Industrial automation partnerships build strength in numbers

Partnerships and collaboration are the foundation that enable end-users and suppliers to develop complete solutions for industrial automation and beyond.

By Thomas Burke February 20, 2021
The e-F@ctory Alliance brings together over 900 manufacturers of industrial components, specialist system integrators and software providers, which have introduced more than 20,000 systems. Courtesy: Mitsubishi Electric/CC-Link Partner Association

The market for industrial automation products is continuing to skyrocket, with ever more ambitious demands for advanced, data-driven solutions. To thrive in this sector, it is more favorable for automation specialists to develop strong collaborations with other industry players. Groups that rely on industrial automation open networking standards deliver high-quality, interoperable products and are able to take advantage of an increasing number of automation opportunities.

The manufacturing sector is rapidly evolving, as data-oriented solutions are enabling the creation of a holistic approach to production activities that increases flexibility, efficiency and productivity. Companies can implement digital manufacturing approaches by implementing interconnected, multi-component automation ecosystems.

These systems can generate, share and process key data within different parts of an enterprise, merging information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT), to obtain a comprehensive and actionable insight into all processes. Ultimately, knowledge is power in the digital era. For example, the current trends are driving the integration of plant operations and business management systems. Predictive maintenance, real-time process control, just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing and quality assurance are a few possibilities opened up by this approach.

This digital transformation is influencing the automation requirements of manufacturing and processing businesses. In effect, they are moving away from the conventional approach of purchasing individual automation hardware or software components and toward solutions that can be more easily integrated, supporting longer-term digital transformation strategies.

As a result, for automation vendors to succeed and thrive in this fast-changing market, it is necessary to adapt and address this new implementation paradigm. Achieving this as a single brand is particularly challenging and requires substantial, long-term investment. Establishing strong partnerships with like-minded, industry-leading automation specialists is proving to be a more effective strategy.

Open networking and collaboration

A key opportunity for automation specialists lies in the use of open standards. These are essential for organizations and suppliers to successfully work together. Furthermore, the standards should be widely adopted. In effect, technical innovations from a business value perspective are only valuable if they are deployed and adopted by both suppliers and end users alike.

For example, doing simple things, such as printing from any application, has been simplified through open standards and a standard application programming interface (API). Applications don’t have to know anything about printing and all the different types of printers because we have a standard API that just works. The same is true for industrial automation. Having open standards allows us to achieve the impossible.

End-users trying to meet their automation goals can greatly benefit from plug-and-play interoperability between multiple vendor products. Also, end-users are no longer locked into a single vendor solution. They want to be able to use products from multiple suppliers, essentially leveraging best-of-breed and using the products that address their requirements. Hence, suppliers must make sure that their solutions work with others seamlessly.

Finally, data-driven, converged applications are all about providing secure and reliable interoperability, taking data from a multitude of disparate devices and converting it into useful information for enterprise aware applications. Ultimately, there is strength in numbers for industrial automation specialists.

Accessing new opportunities

By offering holistic solutions with compatible and interoperable products, key strategic collaborations among vendors can help the individual companies to access additional market niches and support a wide range of applications. Partners can examine the latest technological advances and trends together as well as act to shape the future of industrial automation with state-of-the-art solutions. In particular, it is possible to develop leading products that support data-oriented applications and the IT/OT convergence. Furthermore, they can help maximize the reach and effectiveness of education, training and awareness tasks.

By joining a collaborative network of industry-leading technology providers, companies can offer data-transparency solutions for a wide range of industries and applications that are easy to implement while incorporating the latest advances in technology. This means that customer needs can be met with high-quality, easy to use and cost-effective systems. As a result, automation vendors can enhance their competitive edge in the market.

– Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,

Author Bio: Thomas Burke, global strategic advisor, CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA)