At this point, Industrial Automation is no longer a new concept. In fact, the initial studies date back to 30 years ago, and the first commercial co-bots were debuted in the market close to a decade ago. Moore’s law now a proven truth and technology is getting significantly better by the year. In this context, industrial automation is easier to achieve than ever before. Development of new hardware, prototyping tools, integration of hardware and software through the internet, and using cloud computing to redistribute workflow – all of these are leading the industrial automation scenario towards a greater future.
Where do we stand in 2017 ?
To be honest, 2017 is a transition point. Network connectivity has grown stronger than ever, more people are now programming-literate, and industrial organizations are more interested in adopting automation technologies. For a quick and effective implementation of Industry 4.0 and robotic strategies, a company needs to purchase hardware and software. India and China are advancing with significant contribution in the software and hardware spectrum respectively – expect these two countries to play major roles once industrial automation becomes a mainstream upgrade to the industries. Improved sensors, PLCs, HMIs, gears, actuators, tiny network devices, storage solutions, network topology designs, beefed up network security measures – all these keywords are listed in the 2017 trends. As we foresee, the majority of the world’s production facilities will move on to full-fledged industrial automation as stated in the Industry 4.0 revolution.
Collaborative robots, also known as cobots, are robots that work alongside humans in an industrial setup. These robots offer better safety, more flexibility, and easier reprogramming options. Many different cobots are commercially available, and are instantly functional right out of the box. Collaborative robots are making their ways into small and mid-sized industries, just like computers made their ways into households as manufacturers lowered the price and boosted accessibility to a wider range of audience. In the future, cobots will continue to influence the industrial automation process.
Emergence of IoT Hardware
Semiconductor sizes have reduced significantly. Take a look around, none of the devices carry a huge circuit board anymore. The television, fridge, mobile phones, and computers – all have a smaller motherboard, yet the processing power has taken a steep rise. Smaller prototyping boards like Arduino and Raspberry Pi are so cheap these days, just about anyone can afford them and develop a cool IoT project. As more time goes by, these devices will only grow smaller and gather more working capability while consuming very little power. All these indicate how bright of a future Industrial Automation has awaiting.
Industrial Wireless Connectivity
Fiber optics are great for backbone connections, but wireless is the way to go in industrial automation. Cables will deteriorate over the years causing significant performance drop but wireless will not. Most IoT devices are connected through Wi-Fi. Growth in Industrial Automation is pushing the innovations forward and as a result, there are better wireless network standards every year.
Data flow is important in business. With cloud storage and cloud computing, manufacturers can now easily achieve and adjust the levels of preciseness in the final output. A detailed overview of the production plant helps the businesses work on their supply chain plans. In a more connected factory scenario, the ability to modify maintenance schedules and monitor machinery through sensors in real time, allows preventative maintenance to be done, eliminating unexpected downtime.
Augmented Reality, or more commonly known as AR is virtual imagery overlaid on real objects. Usage of AR in industries have already begun, Lockheed Martin employees use AR goggles to overlay images. According to the management and employees, using AR allows them to watch aircraft models beforehand in a real-life immersive canvas. Camera, depth and motion sensors are the key components in an augmented reality ecosystem. There are a few AR equipment options available, like the Microsoft HoloLens. Not only that, smartphones are bringing Augmented Reality to life using many different apps. In the future, industries will most likely move into building their proprietary AR environments to ensure increased productivity.
Greg Conrad is a writer for AX Control