What to watch for in automation in 2018

In this installment of Automation Zone, advances in robotics and analytics (and their impact on MRO teams) lead the way.

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For this 2018 kickoff edition of Automation Zone, the Plant Services editors asked several industry professionals:

How do you think robotics and analytics will change automation in 2018 and going forward, and why?

José M. Rivera, CEO, CSIA (Control System Integrators Association)

  1. On the workforce front, the “war on talent” will continue to intensify. The demand for STEM career professionals will continue to grow, and it won’t be met by the modest improvements made to make these careers more appealing to the younger generation of American born students. Some companies will be able to leverage their global footprint to create technology centers wherever talent is found, including outside of the United States. For the smaller, domestic companies, they will have to resort to creative ways to still meet their needs. Young STEM professionals will have leverage, and employers will try to meet their work environment expectations, including the ability to work remotely part of the time.
  2. The “war on talent” is not limited to university careers. The U.S. has had a serious shortage of good trade workers in spite of the fact that these are good-paying jobs. For generations, we have not valued these jobs and have encouraged the younger generations to target college degrees instead. We have discussed and started to emulate the German apprenticeship model, but the output is small compared to the need. It would be to the benefit of all to have more retraining programs to help workers in some industries transition to others. Unfortunately, I’m not very optimistic that we’ll have 2018 bring us progress on this front.
  3. Industrial automation will continue to be inspired by leading consumer technologies. I expect that in 2018, we’ll see more companies in the industrial automation arena continue to experiment with new approaches to business models – for example, subscription-based offers – creating recurring revenue sources from ongoing services. I also think that end users will continue to view system integrators as a viable source of automation resources to meet the needs they can’t deliver on because of their inability to hire talent themselves (many manufacturers have their operations in non-urban environments, making them less attractive to younger talent).

Christine LaVoi, senior client manager for North America, IFS

I think that a larger portion of the group can afford to look at technology. Customers that have lower-value items that they're still (sending) out to service have not looked at sensors, have not even looked at reactive-based maintenance because of the cost of building in sensors, getting the data, getting it into the cloud. Even something as simple as route optimization, as that becomes more common, more understood, as GPS devices become less expensive, as all of the technology price points come down, the number of people using (newer technologies) will expand because the cost of ownership makes sense. It's really easy when you're dealing with a couple-million-dollar machine to say, "I've got to have sensors, I've got to know when it's failing," but if you're dealing with a $5,000 machine … it's tougher to justify. Also, now we're having more and more customers using phones and laptops in the field because data's less expensive. Cost of ownership is coming down, so you're going to see wider adoption, in my opinion.

Edwin van Dijk, vice president of marketing at TrendMiner

Predictive analytics have started to move beyond the hype and deliver true value, and by 2018, the impact of industrial analytics insights will be even greater. There will be more sensors generating more data within automated processes, and the ability to leverage that data will be critical to remaining profitable.

New adopters can benefit from the experience of companies that have already achieved analytics success, such as with the concept of “big data – start small.” This means starting with analytics on a subsection of the data produced in a manufacturing plant so the organization can enjoy immediate results while growing analytics maturity over time.

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