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Five Automation Technologies That Could Help Create ‘The Factory of the Future’

Posted on September 1, 2015 by

Helena Rogers

Automation FutureManufacturing Automation first began to boom during the rise of Industrial Automation over a quarter of a century ago, and since then it has become common place across the majority of industries including Life Sciences. With an expected market size approaching $250 billion by 2018 (RnRMarketResearch.com) the world of Industrial Automation is continuously evolving with new instrumentation and control products driving this growth forward; from PLC’s, DCS’s to nanotechnology, the Internet of Things and Machine to Machine networking.

With the rise of complex adaptive systems, multiprocessing, and wireless technology there has been much talk over recent years of businesses creating: ‘The Factory of the Future,’ by utilizing the latest innovations and technologies available. The Life Science industry however, is notoriously cautious in the adoption of new technologies, with the need for compliance viewed as a higher priority than innovation.

In this blog we asked some of our engineers for emerging trends and also what the future of manufacturing might look like, we received some interesting observations.

Top 5 Automation Technologies of the Future

  • Artificial Intelligence (Submitted by Pawel Switaj)

Introducing genetics, neural networks and fuzzy logic algorithms into automation and control. Also introducing artificial intelligence into automation and control. There are already some technologies like this in place such as Emerson’s Predict-Pro technology, which predicts when a particular device would fail and warns the user beforehand.

  • The Role Out of App-Based Applications (Submitted by David Cummins)

Mirroring that of Windows 10 or iPhones, everything could become app-based where you have a tactile based front end with all the “Apps”, but also the classic windows 7 based Start menu where configuration would be done as normal. For example there are Remote Connection Apps already in the market which allows connecting to the Live Plant on a mobile device/Tablets (iPad/iPhones). These also show Major Process Critical Alarms & Batch Messages on those devices.

  • Augmented Reality (Submitted by Helena Rogers)

Microsoft has already debuted Windows Holographics, a new augmented reality user interface built directly into Windows 10. This technology superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view. Imagine walking round the factory floor with a device which enables you to visualise equipment and process information in front of you.

  • Hardware Virtualisation (Submitted by Brian O’Reilly)

Removal of automation control hardware .i.e. Removal of Controllers and I/O Cards and replace with virtualized controllers and virtualized cards that exist on servers with full fail over and redundancy servers for backup and high availability. This then could be connected to Electronic marshalling switches for wired panels. This has the potential to dramatically reduce cost, improve communication and provide or enhance adaptability. The next generation to this would could include wireless instrumentation which would further reduce connection costs.

  • Enterprise Manufacturing Intelligence (Submitted by Barry O’Keeffe)

While maybe not a new concept, there is increasing demand/trend towards the use of Manufacturing Intelligence (MI) in the Pharmaceutical industry. (Manufacturing equivalent of Business Intelligence)  The main purpose of which is to “turn bulk manufacturing data into real knowledge and drive business results based on that knowledge.” (Wikipedia) It’s not hard to imagine an increased engineering need to centrally aggregate this data for analysis and also to provide an accessible interface for this data. Then use this data to easily identifying best practices for manufacturing streams based on equivalent plant production data.

Summary

Although it is easy to see the benefits gained from these types of technologies, in an industry so highly regulated they would need to be tried and tested before being adopted into Life Science companies. It would also make sense to introduce them into new site builds as adopting these technologies in existing systems could prove costly.

Thank you to all those at Zenith Technologies who contributed their ideas to this article.

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