People outside industry might be surprised to learn that you can’t use any automation system with any programming package. Or, that control applications written for one company’s platform usually won’t run on another company’s platform without at least a few ‘tweaks’. In our daily lives we take it for granted that we can visit our app store of choice and download any app without worrying if it’s compatible with our phone or device. Imagine if we could do the same in the industrial context. Someday, hopefully soon, we will.
Recently I made the case for standardization and how Schneider Electric are leading the way with universal automation. This Forbes article also gives excellent insight into why it’s so important for industry.
To summarize, technology should work together with people to make their lives easier. When it doesn’t, it’s actually a hindrance. If we go back to 1968 the Modicon Programmable Logical Controller was invented to make it easier and less costly to build, reconfigure and operate a plant. This established our legacy of automation systems that enable profit. It fueled innovation, advancement, and higher levels of manufacturing profitability for the next 50 years.
But in terms of control system technology, little has changed over this time. How are we continuing to play the role of profit enabler in manufacturing? It’s time we give up our dependency on proprietary systems and make way for the next wave of innovation.
What does the future of industry with open standards look like?
One of the inevitable outcomes of open standards in is an industry app store. This will be a great thing for both industrial customers and vendors because it would:
- Improve the quality of applications – customers and integrators can choose from a library of best in class applications which have been tested and proven to work, maximizing performance, and reducing time lost to errors.
- Bring the cost of engineering down – with more drag and drop applications engineers won’t have to create all the apps from scratch, they can focus more on innovation.
- Increase the speed of innovation – businesses can more readily invest in new technology because it’s less costly, and they’ll see a higher return on investment, sooner.
The status-quo stifles innovation in industry and manufacturing
Today, industrial businesses face barriers to technological innovation at the simplest level. We now have more access to operational data than ever before, but where and how do you find the right software application that’s suited to your needs? With present technology, you either find an app written for your automation system or build one from scratch.
Such a big investment soon leads to some tough questions:
- How much engineering would it take to integrate your operational changes into the technology of your current system?
- How much disruption would that cause production or operations?
In a world with open standards and non-proprietary systems, where everything is made to integrate automatically, a lot of these potential costs would be avoided. You could simply go to the app store to get what you need.
How we’re contributing to a new era of industrial automation
We’re already building these capabilities into our automation technology. For example, with our next generation open automation system EcoStruxure Automation Expert, if an app store already existed multiple companies could develop and share code for specific applications (e.g. to control a pump or conveyor). This would run on anyone’s automation platform, so you’d have your choice of already proven, best in class technologies, even if they were originally designed for EcoStruxure Automation Expert. This would result in a wider choice and higher quality of software, for a range of different industries and applications.
Businesses can choose from a number of industry specific applications with our open IIoT platform EcoStruxure Plant Advisor. If they can’t find one which perfectly matches their needs, they can use EcoStruxure Plant Advisor – Apps Builder to build a custom application relatively quickly and easily. The application can then also be shared with other businesses – currently this transaction can occur on the Schneider Electric Exchange, our platform ecosystem for partners, customers and people in industry.
Ultimately, just like we did with the Modicon Programmable Controller, we need to make it easier and less risky for businesses to invest in new technology. Businesses would be faster to innovate and make step-change improvements to efficiency, sustainability, and profitability. This would ripple across the whole of industry leading to more business for control system suppliers, too!
Are you ready to join the new wave of innovation?
Learn about our new open technology solutions: