Automation vendors: Connect and interoperate, or someone else will

Automation and controls vendors need to connect and interoperate in ways that will quickly facilitate benefits touted by the Industrial Internet of Things and Industrie 4.0 frameworks, or other suppliers will make automation functions increasingly irrelevant, according to several end users and analysts at the ARC Advisory Group Industry Forum.

By Mark T. Hoske February 10, 2016

End users and automation vendors need to more quickly adapt to changes and innovate to take advantage of new modes, such as Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industrie 4.0. End users still pursue too custom engineering requests, and too few automation and control vendors meet the needs for digital manufacturing, interconnectivity, and interoperability. These were among key suggestions offered in a panel discussion keynote at the ARC Group Industry Forum, Feb. 8-11, Orlando.

The 20th annual ARC Advisory Group meeting is titled: "Industry in transition: Navigating the new age of Innovation." 

Innovative changes

Andy Chatha, ARC president, moderated a panel with the following experts:

  • Don Bartusiak, ExxonMobil Research and Engineering, chief engineer process control
  • Peter Terwiesch, president ABB process automation 
  • Sandy Vasser, ExxonMobil Development, facilities I&E manager
  • Michael Carroll, Georgia Pacific, vice president innovation and operational excellence
  • Blake Moret, Rockwell Automation, senior vice president control products and solutions.

Bartusiak said ExxonMobil is working with Lockheed Martin and industry participants to define a more open control system, with a plan to deploy in 2019. This isn’t a custom effort, but something everyone should derive benefits from.

Carroll, discussing innovation, noted the need to keep an open mind and not let prior knowledge be the enemy of what’s may be next.

Digital transformation

For a more rapid digital transformation, those involve need clarity about their own needs, Carroll said, noting there’s more at risk for those who choose not to participate than those who do.

Bartusiak said there’s a long-standing tendency to stay on one platform too long. Senior management wants big improvements, not small ones, he said, but fear of changes at the operational level is huge.

Vasser said, "We have to make big changes; we have no choice." The hope is that working with suppliers will bring about disruptive, beneficial changes more quickly.

Terwiesch said that ABB offers power and automation, producing more than 1 million products daily, an increasing number of which are interconnected. The need for the "things" part of IIoT is generally agreed upon, but connecting to services and especially people can be forgotten or neglected. Benefits for people haven’t scaled with Moore’s Law.

Moret said Rockwell Automation focuses on enhancing industrial productivity with partners. A connected enterprise integrates control and information, information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT), products and services. This happens across the network, with scalable computing at edge, in the network and into cloud, as needed, to turn data into information to make better decisions. Applications are developed appropriate industries, such as consumer industries, transportation, life sciences, oil and gas, and heavy industry.

Risk reduction

Reducing risk in that transition includes the need to make future-proof technology, Moret said. Youth demand plug-and-play capabilities, he said, to enable available skills, do remote monitoring, and change the nature of work itself. (Greater interoperability of controls could be part of the picture, he suggested, if it lowers risk, but isn’t a panacea by itself, he told Control Engineering after the panel.)

It’s a conservative industry, Terwiesch said, and there’s a need to protect human lives, ensure the safety of operations, and use automation for supporting safe and secure remote collaboration to bring radical changes on the support platform.

Time to change?

It took 20 years to dig into the hole that automation is now in, observed Dennis Brandl, president of BR&L Consulting, and Control Engineering columnist; how many years will it take to get out?

Carroll said it better not take longer than 10 years, and Chatha said it better not take more than 5 years. Vasser said, "We have to find ways to accelerate the process" of installing new automation system, for instance, having one step for certification, rather than three.

Automation justification

Justifying automation spending to senior executives can be challenging, noted another audience member.

Bartusiak observed that technology spending for IIoT and Industrie 4.0 are being accepted to a greater degree, and said it’s increasingly understood that related investments will deliver "a prize at the end of the day."

Awareness of IIoT and Industrie 4.0 has risen enormously in last two years among a variety of decision makers, Terwiesch said.

Investments make sense, Blake said, when investments offer benefits in one or more of four areas:

  1. Added value to a particular process,
  2. Faster or lower total cost of ownership,
  3. Increased asset utilization, or
  4. Risk reduction.

"If you cannot quantify value in one of those areas, it’s probably not worth doing," Moret said.

Workforce reduction, innovation

Because it’s harder to retain talent, the audience is changing. Vasser said the message needs to change to fit the needs of the target audience. "How is what you’re promoting going to solve their problems?"

As retirements continue, Carroll said, industry professionals have to ask how they can make best use of the talent remaining. The talent left will be much less experienced. Unless the experience of the next set of retirees gets into the automation, greater difficulties will result, he warned.

Application expertise is needed, Moret said, combining domain expertise with IT experts, although most organizations aren’t built that way now. "Lifelong learning is needed," Moret said. The smartest person today won’t be useful in a few years without continual learning.

Importance of standards

Terwiesch said while IT/OT convergence is practical, benefits are faster. The non-standard nature of the fieldbus standard cost industry years of networking productivity, he suggested.

The goal is to get at the data, Chatha said, and openness will launch a whole wave of innovation to make more sense out of it.

Bartusiak said that most of the technology needed is available now; it just needs slight adjustments.

Vasser said suppliers will help address the problems, and competition causes acceleration. While one questioner asked if open systems are good for industry, most in the room raised their hands, but "open systems" can be doublespeak, since "open" doesn’t necessarily mean interoperable. 

Industrial disruption

Moret said automation suppliers will look more like software companies in future. "Clever hardware is needed, he said, but differentiation increasingly will be in the software." Partnering, as Rockwell Automation has, provides value, Moret said, and without that, "You’d see greater disruption."

Chatha said that one-third of the audience was attending for the first time, and many are trying to be the disruptors with the industrial sectors, where the money is. "Traditional suppliers have to be non-traditional or there are others who will help. We critically need innovation. If automation industry doesn’t provide it, others will."

Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,

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Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.