Integrators discuss trends in industrial technology

A session of Inductive Automation’s Ignition Community Conference 2021 virtual conference brought together four system integration professionals offering their perspectives on the automation trends they consider to have been the most impactful this year. The session, led by Shay Johnson, Sales Engineer at Inductive Automation, brought together Jake Hall, Director of Business Development, Feyen Zylstra; Brian McClain, Director of Business Development, Corso Systems; Cody Warren, Senior Control Engineer, Tamaki Control Ltd. ; and Dustin Wilson, Senior Project Manager, Phantom Technical Services.

Cody Warren, Senior Control Engineer, Tamaki Control Ltd.While the conversation touched on several points, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems adding factory software packages to the high-performance HMI (human-machine interface), device-level Ethernet, Among the most interesting topics of discussion were remote access technologies and why automation projects failed.

The rise in “Ethernet I / O at the device level has been huge lately,” said Warren. “I think customers see the value of this as opposed to the hard-wired approach. Much of the work we have done over the past two years has been to upgrade outdated APIs and I / O. And it’s easier with the arrival of IO-Link masters.

The value of the remote control

Like any business, industrial operations continue to struggle to maintain efficient operations amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Dustin Wilson, Senior Project Manager, Phantom Technical Services.Dustin Wilson, Senior Project Manager, Phantom Technical Services.“You never know when someone will be at work the next day, so being able to call your integrators remotely and so that we can use Industry 4.0 and IoT (Internet of Things) to see and diagnose problems remotely, in real time, instead of having to be on site has been a huge advantage as each customer is limiting the number of feet that are actually touching their ground right now, ”Wilson said. “Much of what we’ve done over the past two years would have been impossible without some of the enhancements to Industry 4.0 and Ignition. I can’t imagine having a sneaker net right now and trying to make any changes to the programs where you have to be physically in the factory to make an adjustment.

McClain agreed with Wilson’s comments on the importance of remote technologies, adding, “Remote data monitoring has been a recurring theme we’ve seen over the past year, not only from supervisors, but also managers who wish to remotely access their production data as they may not be able to enter the facility, or it may not be sure to do so.

Brian McClain, Director of Business Development, Corso Systems.Brian McClain, Director of Business Development, Corso Systems.The efforts of IT departments in industrial companies have been beneficial in enabling this, McClain said. “The IT departments at these facilities have made great strides here recently to help create an environment that made remote access possible. I remember not that long ago trying to do something like expose a visualization dashboard or data that supervisors could see outside of their network was next to impossible. You would talk to IT departments about opening certain ports to create the right network architecture for it and you would just get those blank stares. But now more and more organizations are seeing the benefits and creating secure systems and methodologies that we can use to implement and deliver these remote access solutions.

Additionally, “the amount of distance learning that I have seen happening over the past 18 months is unprecedented,” Hall added.

Hall noted that the lack of in-person conferences since early 2020 has likely contributed to the increased interest in distance education and videos.

Automation project failures

Panel integrators agreed that the current level of heightened interest in automation in response to digital transformation trends has accelerated with the advent of COVID-19. Likewise, the urgency of implementing technology to solve pandemic-related issues has also increased the rate of implementation difficulties.

Jake Hall, Director of Business Development,, Feyen Zylstra.Jake Hall, Director of Business Development,, Feyen Zylstra.Hall referred to a statistic which indicates that only about a quarter of IoT initiatives in the manufacturing sector are successful. He believes the reason is largely due to unclear business goals and the lack of roadmaps for these projects.

“Often the systems are so complex that they cannot be communicated effectively to the integration team,” he explained, noting that changes made to the project during development and implementation, often due to lack of clear understanding from all sides, may lead to a cost increase of 50 times.

To avoid this, Hall recommends two things:

  • Align your project teams: is there a full and detailed specification or document that keeps everything up to date?
  • Learn and prove: from the data you are able to collect, are you able to act? Then, from your implementation, are you able to define the root causes [of problems]?

The ability to overcome project failures depends on your ability to define the problem, then validate and provide systems to resolve it.

From there, “are you able to learn and improve? Hall asked. “If you can’t do these things, you probably won’t be successful with your implementation. ”

Wilson stressed the importance of being able to define your long-term goals for the project. “Once you have your long-term projections, you can properly model the system so that once you have all the data available, it has context. By correctly modeling your data, you can know exactly where to find all of your checkpoints for an engine. Then when you move those data points to the cloud and perform big data analysis on them, you’ll have a consistent format for everything in it.

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