I serve as the Global Director of Industry Partnerships for ICONICS. That can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but the exciting part of it for me is how I get to interface with people from Mitsubishi Electric, ICONICS, CLPA, and the e-F@ctory Alliance to help shape how we are proactively building the foundation to provide our end users with a total integrated solution for digital transformation. I’ve encountered many different types of automation requirements from end users over the years, and it has led me to ask, “What do end users really want automation to do for them?”

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to go to a number of end user sites to get a first-hand look at what they are doing to achieve digital transformation and what the technical innovations, serving as the foundation for industrial automation, mean to them. Everyone is excited about this whole concept of digital transformation and how they can leverage best practices to push their operational capacity beyond its current limitations and to increase the productivity of their respective plants and facilities. They just sometimes need a little help on how to get started.  

Who are the driving forces in industrial automation?   
Surprisingly, end users are the ones who are striving to figure out how to connect their islands of automation and connect the multitude of disconnected applications and devices. The end users are questioning:
  • Does automating my facility or infrastructure really improve my productivity and bottom line?
  • What do I do with these myriads of technical innovations and how does it do my job more effectively?
  • I have lots of devices and terabytes of data but what do I do with all this stuff?
  • How do I really achieve using devices and applications from different vendors and are they really interoperable, such that I can leverage all of these existing devices and applications?

In the early days of robotics and machinery, everything had to be programmed and configured with a high degree of human intervention, further complicated by a multitude of vendors all having different methodologies, programming, and configuration of their respective devices. This made the training and maintenance of these devices extremely complicated. Now, we’ve reached a point where we’re starting to think about how machines can take advantage of artificial intelligence and how, with adaptive learning, some machines can begin to communicate and reduce the amount of engineering and maintenance required by end users.

What the end users really want is to seamlessly tie all these different components and technical innovations together, while also maintaining a complete, solution-based architecture that allows them to use a multitude of devices from yesterday with the devices of today and tomorrow. Having a complete digital replica of their infrastructure that allows them to integrate all their disparate data and turn it into intelligent information is what end users keep coming back to me with as the “holy grail” of automation. They want to architect their systems to leverage all their devices and applications. I can tell you from experience that the best way to do this is to use open standards and best-of-breed products like ICONICS’ solutions.  

Suppliers realize they can no longer lock end users into a single vendor solution. Interoperability is mandatory from an end user perspective, as they want to make best-of-breed choices, use products that seamlessly work together, and are intuitively simple to configure and maintain.

The world of tomorrow is here today! If you’re trying to figure out what automation-related investments can fast-track your path to digital transformation, start by examining your current manufacturing process. Are you leveraging open standards in the right areas, or are you still feeling handcuffed by certain vendors? Free yourself from those dependencies by exploring what OPC UA brings to the table and see how Takebishi’s DeviceXPlorer OPC Server can speak the language of your proprietary equipment while communicating it to your SCADA system via the OPC UA protocol. With best-of-breed products like ICONICS, you can then visualize and analyze your data in a much more meaningful way, helping you to make intelligent decisions that reduce costs and improve your operating efficiency.

Learn more by checking out our recent webcast, The Hitchhiker's Guide to Connectivity in Version 10.97, and I would be happy to answer any other questions you might have.