Avnet Silica systems engineer, smart industry EMEA, Harvey Wilson, explores the technologies influencing automation, from single-pair ethernet to artificial intelligence
Automation has a long history, having played an essential role in all industrial markets. Cost of finished products can be directly related to automation levels in the manufacturing process. Continuous automation advancements deliver mechanical excellence which, in turn, relies on control. Manufacturers must balance technologies used to implement control with commercial considerations. These include the cost of development and deployment, capital expenditure and the recurring cost of implementation or operational expenditure.
New technologies can impact automation in factories when manufacturers align capex and opex. Here, we take a brief look at some technologies that meet this requirement and may influence automation’s direction. Several technologies, with their corresponding enabling elements, are impacting industrial automation. The competitive advantage of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will increase as these technologies become more pervasive.
Single-pair Ethernet is being used in industrial applications to reduce wiring cost and complexity. Wide area networking (WAN) has changed every aspect of modern life. Its use in IIoT means information technology and operational technology are colliding. The industrial sector is now largely aligned on the use of Ethernet to support an IP architecture. There is growing momentum behind single-pair Ethernet in industrial automation. It can offer: both data and power on the same two wires; speeds of 10 Mbps; and reaches of 1,000m.
IIoT introduced cloud computing to the factory floor. Cloud platforms play an important role in data aggregation, analysis and distribution. Edge computing puts the power of the cloud directly on the production line, allowing greater control over manufacturing processes.
Time-sensitive networking supports time-critical packets on an Ethernet network. Semiconductor solutions incorporating this indicate its growing importance in the industrial sector.
Technologies like digital twins, blockchain and microservices are poised to redefine the landscape of factory automation. Digital twinning, originating from NASA, involves creating digital replicas of physical assets. As manufacturers deploy more sensors and advanced networking solutions, the integration of digital twins in operational strategies will become more common. They can predict failures, optimise operations and enable advanced simulations.
In the manufacturing sector, blockchain is not just a buzzword. Beyond its financial applications, blockchain has the potential to bring transparency, security and traceability to complex supply chains. As products become more intricate and global, ensuring the authenticity and origin of each component becomes crucial. Blockchain can authenticate and track supply chain products, ensuring every component’s provenance and authenticity.
AI’s role in industrial automation is evolving rapidly. Beyond routine tasks, AI can analyse vast datasets, predict maintenance needs, optimise production in real-time and even assist in design and innovation. As AI algorithms become more sophisticated, they can improve operations traditionally handled by programmable logic controllers.
Industrial automation is constantly evolving. New technologies from various sectors provide momentum for improvement. As access to these technologies improves, the productivity gap between large OEMs and smaller enterprises may close.