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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Top three trends in industrial automation

By Nick Flaherty

A new report on the industrial automation market highlights the top three trends, which, while not overly surprising, are all key drivers for embedded systems.

Technavio’s latest report on the global industrial automation software market provides an analysis on the most important trends expected to impact the market outlook from 2016-2020. These have the potential to significantly impact the market as it heads for a shakeout.
The industrial automation software market in Asia Pacific is predicted to increase the current market share of 31.46% in 2015 to 33.71% in 2020 from investments in the smart power grid sector, pharmaceuticals, automotive, and food and beverages. Vendors based in Europe and the US are increasingly setting up their facilities in APAC for greater market penetration and to achieve economies of scale. In 2015, Siemens announced investments worth $1bn in India to set up factories and R&D centers in India. Staying close to customers in APAC will allow fast delivery, product customization, and low supply chain costs, increasing the profit margins.

It sees the top three emerging trends driving the global industrial automation software market as:
  • Shift toward cloud-based deployments
  • Growing popularity of open-source industrial automation software
  • Merger of PLC, motion control, and robotics application software

Shift toward cloud-based deployments

Industrial automation software based on the cloud is likely to be a next logical step in the evolution of automation technology in process industries. End-users are becoming more comfortable with the concept of service-based technology architecture. They can significantly reduce costs, achieve greater flexibility, and enhance functionality by shifting toward the cloud-based environment. SMEs operating in process industries face budget constraints and cuts that make it difficult to afford the initial investment in MES.

“SMEs are hesitant to incorporate industrial software because they lack the financial resources to employ dedicated technical staff and specialist personnel for complicated roll-outs, updates, and operation of servers. Many cloud vendors such as German-based ITAC Software provides cloud-based MES solutions in the public cloud that can enable SMEs to benefit from the advantages of implementing MES solutions in their plants,” says Bharath Kanniappan, a lead analyst at Technavio for research on automation.

The user only needs the standard Internet access, and the cloud service provider supervises the responsibility of installation, configuration, maintenance, and updating. In addition, traditional MES providers offer MES as different modules. Hence, SMEs end up buying multiple redundant modules like Statistical process control (SPC) and Quality or Corrective and Preventive Actions (CAPA), increasing the total cost of the system.

Growing popularity of open-source industrial automation software

An open-source industrial automation software is an independent platform that provides a set of tools for the development and implementation. The open platform-based industrial automation software provides an alternative to expensive in-house design. It offers development libraries, interface applications, mass configuration tools, and front and back-end applications. It supports process and discrete industries that are pressurized to reduce large upfront development costs or quick introduction of new features in connected embedded designs.

The existing software modules of open industrial automation software help developers to avoid time-consuming and low-level processes. These modules enable the industrial automation vendors to remain focused on customization of their application and introduce their product in the market as early as possible. Many industrial automation vendors can take advantage of cutting-edge solutions from the open-source community, reap the benefits of crowdsourcing, and avoid costly development efforts.

Merger of PLC, motion control, and robotics application software

“As automation applications continue to grow, two distinct areas of industrial control systems, namely robotics and motion, are starting to merge deployments. Robotics is a path dependent event-based application. Motion control is typically a scan-based velocity or positioning application. The user interface in robotics is teach-pendent centric and motion control incorporates PLC programming processes such as ladder and FBD,” adds Bharath.

Vendors are increasingly finding ways to merge these distinct software architectures to provide a combined software solution to customers. An automated food packaging plant needs a packaging machine and a pick-and-place robot to be installed before it completes palletizing/depalletizing applications. The packaging machines contain motors, actuators, and I/O connections operated by a PLC. The robot is installed with a hand-held teach pendant for programming and operation. Hence, the food packaging firm employs application engineers to complete the PLC programming and a separate application engineer to complete the robot programming.

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