During the last week of June in Washington, D.C., engineers actually outnumbered the lawyers and lobbyists at one downtown hotel, as more than 300 industrial automation professionals from more than 100 companies convened for the 2012 Siemens Automation Summit, the annual conference for U.S. users of Siemens Industry Inc.'s automation systems and components.
In addition to user application presentations and requisite updates on new and forthcoming Siemens product capabilities, Automation Summit attendees gained a broad perspective on the trends shaping the U.S. industrial sector, as well as Siemens' short- and long-term strategies for making its users' efforts more productive and businesses more sustainable for the long haul.
Despite ongoing malaise in the broader global economy, Raj Batra, president of the industry automation division for Siemens Industry, pointed in his keynote address to manufacturing as an important driver of U.S. economic growth. Noting that the Institute for Supply Management's Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) is now in its 34th consecutive month of economic expansion, and that a conjunction of recent studies predicts increased re-shoring of manufacturing activities, "manufacturing is the engine behind the U.S. economic growth landscape," Batra said. "It's all trending in the right direction."
Meanwhile, the Great Recession didn't change the global demographic trends that will drive manufacturing investment in future years, according to Batra. A few numbers make his case: a 147% rise in commodity prices since 2000; three billion people set to enter the middle class in the next 20 years; and a global automotive fleet predicted to double by 2030. "Higher productivity will need to supply 30% of this new demand," said Batra citing a recent McKinsey & Co. report.
Closer to home, Helmuth Ludwig, CEO of Siemens Industry, pointed to record low domestic natural gas prices, as well as the non-agility of global supply chains, as key contributors to a "manufacturing renaissance in the United States." Increasingly, dynamic customer demands require companies to innovate more quickly. But if months of inventory of previous generation product already are in shipping containers crossing the Pacific, innovations can't be brought to market quickly enough, according to Ludwig. Add in lower natural gas costs and increasing parity of worker wages worldwide, and these supply chains effects make domestic manufacturing for domestic demand all the more compelling.
Ludwig's perspective clearly is shaped by his latest assignment before taking the reins of Siemens Industry as head of the company's strategically important Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) unit. Siemens PLM is an umbrella organization consisting of a range of engineering tools and capabilities from Siemens for designing everything from paper clips to process plants, and for managing associated data throughout a product or production asset's lifecycle.
Indeed, the company clearly has pinned its future offering and value proposition on the ability to integrate traditionally disparate silos of design and manufacturing tasks. The common thread here is the automation itself, and the company is betting that it can help companies bring better products to market more quickly through a unified environment that brings design, simulation, automation and manufacturing together.
This integrated engineering theme was foundational to the company's automation roadmap presentation by Eckard Eberle, CEO, industrial automation systems, for global parent Siemens AG.
"It's all about being faster from product to production," Eberle said, explaining how the integration of the
engineering tools can change serial tasks of design and manufacturing into more concurrent, even parallel, tasks. "In the future, up to 50% faster time-to-market is possible," Eberle predicted.
From a platform perspective, the company's new TIA Portal provides an integrated tool for all factory automation tasks, and the Comos plant engineering and maintenance system is integrated with the company's PCS 7 process automation system to provide "seamless information flow from P&I diagrams to the process automation system," Eberle said. Providing flexibility in execution is another key Siemens focus in order for customers to better handle high numbers of production variations, Eberle said, citing Audi's current 23 automotive models—up from only three in 1970.
Siemens' integrated approach to standard and safety-related automation is intended to make it easier for customers to protect personnel, environment, machines and processes, Eberle said. Other key Siemens deliverables include security—of both intellectual property and plant availability—and sustainability in resource consumption, Eberle said. "After all, the cheapest energy is the energy you don't use."