Top Technology Trends for 2012 That Will Affect the Automation Team

LNS Research is establishing benchmarks in key areas of interest to industrial automation, manufacturing line-of-business and corporate information technology executives. Analyst Matt Littlefield weighs in on trends for 2012.

By Matt Littlefield

It looks like 2012 will prove to be a very fruitful year for both the industrial automation space and LNS Research. This is going to be the first full year of operations at LNS Research and we are very excited to start establishing benchmarks in key areas of interest to line-of-business, corporate information technology (IT) and industrial automation executives. Based on trends over the past several years, we believe the following areas will constitute the biggest trends and areas of investment for 2012.

Quality management— Quality has long been a focus at leading firms, however, the way companies think about quality and the way companies architect IT systems to support quality is often disconnected. In 2012, LNS Research will examine how leading firms are using enterprise quality management software (EQMS) to manage quality business processes at the enterprise level and infuse quality management best practices across engineering, manufacturing, supply chain management, procurement, and service.

Manufacturing operations management— Leading firms are moving away from plant level manufacturing execution systems (MES) to begin managing the entire plant network holistically. These new manufacturing operations management (MOM) systems are leveraging native business process management (BPM) technology and unified data models to reduce the time and cost of implementations, as well as provide a more interoperable and collaborative environment. This interoperability will begin to move both up and down the technology stack, with major interoperability enhancements between enterprise applications like enterprise resource planning (ERP), product lifecycle management (PLM), and plant level systems such as distributed control systems (DCS), programmable logic controllers (PLC) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems anticipated for 2012. (See chart.)

Sustainability—Momentum behind corporate sustainability initiatives at many of the world’s most successful companies will only continue to build in 2012. The pressure is on for these companies to deliver tangible results. It is expected that investment in technology to support these initiatives will continue to grow. Key areas of investment will include: sustainability performance management, energy management, carbon management, environment, health, and safety (EH&S) and safety automation.

Asset performance management— Asset intensive industries continue to face intense pressure to improve returns on assets and operating margins. One of the quickest and most successful ways leading companies have accomplished success in these areas is by improving the reliability of key assets and improving the collaboration between operations and maintenance. This means companies are moving from a reactive to predictive approach in maintenance, which in turn requires improved automated data collection, statistical models for predicting failures, and the right infrastructure to share this information across large enterprise. It also involves companies investing in change management, so that the right metrics, incentives and culture are established to ensure that maintenance and production are on the same page.

Industrial Automation 2.0— LNS Research believes there has been a step change in the automation space over the past several years, requiring an entirely new approach to evaluating the value and deployment of industrial automation. Key technology trends of Industrial Automation 2.0 include the movement towards converged networks and standards, mainly involving the use of unmodified Ethernet.

Additional trends of Industrial Automation 2.0 include the convergence of traditional IT and automation networks, the use of traditional IT security solutions in industrial settings, an increased focus on safety and energy management, and the use of a single network to manage multiple disciplines of automation. 2012 will see continued focus and refinement of the trends included within Industrial Automation 2.0.

If only half of the anticipated growth in these areas turn out to be a reality for 2012, the year could mark a big step forward for the entire industry.

Matt Littlefield, matthew.littlefield@lnsresearch.com, is president and principal analyst at LNS Research, a consultancy based in Brookline, Mass.

Read more Matt Littlefield columns on regulations, safety compliance, business process management and all things enterprise. Visit bit.ly/awcolumn054

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