Photo by Keith Larson
“We believe that a more powerful tomorrow is within sight.” Rockwell Automation’s Matheus Bulho (left) and Dan DeYoung discussed how simpler, integrated automation development environments could help users react more quickly to changing customer demands and reduce overall risk to workers and production.

Three keys to the future of automation

Nov. 21, 2022
Simpler, integrated automation development environments could help users react more quickly and reduce overall risk

Matheus Bulho, vice president and general manager of production automation, and Dan DeYoung, vice president of product management, Rockwell Automation, discussed the future of automation at a press conference at Automation Fair 2022. “This is a difficult question because we could easily spend the whole day here talking about all the different areas in how we see technology evolving,” Bulho said. To narrow the field, they focused on three key areas: simplified production environments, removing boundaries to accelerate outcomes, and mitigating risk for people and equipment.

“We see the technology evolving well beyond functional safety into areas like cybersecurity, and also things like what the automation system can do to support environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals that many of these customers have when they're deploying the technology,” Bulho said.

Eighty-eight percent of executives think their customers are changing faster than their businesses can keep up, and 64% of consumers wish companies would respond faster to their changing needs. And part of the problem is automation systems that aren’t as agile as they could be. “I think over the course of the last two and a half years, that's never been more evident,” DeYoung said. “As we look into the future, manufacturers, machine builders, equipment builders, etc., need more nimble, scalable control platforms to simplify the design.”

Keep it simple

Companies must find better ways to bolster efficiency, empower workers and enable more flexibility. “Keeping it simple is something that is really the DNA of Rockwell Automation,” DeYoung said. “We've been focusing on enabling automation systems to be simple.”

Unified machine design will collapse multiple processes into a single integrated design environment. “Increasingly, those environments are going to be deployed in the cloud, so they’re more collaborative than in the past,” DeYoung said.

IoT technologies like augmented and virtual reality simulation and emulation will be able to model the behavior of a machine, a controller, a drive or the whole system in a virtual setting. “For the user that has these systems deployed, you're able to model the behavior of an optimization that you want to apply to that particular machine to make sure that it's going to work before you take the machine and apply that change,” DeYoung said.

Leveraging the control system and significant computing power together will help develop industry specific applications that allow remote deployment. “We're seeing a significant amount of additional computing resources available that can be deployed down on the platform next to the control system,” DeYoung said. “The nature of how automation systems have been managed is still fairly old school. There's a tremendous opportunity to bring modern IT technologies to the deployment process involved in managing those assets.”

Many customers also have dated machines and equipment, which is an opportunity to modernize systems in a logical, natural way, DeYoung said.

“Overcoming today’s heavy reliance on multiple, disparate systems and fusing them together in a more expeditious way will drive speed, better innovation and more productivity,” DeYoung said.

Removing boundaries

“Modern software development with the cloud and convergence of information and operational technology systems is really a major pivotal moment that we can bring to the forefront of automation systems,” DeYoung said. With simulation and emulation, digital twins can solve technology challenges in the virtual world more efficiently, and cloud-based solutions help make that possible.

In the past, one individual often designed the controller program or the visualization environment, but now those projects are often collaborative. “You have a variety of people that are working in a collaborative fashion in order to design a system,” DeYoung said. The cloud environment and new design tools help make collaboration more effective, he added.

Smarter ways to mitigate risk

“Automation systems really bring together people, technology and the automation system itself,” DeYoung said. As an example, he points to integrated safety systems. “We’ve been integrating safety together in a more intentional way for many years,” DeYoung said. Having control and safety in one system helps production recover more quickly than it could in the past.

Industrial cybersecurity must focus on internal cybersecurity assessments and also compliance standards. The standards actually vary significantly across the globe. “We expect that will continue,” DeYoung said. Technology could help meet different cybersecurity global standards more efficiently, he added.

The elevated expectations of ESG goals are also very critical, DeYoung said. “Data is really critical to do this well,” he said. Ensuring efficiency and visibility across the entire spectrum of the manufacturing process and then focusing on minimizing precious resources are also critical.

“We believe that a more powerful tomorrow is within sight,” DeYoung said. 

Sponsored Recommendations

Measurement instrumentation for improving hydrogen storage and transport

Hydrogen provides a decarbonization opportunity. Learn more about maximizing the potential of hydrogen.

Get Hands-On Training in Emerson's Interactive Plant Environment

Enhance the training experience and increase retention by training hands-on in Emerson's Interactive Plant Environment. Build skills here so you have them where and when it matters...

Learn About: Micro Motion™ 4700 Config I/O Coriolis Transmitter

An Advanced Transmitter that Expands Connectivity

Learn about: Micro Motion G-Series Coriolis Flow and Density Meters

The Micro Motion G-Series is designed to help you access the benefits of Coriolis technology even when available space is limited.