to the C-Suite includes 3-D visualization, data analytics, and multilevel collaboration tools. Courtesy: Polytron3. Tighter network security: With data flow and access across the plant, multilayer, multifaceted technology solutions for integrated and mainstreamed security at the point of use within the manufacturing processes are a move away from a single perimeter defense.

4. Industrial network upgrades: The smarter devices, more wireless, and integrated use of data requires a manufacturing backbone that is secure, scalable, and sustainable. This upgrade to the plant facility infrastructure supports more intuitive hardware/software for increased automation and efficient data access. The new network includes a blend of media including fiber and new copper wiring, open architecture networking technology, and software that allows for a robust computer network to receive and feed data between machines across the plant floor and up to the enterprise level.

5. Intuitive HMI with scorecards and training tools for optimized workforce: The aging workforce and lack of qualified workers to fill the positions is a priority challenge for manufacturers over the next 5 years and beyond. Approximately 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 everyday for the next 19 years. These are the seasoned workers with the knowledge to keep the plants running. The younger workers are not skilled enough to step in and fill the shoes of these workers that are retiring. An untrained workforce can significantly impact production output even with the most optimized automation solutions. This situation requires more technology transfer programs through formal training and mentoring to ensure that the years of technical knowledge stay at the plant and don't walk out the door with the retiring workforce.

Formal internal training tools, such as computer-based learning modules and HMI-based job aid modules are needed to ensure that the workforce is optimized and able to contribute to rather than hinder manufacturing production. Intuitive HMIs and scorecards will be critical for operators, maintenance, and technicians who will require increased technology skills to meet the operational demand in a more digital and automated production environment.

6. Machine safety: Upgrading machine safety technology will be a high priority for manufacturers over the next few years to bring older machines into compliance with safety standards. This combined with the retiring workforce creates a big risk for many manufacturers. Younger workers have a higher rate of injury in the workplace due to lack of experience with equipment, almost twice the number of injury requiring emergency care than that of the worker in the 25 to 50 age bracket. Integrated machine safety technology helps to protect the younger workforce, reduce worker incidents, reduce unplanned downtime related to incidents and near misses for greater overall production efficiency critical in a competitive market.

7. Predictive data analytics: Proactive management to ensure manufacturing equipment is operating efficiently to maintain a flexible and sustainable plant. Faster response to consumer requirements with safe and reliable products ensures that manufacturers stay in business. The demand for increased traceability and quality data is growing faster every day. The growing need for manufacturing system flexibility for small-batch production and mass customization requires seamless connectivity in the total supply chain. Flexible production technology is needed to manage costs when responding to market requirements.

8. Obsolescence and upgrades to hardware and technology: Hardware and technology obsolescence is a major issue for aging facilities. It is estimated that 75% of U.S. plants are over 20 years old, and there is a staggering number of failing manufacturing assets. Spare parts for programmable controllers and drives are harder to find, and technology provider support is disappearing. This issue poses a significant threat to productivity and overall efficiency. In some cases, it is almost at a crisis point for certain plants. For a fully integrated manufacturing system, obsolete hardware and technology will have to be replaced with the smart controllers and drives to enable end-to-end operational efficiency. Adding new smart technology and hardware will in turn demand the upgrade of incompatible components and even the plant network infrastructure.

- Brent Stromwall, PE, PMP, is vice president of Polytron Inc.; edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,

Key concepts

  • Groundwork technologies for year 2020 are here today, and system integrators can help.
  • Networking, communications, and collaboration will be pervasive.
  • Security will be built into automation, controls, and instrumentation.

Consider this

If you don't have a vision for enabling technologies, collaborate with a partner who can help provide a roadmap.

ONLINE extra

- Learn more about Polytron in the Global System Integrator Database.

- See additional advice on the past, present, and future of control engineering below.

Polytron is a CSIA member as of 6/30/2015

Anonymous , 07/11/15 06:38 AM:

I personally agree with Brent that plant-wide visualization shall be improved for operational efficiency. There are thousands of “missing measurements” around the plant. Thousands of sensors need to be added in plants for equipment condition monitoring to improve maintenance, reliability, energy efficiency, as well as reducing HS&E incidents and response time, and to improve operator productivity.

I agree state-of-the-art networking is required to make this practical; fieldbus and wireless

Energy monitoring, operational efficiency, operator safety, and predictive maintenance require three things: digital sensors, digital networks, and analytics software applications to distill the raw data into information and knowledge and delivering it to the right person at the right time; a second layer of automation, beyond the process control and safety.

I agree broader connectivity of devices and ability to seamlessly communicate is required

I too believe industrial networks will bring smarter devices, many of which will be wireless
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