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Industrial companies have been installing computer-based automation and control systems for decades. Unfortunately, most of the systems installed in industry have been significantly underutilized and are, therefore not generating the business value they could. I recently conducted a brief and unscientific survey of a number of automation users and found that most users believe their installed automation systems utilize between 30% and 40% or their capability and capacity. There are many reasons for this, but in any case, the latent capability and capacity of installed automation systems provides a huge opportunity for improvement.
The operational profitability of industrial companies comes, for the most part, from the manufacturing and production operations that produce their products. The automation and control systems installed in these operations are the profit engines of those companies. These profit engines are under performing resulting in under performing industrial companies.
The current reevaluation of industrial automation driven by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) provides the motivation and technological opportunity to enable drastic performance improvements in the underlying profit engines of industry. IIoT is driving new approaches to automation system design, but also the promise of pulling installed systems into new architectures and expanding their functionality. As this takes place, industrial companies should take this opportunity to implement new value-generating functionality pulled through by the IIoT, but also to identify and capitalize upon the underutilized functionality in their existing systems.
One of the traditional barriers to utilizing the latent functionality in automation and control systems has been that the business value of investing the time and effort to implement these capabilities has not been measurable by traditional cost accounting systems. If the value of investing in implementing these functions is not measurable and visible, it is typically assumed not to exist.
New capability empowered by the IIoT is solving this shortcoming. Cloud-based big data analytical applications are providing real-time accounting factors right down to the equipment level in industrial operations. This means that the value of implementing any improvement-generating functionality in existing or new automation systems and solutions will be measurable and visible in a manner that is auditable by plant cost accounting teams. As the value of utilizing the incremental automation functionality becomes clear, industrial managers will want to invest in those functions that provide the most value and best returns. Experience has shown that the real-time control functions and supporting functions in automation systems provide more business value and returns than almost any other investment an industrial company can make.
It is time to use IIoT technologies to help drive higher levels of functionality from automation and control systems. It is time to re-power and tune the profit engine of industrial companies.