Earlier this year, I posited that industry is facing three megatrends: sustainability; the changing industrial workforce; and a move toward open, standards-based automation technology. In September, I made the link between sustainability and responsible profitability. And in my October blog, I wrote about how the changing global workforce is driving new business and supply chain dynamics and how digital tools can help end users manage those changes.
The third megatrend is related to that
We have all witnessed an immense cultural shift in our workforce, driven primarily by the emergence of a purpose-driven generation. Millennials and Gen Z’ers (or Zoomers) now make up about 40% of the U.S. workforce. As the first digital natives to enter the workforce, it is fascinating to see how these workers use and interact with technology.
As this article in Forbes makes clear, these younger workers “want the same connected experience they have in their personal lives in the workplace and expect the ability to be digitally connected with their teams quickly via different formats.” In short, they expect things to work, and they want to select and use the technology that best fits their need and style.
But it’s not just the younger workforce
Whether it’s a Baby Boomer who is soon to retire or a Gen Xer who is well established on her career path, every generation of today’s broad and increasingly diverse workforce relies on legacy and emerging technology to succeed in their roles.
For the most part, because of how immersed we all are in technology today, we’re not concerned with the backend of the tool: We all just want to be able to apply the best solution to achieve our goals.
In essence, we’ve all become accustomed to using open and interoperable technology in our everyday lives, but in most of today’s industrial environments, we can’t do that. For many customers, it’s frustrating and costly, and it is evidence of the third major industrial transition: the gradual move to open automation software and open standards-based environments.
The value of open, interoperable systems
So how do our customers address that change, especially when some of the technology in their plants was installed years or even decades ago?
The answer is to ensure there is a stronger, more mature and more secure interplay between industrial control devices and components. This new level of openness will provide all the functionality we need to do what we want to do, some of which we historically haven’t been able to do.
In closed environments, where you are locked into technology from a single vendor, you are limited: You can really only control things based on the functionality of the technology your vendor provided.
And while that legacy, proprietary and closed technology is very good at helping to control traditional operating risks—safety, efficiency, reliability, etc.—it limits the end users’ ability to look after and control other higher-level business risks, things like ROI, time to revenue and even profit.
However, as we move into an open environment, we’ll be able to do things differently. Not only will we have better view and control of those traditional process variables and risks, we will be able to control other, nontraditional business values, and not just financial values either.
I am proud to say Schneider Electric has taken some important, leading steps in this area. You might have seen the recent announcement about the creation of Universal Automation.org, a new independent, not-for-profit association dedicated to managing the implementation of an industrial automation shared-source runtime.
According to UniversalAutomation.org, “This new level of shared technology provides the basis for an ecosystem of portable, interoperable, ‘plug and produce’ solutions and creates an entirely new category within industrial automation.” Schneider Electric is honored to be a member.
But our commitment to open doesn’t stop there. We continue as well to be dedicated, contributing members of the Open Process Automation Forum. OPAF is a consensus-based group of end users, suppliers, system integrators, standards organizations and academia mutually and collaboratively focused on developing a standards-based, open, secure, interoperable process automation architecture.
Open flexible process automation systems and their components are important to growing profits – and the Open Process Automation Standard (O-PAS) and O-PAS systems will address this need.
Read the Open Group’s whitepaper
Improving Profitability Through Open Process Automation Systems
Achieving purpose-driven outcomes with universal automation
Let me emphasize that UniversalAutomation.org and OPAF are not competitors or alternatives to one another. In fact, UniversalAutomation.org is complementary to OPAF and an accelerator to achieve OPAF’s vision of open process automation. Whereas OPAF defines an information model for process automation systems, UniversalAutomation.org provides a vendor-independent runtime platform on which the OPAF model can be built in the form of IEC 61499 software components, which can then be executed by all Universal Automation platforms.
This whole idea of open, standards-based universal automation leads to a world of software- and asset-centric automation components built on the IEC 61499 standard. In the plug-and-produce environment universal automation creates, the workforce will be able to use the best technology for the job, regardless of vendor. It is going to open opportunities for them to move from controlling traditional operating risks to controlling other, purpose-driven outcomes, things like carbon emissions, environmental performance, sustainability and so on.
And because universal automation enables application portability and interoperability, industry will be far more resilient. End users will be better equipped not just to control new operating variables, but to adjust their operations and supply chain strategies to meet changing market dynamics and pressures sooner.
The future is open
While I am extremely proud of the strides Schneider Electric has made to create this new world of open, universal automation, I want to be very clear: Current process automation system architecture has done a great job of advancing industry to where we are today. It’s the model I grew up on and used to great effectiveness throughout my career.
We can all be proud of what we have achieved within existing process automation models and frameworks. Think about where we were as an industry 30 years ago and where we are today. The progress is amazing. But if we want to take the next critical step—if we want to realize the promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and take full advantage of the technology we have at our disposal today—we need to change that model.
Through our incubator and the technology coming out of it, particularly our EcoStruxure Automation Expert, which the ARC Advisory Group calls The Road to Universal Automation, we are doing just that. By leveraging the IEC 61499 standard and helping to influence and advance open, standards-based process automation, Schneider Electric is driving to 100% engineering efficiency, 100% operational effectiveness and 100% future proof.
It also means the current and future industrial workforce will be better able to control and improve business performance, while delivering purpose-driven outcomes. If you are interested in learning more about universal automation and open automation software, please read this white paper and explore UniversalAutomation.org.