“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Does this legacy mantra, often attributed to manufacturers when faced with new technology, still hold true? Certainly, if a company’s operations are running smoothly, it could be reason enough not to meddle with what is currently working. However, “just getting by” may leave many manufacturers behind their competitors, who have seen room for improvement in their automated processes, even if they weren’t considered broken.
Each manufacturer has a technology upgrade threshold; the point at which they admit that remaining stagnant might start costing them money over time. In the past, many manufacturers drew the line between 32-bit and 64-bit processing when it came to automation software. The speed difference and new features of the machinery and software was quite evident for the many companies who made the switch. However, it’s been a few years since that changeover took hold throughout the industry, so what does it now take for manufacturers to consider upgrading their automation software?
If the speed and performance gain wasn’t incentive enough, the latest 64-bit automation software now provides more advanced visualisation, key performance indicator dashboards and reporting options than what was available a few years ago. Some users may be intrigued by the increase in the level of interactivity with created displays, or the level of detail in three-dimensional representations of equipment and processes (known as digital twins).
Alternatively, manufacturers may be prompted to upgrade by company-wide initiatives involving sustainability. The latest automation software includes tie-ins to energy management, fault detection and diagnostics analytical tools, and the industrial internet of things, putting the benefits of cloud computing easily within reach. Other companies may have initiatives related to workforce productivity. Modern automation software runs on any device, providing required data to laptops, tablets, smartphones, head-mounted augmented reality displays, smartwatches or digital assistant speakers.
Upgrade cycles are different for every organisation, but there’s no denying that manufacturing automation will look markedly different a decade from now. We currently live in a time where someone can put a device on their head, see a digital twin of a manufacturing robot that is physically located in a different part of the world, and monitor and control it via gesture and voice control. Your current manufacturing automation system might not be broken, but it probably can’t do all of that – yet.
Melissa Topp is senior director of global marketing at ICONICS
This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issues delivered directly to your inbox.
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