It’s no coincidence that Arthur C. Clarke ranks among the greatest science fiction minds of the past century. His imagination possessed that rare ability to combine known technologies in unexpected ways—envisioning fictions that indeed became reality some years or decades later. His approach to making these logical leaps has been termed Clarke’s Laws of Prediction: First, assume nothing is impossible. Second, look past linear thinking. And third, technology is the key.
“You have to optimize to save and invest to innovate.” Cisco Systems’ Paul McNab discussed the lessons that manufacturing can learn from other industries to take advantage of the convergence of data, voice and video communications.
We in manufacturing would do well to follow Mr. Clarke’s lead, according to the keynote presenters at Rockwell Automation’s Automation Fair event being held this week in Nashville, Tenn.
“It’s a tough economic environment like today that separates leaders from the pack,” said Keith Nosbusch, Rockwell Automation chairman and CEO. He added that Rockwell Automation is uniquely positioned to help manufacturers combine traditionally disparate technologies in new ways to achieve new levels of business performance. “It’s a trend that we call Manufacturing Convergence,” Nosbusch said.
“This is a period of unprecedented change and opportunity,” added Paul McNab, vice president of enterprise and mid-market solutions marketing for Cisco Systems. Manufacturing has the opportunity to learn from other industries going through their own technology convergences—where voice, data and video communications are increasingly integrated and contextually aware. “Manufacturing has a choice,” McNab said. “Are you going to be disrupted, or are you going to be the disruptor?”
Rockwell Automation has teamed with Cisco to deploy a unified communications architecture based on unmodified, standard Ethernet. But communication is only one element of the convergence envisioned. “Communications is the technology that binds this all together,” explained Bob Honor, Rockwell Automation vice president, information systems. “But manufacturing convergence includes information as well as communications, multiple control disciplines, plus power.”
The day is here, Honor continued, when manufacturers can begin to bring these technologies together in new ways to address the key industry drivers of productivity, globalization, innovation and sustainability. Similar to the Internet industry’s “mash-ups,” which combine existing web services in new ways (think overlaying postage zip codes on a GPS mapping program), manufacturing mash-ups can now bring together once-siloed manufacturing information. “The current plant is a mess of technologies that taken alone have caused us all sleepless nights,” Honor said. “But what if you could mash up these technologies as the situation dictates? As manufacturing-specific examples of mash-ups, Honor cited role-based dashboards for operations, engineering and management personnel."
Rockwell Automation is taking a leadership role in helping the industry recognize the value of Manufacturing Convergence—driving it across the four disciplines of control and information through communications and power, Honor said. “We continue to invest heavily in the convergence-ready products, services, partnerships and industry expertise necessary to drive convergence quickly and effectively.”