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Trends in Industrial Automation: Looking Back on the Top Ten Trends that Influenced Automation in 2015

As we prepare to close out 2015, we’d like to take a look back at some of the trends we’ve noticed taking off or expanding in market share and importance. Next week we’ll look at what’s coming in 2016, but for now let’s talk about the biggest buzzwords we heard in 2015.

Iot/IIoT/Industry 4.0 – These terms have been inescapable this year. And though they all have subtly different meanings, the common thread is the same; connected devices communicating with a central network and/or one another.  2015 is the year that industrial automation embraced the need for connectivity and real-time information, and began thinking of the best ways to get disparate systems communicating with one another. While adoption of fully connected industrial environments is slow, this is one trend we expect will continue in 2016 as software like InduSoft IoTView steps in to bridge the gap between devices and the cloud.

Connected Devices – Connectivity at the component level is a trend we started to see more in 2015. What began with home automation was quickly applied to the industrial market, particularly in the embedded market. With embedded intelligent devices capable of running small-footprint HMI software InduSoft EmbeddedView, it’s possible to give any machine intelligence and connect it to the cloud, other devices, or SCADA or enterprise level systems.

HTML5 – It didn’t take long to realize that the app model just isn’t scalable for automation. It doesn’t make sense to have an app for lighting and an app for HVAC, or distinct applications for many individual systems.  HTML5 instead offers a way to publish screens to the web so they can be accessed by any browser that supports HTML5. That means it finally became possible to view and control applications on smartphones and tablets with a single, unified environment.

BYOD – BYOD stands for Bring Your Own Device. BYOD only became possible with the move toward HTML5. Because most employees now own smartphones, it’s far more cost effective for employers to allow operators and plant managers to view important data on the devices they already bring to work with them every day than to invest in new devices that can be used for remote monitoring.

IT and Automation – We’ve written recently about Smart Connected Devices and IT. IT is an increasingly integral part of industrial automation. Coordination with IT is necessary for connectivity, remote monitoring, web publishing, and most of the trends on our list for 2015. If you’re not focusing on IT, you’ll quickly be left behind.

Remote Monitoring – Remote monitoring capabilities are no longer luxuries, they are a necessity for a modern, integrated system.  Remote monitoring allows fewer employees to monitor more sites at once. Remote monitoring is especially vital to the growing market of renewable energy, where sites for wind turbines or solar cells may be very remote. However, remote monitoring is also prevalent on plant floors, where technicians and maintenance may diagnose and troubleshoot problems remotely, and machine builders may sell remote monitoring and maintenance as an added service.

OPC UA – Throughout 2014 we were a bit surprised at how slow global adoption of OPC UA was, given its success in Europe. 2015 was the year that we finally saw the rest of the world implementing this major communication standard.  We expect OPC UA to continue to play a role in linking the systems that play a role in the Internet of Things.

Data analytics – We’ve been capable of collecting and storing massive amounts of data for a while, but now we are finally starting to answer the question of what to do with it. Data analysts are increasingly able to optimize and correlate data so that it can be understood quickly and aid in making more agile decisions on the plant floor. Dashboards for real-time OEE data and plant-level values can be designed in SCADA software like InduSoft Web Studio for the machine level operator, or up to the boardroom level.

Focus on Security – All the trends for remote connectivity, IoT, connected devices, and web publishing mean that security cannot be ignored. Opening up any system to other networks makes it vulnerable, and the more easily we connect to our devices and machines, the more security we will need to protect them. In 2015, Security has been the biggest challenge of connected industrial environments.

Robotics –As with all our machines, robots are more intelligent than ever. Now they are often accompanied by vision systems and software that allow them to perform more tasks with greater precision. They also have the opportunity to learn and improve with simple tweaks in software. Robots are being designed to work collaboratively and safely alongside human operators, and we expect this trend to grow at a rapid pace.

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