Automate 2023 Day One: Turning data into information for better context
Manufacturers at Automate are emphasizing on helping customers with flexible solutions that give them as much information as possible to give engineers the right context they need.
Information management insights
- Manufacturers have access to enormous amounts of information, but they need to have put in context for them to make any sense of it.
- Giving engineers the right context can help improve operations and reduce potential downtime troubles.
Robots are serving coffee, beer and playing chess on the show floor once again. That means Automate has indeed returned.
Automate, which is run by the Association for Advancing Automation (A3) is spending its second straight year in Detroit and is expanding its approach from every other year to an annual event. It will also be more diverse in its locations in the future with the event returning to Chicago in 2024, Detroit in 2025 and an unnamed western city for 2026 according to multiple sources.
Automate has taken over most of the area at the Huntington Place Convention Center and there are, in addition to hundreds of exhibitors, many seminars and presentations designed to educate engineers on the hot topics of the day. Many are focused on robotics and automation, but even within that context, sustainability, digital transformation and the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are among the most prevalent.
Turning data into information for better context
What are many of these technologies and concepts designed to do? Give manufacturers data they can turn into information.
“The fourth industrial revolution is about translating and contextualizing data into information,” said Mike Lashbrook, VP, digital solutions, JR Automation in his presentation “Making Sense of the Madness: The Convergence of IT and OT Technologies.” He said data lacks context and is a bunch of stuff thrown together. Information is data with context and meaning behind it.
Zachary Stank, product marketing manager for Phoenix Contact, described their PLCnext offering in a similar way. “We have a data-driven system offering and I like to call it ‘IIoT with a purpose.’ We’re pushing the data to the cloud so the C-suite can have access to it and give them what they want.”
The problem, however, is giving them what they need rather than what they want. Stank said if they give them access to all the raw data, it would be very expensive. Synthesizing and evaluating the data and providing context is what they need in the end. Stank said their role is from the hardware side and helping give the customer the tools they need.
“We’re providing the gateway to the IIoT,” he said. “We want to facilitate that conversation with their partner, whomever it might be.”
Context can arrive in other ways, too. Stacey Harimoto, senior engineer at Fanuc, talked about how vision is a challenge in warehousing and logistics applications and how they use 2D and 3D cameras on robots to help provide context for palletizing, pick-and-place and other applications.
“Instinctively, we can tell if there’s a label in the way or if there’s something wrong, but a machine can’t do that, so we take 2D and 3D images and put them into a point cloud and combine it to create context,” she said.
Information is the great commodity in the world today. The ability to conceptualize all this data and transform it with context is the difference between success and failure or, in manufacturing terms, from keeping operations running smoothly or having major downtime issues.
Chris Vavra, web content manager, CFE Media and Technology, firstname.lastname@example.org.