Automation crossroads: Product definitions narrow
Industrial automation is at a crossroads, according to a new report released by Frost & Sullivan. “Automation & Control Systems Market” examines the current market and factories of the future.
Senior research analyst Karthik Sundaram said, “Frost & Sullivan’s vision of the factory of the future is catalyzed by five megatrends—cyber security, mobile and wireless technology, enterprise ecosystem, cloud computing and sustainability. These megatrends will influence all aspects of an industrial enterprise.”
For instance, operating personnel in future factories will not be confined to workstations inside control rooms. The advent of tablets and mobile platforms will enable them to track production lines, perform maintenance operations, and monitor process issues from their tablets—all while on the move. The adoption of secure cloud computing technology will give factories access to relevant strategic data from the Internet to execute real-time decisions and enhance operational efficiency.
“In essence, future factories will have secure wireless networks supporting a highly automated production process, seamlessly interlinked with enterprise software working through the clouds,” said Sundaram. “A high-end factory will also involve collaborative manufacturing promoting operational excellence and aiding sustainability.”
The report also said the automation and control solutions product portfolio is nearing saturation, either directly or indirectly. A major trend underlining this development is the narrowing product definition between individual products, in particular the programmable logic controllers and distributed control system product lines.
“Vendors have currently emerged with hybrid products that combine PLC and DCS functionality as a means to counter high competition and gain end-user recognition,” said Sundaram. “Despite economic advantages, the emergence of such products has clouded end-user perception to a large extent, and it remains to be seen if this technical strategy yields expected results.”
Clearly noticeable is a significant shift from the traditional parameters determining the automation and control systems (ACS) market. Currently, it is a company’s product portfolio that yields the maximum influence in the automations and controls market space, followed closely by service support and cost considerations. This, however, is set to change.
“In the coming years, the emphasis on the IA product portfolio is likely to diminish,” said Sundaram. “In contrast, the need for globalized service support, coupled with cost factors, is expected to gain significant momentum.”
As the ACS market steadily graduates towards the next level, it will offer automation vendors challenging opportunities for growth and excellence. Vendors will need to be in tune with ongoing developments and enhance their ability to compete and succeed in future factories.
– Edited by Mark T. Hoske, CFE Media, Control Engineering, www.controleng.com.