New Hall of Fame Members Look to the Future

Our Newest Process Automation Hall of Fame Members Gaze into their Crystal Balls and Share What They See About the Future of the Industry

By Walt Boyes

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Dr. Peter G. Martin of Invensys Operations Management, Mr. Dennis Brandl of BRandL Consulting. Mr. Ian Verhappen of Industrial Automation Networks and Dr. John MacGregor of ProSensus Inc. continue their conversation with Walt Boyes, Control's editor in chief.

"I believe," Dennis Brandl says, "that the next revolution in manufacturing is just starting. There are several available or emerging technologies that will make major changes in how we view and control processes and how we manufacture products. The first major technological discontinuity is wireless and mobile. Not only will information be available from any place at any time, the volume of information about our processes will grow as we incorporate wireless sensors into more of the process. The more we see of the processes, the better we can control them. The smart phones of today will become the operators' assistants of tomorrow, looking and listening to the production process to make predictive instead of reactive control moves."

He continues, "The ability to put super-computing resources into local devices means that they will become smarter, will 'learn' and be able to control better than traditional PID control. Control strategies that are too complex to model from first principles will be solved by learned heuristics, with minimal human intervention. These will give us the means to continue the 2% to 3% per year productivity growth that is the hallmark of the manufacturing industries."

He concludes, "Another major discontinuity is the rapid development of 'additive' manufacturing. This term includes 3D printers and other forms of next-generation manufacturing machines. These devices use printer technology and architectures to build devices and machines, one millimeter—or smaller—layer at a time, reducing waste and intermediate inventories. This will provide major savings to manufacturing companies and end users. When this new technology is combined with 3D modeling software and powerful desktop computers, there will be an explosion of new products and ideas that can be built. This will remove the requirement for major capital investments to try out new ideas and concepts. We will see high school and college students building devices and tools that we never even knew we needed, bringing innovation to physical devices that they currently bring to software like Google, Facebook, Twitter and others."

Ian Verhappen agrees that wireless and digital communications will be critical to the future, but he cautions, "The impediment to adoption will be training and legacy systems."

Around the corner, he sees "smarter device integration with minimal end-user input and increased use of secondary, tertiary and implied measurements through real-time data mining and pattern recognition to not only tell us of reading abnormalities, but also process conditions implied by the combination of readings, rather than something read directly."

He continued, "We will also see more remote operations where the central control room will be a remote control room many miles form the process, much like is being done with offshore platforms used in locations that are difficult to reach or staff, such as oil sands facilities, underground mines and so on."

Dr. MacGregor says, "I have no doubt that the use of the massively increasing amounts of data that we are collecting on processes will be the most important factor influencing control engineering practice over the next few decades. How this data is used is the key to all control problems, and we are well beyond our limits already on being able to model all these measured effects theoretically. The data is also unlike data that most of statistics and control engineering is used to seeing in the past. The volumes of data are very large, and the variables are all highly correlated, thereby resulting in greatly reduced dimensional spaces. This is why I started up ProSensus in 2004 as a spin-off company out of the McMaster Advanced Control Consortium. It is a company that deals with all these problems of analysis, monitoring and control in the process industries."

Dr. Peter Martin said, "I believe that with the continued use of COTS [commercial off-the-shelf] technologies and development of industry standards, the technological details involved in automation and information systems will become less important and less differentiating over time. This has been happening for years, but I expect the trend to accelerate. But I expect the scope of what is considered to be an automation system to continue to expand significantly until single system domains encompass entire plants, enterprises and value chains to enable new value-generating solutions to be developed and delivered. I expect that much of the focus in automation going forward will be on the development of these new value-creating solutions."

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