These last few years have been huge periods of innovation and exploration in the industrial automation realm. In 2018, companies are leveraging Internet of Things (IoT) and other technological advancements to create new and more effective products. With this year well underway, you’ll want to know about the growing trends in industrial automation that may make your plant more productive and efficient.

Continue reading to learn about five trends that are sure to improve industrial automation.

  1. Flatter Architecture

For years now the five-layer system model has been commonly used in the automation industry. But, advances have streamlined automation systems and flattened them down to just 2-3 layers. Simplification of system hierarchies allows for controllers to communicate information to all levels directly. This is often achieved through the use of web services.

As computing capability has been made available as intelligent devices and more capable controllers, data can be driven to plant-level computers through the use of cloud and web-based applications. This enables computing to occur in the cloud, allowing for more power at the edge.

  1. Simplified Integration With Open Industrial Automation Systems

In the last few years, the idea of open industrial system architecture has emerged. These systems offer integration with business system, multi-vendor interoperable open systems, and computing on the edge. Past architectures offer gated ecosystems which make multi-vendor integration hard, if not impossible. The new open systems are designed to create more flexible, efficient, and responsive manufacturing that integrates manufacturers, suppliers, customers, and distribution. Open architectures allow for frictionless interaction between systems as well as for increased manufacturing performance through increased flexibility.

  1. Web-Based SCADA

Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) has been part of the automation world for years and continued advancements have made SCADA an even more important factor. One of the biggest advances is the ability to quickly access data from remote locations. The use of web based SCADA has improved digital communications, allowing operators to have easy and inexpensive network connection to a device located anywhere in the world.

Advances like this make it even more practical for companies to create networks that connect control rooms to smart devices located in the field at remote locations. In the past field equipment was often limited to a serial port. But thanks to web based SCADA and other improvements, the same equipment can have its own Web server. In turn, remote data is available in real time and allows for operators to make more informed system decisions.

Remote data access also allows companies to perform maintenance, data acquisition, and supervisory control more efficiently.

  1. IoT Means Lowered Automation Costs

Have you ever used a smartwatch, appliance, or some other smart device? If so, you’ve taken part in IoT. IoT is the idea that devices of all types can be connected and that these devices, to include sensors, can be used to collect and analyze data. IoT has also driven the creation of high-performance sensors, processors, vision systems, analytic software, cloud computing, and highly-distributed system architectures.

In the industrial automation world, IoT should greatly lower the costs to automate a system. Not only will costs be lowered, but industrial automation systems will operate at higher levels of performance. This means operators can design at a lower cost while incorporating higher value products.

A powerful development that will shape the automation industry for years to come is the Intel Compute Card. This card, which is no larger than a credit card, offers the elements of a computer, including storage, memory, wireless connectivity, and several input/output options. The card can be used on a variety of devices and offers the benefits of modular computing such as improved serviceability and simplified inventory management.

  1. Ever-Growing Amount of Smart Sensors

Smart sensors and control devices, also known as plug and play devices, use embedded intelligence which eliminates the need for external software. This increases the amount of contextual data for manufacturers and operators. Though the cost of smart sensor implementation was once extremely unaffordable, these days implementation is much more affordable.

In the manufacturing world, the FMR10 and FMR20, designed by Endress+Hauser, have made huge improvements to plant monitoring systems. These sensors, which are Bluetooth enabled, can be controlled through a mobile application, are able to be used to measure liquid levels in open channels, open basins, storage tanks, canal systems, and weirs. The sensor’s Bluetooth wireless connection is secured through encryption and password-protection to ensure that data is only accessible by those who should be able to view it.

Conclusion

In 2018 and beyond, industrial automation will continue to advance. From IoT to smart sensors to open architectures, the horizon is endless in methods of simplifying and improving industrial systems.