AutomationXchange: The party's over and they moved the cheese.

There was a book a while ago called "Who Moved My Cheese?" and I keep thinking about it this week. This morning, for breakfast, some vendors had especially hard swallowing. We presented Glenn Allmendinger, of Harbor Research, who has spent the last 30+ years studying the automation market. His task was to talk about wireless, and he succeeded in the last five minutes of his talk...but he had to spend the first 55 minutes providing the correct background so that the audience could understand. Echoing several previously published CONTROL pieces, including "The Light at the End of the Tunnel is a Train" in the current August issue, Allmendinger talked about what he called "pervasive internet" and which I called in the article, borrowing a term from the new book by Stakutis and Webster, Inescapable Data. Allmendinger was scathing about the ERP system approach to manufacturing excellence, pointing out that so far, the SAPs of the world have done little but produce an automated ledger. "They are data mining the past," he said, "in order to predict the future, and having predictable results." Unless you hook up the entire process, you can't have realtime enterprise control, Allmendinger avowed. But he also pointed out that the adoption habits of the automation and manufacturing industry militate against swift adoption of these enabling technologies, even the ones that currently exist. "We should have a 2000 view of manufacturing by 2020," Allmendinger said. "Shame on us all!" The next big problem, he predicted, would be a data glut, and what to do about it, because we have never had the level of information ubiquity that new sensors and new connectivity is giving us. He listed, in a mnemonic (thank God, not a TLA!) the drivers that will make up the next cycle of business in automation and manufacturing: Smart services (the next generation of data driven services) Infrastructure Gateway Networks: core networks for the enterprise Access LAN Smart devices "The use of continuous monitoring of every sensor and variable will seriously screw up the supplier profit model. It is a product-centric model, and you vendors are really in the service business now," he claimed. "It's not about the plumbing anymore. The product centered model doesn't work. You may have to give away the products to enter into the kind of service model that will keep you in a relationship with the end-user," Allmendinger said. What I found interesting is that last evening at the networking event, Gene Yon, formerly of Bailey and Foxboro, and now CEO of Accutech, reminded me that the old Foxboro business model was "paaahts and chaaahts!" Give away the equipment to get the ongoing relationship. Maybe the old Foxy wasn't so dumb, eh? But it isn't that all the vendors are walking the walk about being service oriented. Many are trying to fit the "service product" into the production program of the old paradigm (remember, I can get away with using this word because I studied under Toulmin). Finally, after this lengthy and fascinating tee-up, Allmendinger got to wireless. Wireless is an enabling technology that will make all the above practical and cost effective. We have cut all the fat, and all the muscle and bone. We have shot every employee who stood still long enough, and we're moving, whether we want to or not, into the "lights out" plant. It is wireless and cheap sensors that will make this practical, and the skill sets of the control engineers and all the "orphans" like maintenance and instrument techs who work with them will have to make radical changes. Essentially, the enabling characteristic of wireless is that process control will be free. Manufacturers will install systems on a gifted basis, just so they can get the ongoing service revenue, the "paaahts and chaahts" that Yon mentioned. We can screw this up, Allmendinger reminded us, if we play standards games like the SP50 mess, and some of the other similar things that have happened. Standards activity, he claimed, is often a front for vendors seeking competitive advantage. This needs a good, thorough shakeup. And finally, Allmendinger pointed out a business need: somebody to package and make essentially invisible the entire connection package. Gosh, it feels so good to find a kindred spirit. I don't feel like the lone prophet crying in the wilderness anymore. Allmendinger is right on, and the light at the end of the tunnel IS a train. Walt