Far from being happy to live in the shadow of Nuremberg Messe’s marquee embedded event, Embedded World, SPS IPC Drives annually hosts around 1,500 exhibitors displaying their wares to more than 50,000 visitors, with a quarter of those from outside the host nation. For those new to SPS IPC Drives, the event focusses on arguably the primary application of embedded technology: automation – from component level to complete automation solutions. Specific sub-sectors, spanning industrial and panel PCs, sensors, communications interfaces, and control technology, are all covered in abundance.
Key themes include the regularly cited and anticipated 4th industrial revolution (Industrie 4.0) and how that digital enterprise can be driven. With the conceptual stage giving way to serious real-world deployment scenarios, businesses are looking to understand how they can leverage digitizing the industrial value chain for competitive advantage. In fact, an area is set aside explicitly for those “revolutionaries” pushing Industrie 4.0 forward to share their vision of how seamless integration across hardware, software, and services creates so many new value opportunities, though new challenges must also be overcome to realize such a vision. Such a fundamental shift in production thinking is never straightforward; for intelligent objects to communicate with each other harmoniously, opening Pandora’s Box of reliability and critical security issues, understanding them and addressing them is paramount.
The reality is that it’s the market that’s pushing Industrie 4.0 as much as the technology, and increasing infrastructure is supporting its realization. Consumers and businesses alike are well tuned to the highly dynamic environment that exists in today’s manufacturing. Competition is greater than ever which naturally drives shorter innovation cycles to achieve faster time to market. Simultaneously, smart adaptive manufacturing demands flexibility to achieve customized mass production – a topic and concept I recently covered as “Smart, adaptive manufacturing with connected devices“.
It’s not only industry where automation is undergoing a revolution; residentially such technology is finding new and exciting applications seemingly every day, providing the inspiration for those that aren’t directly at the forefront within industry themselves. Smart control of your home’s central heating, lighting, and individual appliances from connected devices remains in its infancy and today is reserved for those early adaptors who are willing to part with often significant amounts of their cash and with a technical expertise and willingness to overcome the invariable bugs in such new infrastructure.
Those in the smart home business are striving to simplify the technology to become truly plug and play, recognizing that, outside of technology companies and those early adopters (customarily engineers), the infrastructure must be deployable by those with little or no technical competency at all before it can become as ubiquitous as they desire. They must also be wary of the scramble to seemingly make everything “smart”; value is only achieved from products and solutions that improve your living experience, and are not purely connected for the sake of marketing as such.
“The cloud”, whilst a phrase that’s already more than overused, is the key infrastructure requirement in both automation revolutions. I look forward to hearing more on how the large volumes of data generated (Big Data) will be efficiently processed, particularly in asset and energy data management – the latter applicable in both vocational and residential domains. This infrastructure must facilitate setup configuration, commissioning, parameterization, diagnosis, and maintenance of such field-based intelligent devices. Yes, the smart devices themselves are what’s sexy, but within the infrastructure is where this whole revolution will be truly made or broken.