2017: Automation & Control Trends

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First, the Market

As per a latest marketsandmarkets research report on “Industrial Control and Factory Automation Market by Technology (SCADA, PAC & RTU, DCS, Safety, MES & MOM, PLM), Component (Industrial Robots, Machine Vision, Control Valves, Enclosures, Cables), Industry (Process, and Discrete) – Global Forecast to 2022”, The industrial control and factory automation market is projected to reach USD 153.30 bn (from USD 108.80 bn in 2015) by 2022, at a CAGR of 4.88% between 2016 and 2022.

Based on technology, the industrial control and factory automation market can be classified into Distributed Control System (DCS); Human Machine Interface (HMI); Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) and Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM); Programmable Logic Controller (PLC), Programmable Automation Controller (PAC) and Remote Terminal Unit (RTU); Product Lifecycle Management (PLM); Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA); and safety control systems. The market has also been segmented into control valves, control devices, industrial networks, industrial robots, and more.

Let us now look at a few specific trends, innovations, and benefits of the world of Automation and Control.

1. The Age of Cobots is here

Organisations and people are working with affordable collaborative robots (Cobots) to integrate systems and advanced software to provide situational awareness. These inexpensive Cobots are suitable for many applications.

Per the 2016 World Robotics Report, "Service Robots", published by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), the worldwide number of domestic household robots will touch 31 million between 2016 and 2019.

2. Information Technology & Operational Technology Join Forces

Today, there are several industry standards that help organisations integrate Operational Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT), such as B2MML, OPC UA, PLCopen OPC UA, and IT database interfaces. These functional changes may minimise the need to have Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) in many applications. Today’s system integrators, using the latest IT and OT concepts and technology and knowledge, help design, test, and implement systems to help organisations stay in the technology race.

3. Automation Architecture will become Leaner & more Intelligent

Computing today involves cloud hosted applications, capable controllers, intelligent devices and sensors, and driven up to plant level computers. The latest automation systems follow general technology trends that make the architecture lean, and helps improve performance and lower future software maintenance costs.

4. Integration will become simpler with Open Automation Architecture

The latest open industrial system architectures support multivendor interoperable open systems, and tight integration with business systems that create more responsive, efficient, and flexible manufacturing that tightly integrate ecosystems of customers, suppliers, manufacturers, and distribution logistics. Achieving these goals requires seamless communication between enterprise systems and manufacturing field I/O (inputs/outputs) including actuators, analysers, drives, robotics, vision, video, and sensors, to achieve increased manufacturing performance and flexibly. Some prominent initiatives are:

  • Industry 4.0 advocates integrating the manufacturing plant with other business functions including inbound logistics, customer service, and outbound logistics. To be part of this race – and to stay ahead – organisations need to leverage automation as well as the latest technologies. NAMUR and VDI/VDE, in collaboration with several prominent leaders in the industry, including ABB, BASF, Bayer Technology Services, Bilfinger Maintenance, Endress+Hauser, Evonik, Festo, Fraunhofer ICT, Krohne, Lanxess, and Siemens are driving the application of Industry 4.0 concepts to improve process automation based on NAMUR’s Process Sensor 4.0 Roadmap.
  • The Open Group’s Open Process Automation Forum – This forum focuses on developing an open, secure, multivendor standards-based, interoperable process control architecture.

5. Growth of Smart Sensors & Intelligent Nodes

The Internet of Things (IoT) concepts and technologies are enabling new intelligent nodes, which operate at the network edge to improve manufacturing performance and efficiency. Some tangible examples of these edge devices include:

Mazak Corporation’s SmartBox

Mazak’s SmartBox is built with Cisco hardware and software, to perform machine analytics. It collects sensor data, synthesises information within a local fog application, and performs real-time analysis for process optimisation and predictive maintenance. The unit communicates data to other equipment and enterprise systems to accomplish plant level analytics using the MTConnect open standard.


The Modular Industry Computing Architecture (MICA) from the Harting Technology Group, is a modular IP67 fan less industrial computer hardware. It has hardened electronics, high EMC ratings and industrial-grade connectors. MICA is packaged in a compact enclosure that protects against dust, oils, splashes, shocks and vibration, and helps provide virtualisation of applications.

6. Inexpensive Wireless Sensors

IoT developments are making way for inexpensive wireless sensors, which will in turn help deploying a much larger number of applications. Some prominent industrial wireless standards today include ISA100.11, IEC62591 (WirelessHART), IEC62601 (WIA-PA developed in China), ZigBee, and 802.11.

7. Smart Sensors Will Be Everywhere

Control devices and smart sensors that use embedded intelligence and do not need external software have been proven to provide benefits (HART being a recent open architecture example), by providing increasing amounts of contextual data. Implementing smart sensors today is inexpensive with most recent IO-Link addition that is gaining rapid adoption. Additionally, there are Ethernet sensors that communicate using industrial and related protocols and provide data for automation and communicate directly with business systems.

8. Vendors Must Embrace Portable Applications

Dearth of multivendor portability of applications is a big challenge that the automation industry faces. Innovation will grow at a very slow rate in the absence of open ecosystems. 

Don Bartusiak, Chief Engineer at ExxonMobil Research & Engineering, uses this analogy: “Think of having to rewrite all your documents, spreadsheets, and presentations every time bought a computer from a different vendor. In today’s connected industry, non-portable applications represent an inexcusable waste of time and resources.”


The most up-to-date method is using the PLCopen XML Interchange standard.

PLCopen Certifications for Vendor Products are listed on the PLCopen website:

Another example is the Node-Red open source visual programming that is used by vendors for data acquisition and control on platforms such as Raspberry Pi.

9. APCs & Analytics Help Improve Efficiencies and Decision-making

Achieving advanced process control (APC) optimisation and predictive analytics used to be expensive and complicated. However, with advanced integrated design environments used in today’s IoT applications, these cloud-based tools help users and industry experts in deploying better analytics at low implementation costs. Such analytics helps improve decision-making capabilities along with efficiency. Some latest tools are Google Analytics & Measurement Protocol, Microsoft Azure machine learning and AWS IoT (Amazon Web Services IoT).

10. Lower Automation Costs due to Technology


There is no denying the fact that IoT is going to impact the entire automation and controls industry in a huge way. What makes this even more interesting is that higher-performance processors, sensors, analytic software, vision systems, cloud computing, new communications (wireless & protocols) and highly distributed system architectures, among many other products will also lead to better performance and lower costs. An example is Intel’s new modular compute platform – the Intel Compute Card – that provides all the elements of a full computer, including Intel SoC, memory, the latest 7th Gen Intel Core processors, storage, and wireless connectivity with flexible I/O options.


The market is expected to witness significant growth in the coming years, owing to the adoption of industrial control and factory automation solutions in several manufacturing processes that help manufacturers meet the latest industrial automation standards, save energy, and improve quality.

As automation and control trends evolve, users and automation suppliers are faced with both risk and opportunity. While there’s a risk in adopting these technologies before they are proven, only the organisations that take the necessary steps to adopt the latest technologies will outpace their competition and thrive.