The benefits of video in process automation

Jan. 12, 2016
Automation professionals are routinely producing videos, webinars and other online content to demonstrate innovations, new solutions and other informative experiences
About the author
Jim Montague is the Executive Editor at Control and Control Design magazines. Jim has spent the last 13 years as an editor and brings a wealth of automation and controls knowledge to the position. For the past eight years, Jim worked at Reed Business Information as News Editor for Control Engineering magazine. Jim has a BA in English from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and lives in Skokie, Illinois.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then a video logically must be worth millions. As an editor, I hate to admit this, but it’s probably true, and becoming truer all the time. Professionally, I’ve always been focused on finding the right words for any situation, and relied on them to get across the essential and hopefully useful elements of each story. Well, in many ways, I think my traditional strategy is running out of road. The images are taking over.

This migration began a several years ago when Control and Control Design began early efforts to produce more online content, including audio podcasts and videos. This was a little traumatic because the first time someone tossed me a microphone, I had no idea what the heck to do. However, I also learned that, while the static photos in our print articles were useful, they can’t compare to getting across more information and achieving greater understanding by using graphics that can come alive and move. Of course, this revelation might be obvious now, but actually putting it into practice made a big difference to readers, who became viewers, and to writers, who became producers.

One of the first benefits I noticed was that we could all free ourselves from the gray, unchanging screenshots that had poorly illustrated so many stories over the years. Now, many viewers were more likely to see ladder logic programs actually being built, software function blocks being connected and assembled, and applications using these solutions operating.

Likewise, some of us had also flirted years earlier with the idea of creating short animations or videos demonstrating particular products, so viewers could see them on all sides and in action. However, back then, securing those materials would have been far too costly and time-consuming. So, the idea was shelved, along with other bright ideas like online tradeshows. However, it didn’t stay dead long.

More recently, most suppliers, contractors, system integrators, project managers and end users are routinely producing videos, podcasts, webinars and other online content demonstrating innovations, new solutions, successful projects, best practices and other informative experiences—all of which appear to be on YouTube. I was reminded of this educational cornucopia when I researched this issue’s Resources column on flow. In the past, it could be hard to find enough tutorials, whitepapers, CDs and other materials on process control topics, but now it seems like everyone is putting their favorite expert and PowerPoint in front of a camera, and getting them to share what they know.

I not only found a bunch of videos and other resources on flow, but I ran across instructional materials for many of the other topics that we cover. Naturally, I’ve long used the Internet as a research tool, but I keep forgetting to remember that YouTube and other video streaming platforms are equally powerful.

Beyond education, one of the common threads in industrial networking lately appears to be boasting that cables, connectors, Ethernet switches and software can create pipelines and deliver enough bandwidth to handle video signal, even high-speed and high-definition ones, and distribute them via Internet protocol (IP) networks and cloud-based services. In addition to the usual product inspections and noting changes in environments, video is helping monitor more process control equipment and operations, identify and confirm maintenance issues, and optimize applications. If the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is on the upswing, you can bet it won’t be long before those devices start taking selfies.

Whether it’s people or components, it seems that everyone can be a journalist or content producer. And, once I get past a little initial queasiness, I don’t mind at all. My whole job has been finding interesting people to interview, so I can’t justifiably object if they want to use their own voices. And I can still quote them when they do.  

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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