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Automation Trends: Smart Connected Products and IT

This December we had an opportunity to watch a webinar featuring Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter and PTC CEO James Heppelmann, co-authors of the recent HBR article, “How Smart, Connected Products are Transforming Companies

The webinar and article are well worth watching and reading, as they highlight a trend we’ve seen taking over automation in the past few years. Not only is the Internet of Things being adopted more rapidly, but as more of these component-level devices are connected to the cloud and each other, the biggest change we are seeing in the automation industry is a merging of IT and Controls. Without control systems in place there is no data to share and analyze, but without IT, there is no way to aggregate, interpret, and secure the data necessary for an intelligent system.

In the past two decades we have seen how the internet can facilitate integration and communication between stakeholders, improve the supply chain, and make it easier to make business decisions based on real-time data. With the introduction of what the Harvard Business Review calls Smart Connected Products. These are defined as:

“All smart, connected products, from home appliances to industrial equipment, share three core elements: physicalcomponents (such as mechanical and electrical parts); smartcomponents (sensors, microprocessors, data storage, controls, software, an embedded operating system, and a digital user interface); and connectivity components (ports, antennae, protocols, and networks that enable communication between the product and the product cloud, which runs on remote servers and contains the product’s external operating system).”

Harvard Business Review, “How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Companies”

 

It’s not only exciting to imagine what these new products will be capable of, it’s also exciting to imagine the paradigm shift we’ll see in the automation workforce and in the power of software to shape the capabilities of these products.

It’s no longer sufficient to focus on controls and ignore IT. Because software will play such an important role in providing the interfaces and connectivity of the next wave of automation equipment, machine builders and control engineers will need to have a solid understanding of how to incorporate IT into their products.

A firm understanding of IT is also critical to security. It’s impossible to overstate how important security will become as we connect our devices to the internet and to one another. With each new connection comes a new vulnerability, and product developers will be responsible for taking security seriously.

IT will also be critical for aggregating and presenting data in formats where it can be easily interpreted and acted upon. We’ve been gathering data in the cloud for years and presenting it in HMI dashboards at both the machine and plant level, but adding data from the component level will require new ways of analyzing and presenting information both in end-user interfaces and in manufacturing.

InduSoft Web Studio offers a perfect platform for smart connected products. With small-footprint HMI software for embedded operating systems, a core runtime for Linux and VxWorks, web publishing, and hundreds of communication protocols, it’s possible to integrate unlimited smart connected devices into a single interface.

To learn more about InduSoft Web Studio and how it operates for embedded machines, check out our brochure on InduSoft and the Internet of Things.

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