Get a 20-year vision

Developments to watch: Manufacturing needs a wider view, well beyond next year. Do you have a vision of what things could look like 20 to 25 years from now? Do your competitors?
By Mark T. Hoske November 19, 2014

Where will you get your vision to guide your technology investments? Courtesy: Control EngineeringWith automation, controls, and instrumentation, planning ahead for next year or even five years from now may not be pointing you in the right direction. Take a look 20 years out for a wider view. Futurists are available, and you should ask those around you for their views. For the record, I’m not a futurist, but I do get to hear opinions from many people with more education, experience, and resources than I have.

From what I hear, I believe factories in 20 to 25 years will operate with higher output, uptime, safety, and quality; have greater ability to optimize and customize products; and continue to do so with fewer line workers.

Why? Market demands by a wider global thirst for middle-class consumption will continue to push higher efficiencies, profitability, economical pricing, quality, customization, interoperability, and sustainability (environmental concerns). Businesses will be challenged to share their efficiency expertise in other sectors as governments necessarily transition to severe austerity measures and push for higher taxes to address deficits from so many years of unbalanced budgets.

Enabling technologies include smarter, faster, cheaper, multi-core processors. Communication barriers have fallen among devices as they discuss among themselves how to improve. Optimization software has reached the stage where it begins to optimize itself, creating exponential leaps in efficiency and capabilities linked by greater connectivity and processing power. At the core of it all are billions of control loop executions per second, where measurements are taken, decisions made, and results are actuated as improvement continues across myriad applications. 

Greater intelligence

Knowledge workers will be involved by exception, as factory assets operate with higher degrees of autonomy, using closed-loop control, relying on years of expertise and embodied knowledge in programs developed in the past 25 years and data stores of experiences to draw upon. Knowledge about how to engineer, integrate, and optimize systems becomes more important as automatic closed-loop operations become common. Systems of systems begin to interconnect enabling even faster developments.

Education becomes an hour daily download of high-speed repeated sights and sounds for workers as advanced computer algorithms help parse and discern what they need to know before they know they need to know it. [See 1954 Industry Pulse story below.]

Processes for operations

Information about a web of interconnected systems will flow freely, offering information about when process transitions are needed to continue to optimize production, and explaining in detail what opportunities will be lost if lower levels of investments are made in new process designs, using the next level of upgraded hardware and software.

Simpler systems will begin to demonstrate ability to be self-optimizing, self-replicating, self-modifying hardware, after years of software optimization have automated software upgrades and interconnections.

Technologies like magic

3D printing machine motion control, material sciences, design and diagnostic software, and optimization all continue to advance, with capabilities to print an incredible range of advanced integrated electronics as well as many human organs and tissue. While some manufacturing becomes distributed to retail centers, the most advanced 3D printers become highly regulated in high-security manufacturing areas.

Where humans are present, robotics will work intuitively, seamlessly, doing, contributing, or assisting, autonomously and safely.

Nano-manufacturing techniques begin to go mobile and in-situ, so that machines, structures, and possibly humans can be built and repaired from within—eventually, perhaps, during everyday operations, without interruptions. 

ONLINE November this article online links to other Control Engineering coverage from those peering into the future. Add your views online at

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ONLINE extra

This online version contains more information than the November print and digital edition, as well as links to other Control Engineering coverage from those peering into the future.