Top 5 Trends in Manufacturing Automation

Jan. 31, 2013

Rockwell Automation hosted a press conference called “Manufacturing Perspectives” at its 2012 Automation Fair last November in Philadelphia. The following are my “Top 5 Takeaways” from the event.

Sujeet Chand, senior vice president and chief technology officer for Rockwell Automation, and Maciej Kranz, vice president and general manager for Cisco, discuss the role of mobility, security and energy in modern manufacturing as part of Rockwell Automation’s “Manufacturing Perspectives” event.

(Photo courtesy of Rockwell)

Rockwell Automation hosted a press conference called “Manufacturing Perspectives” at its 2012 Automation Fair last November in Philadelphia. The event featured a series of presentations by Rockwell representatives and other industry thought leaders, highlighting key trends in global manufacturing. Some of the topics discussed offer insight on what the future may hold for manufacturing worldwide. The following are my “Top 5 Takeaways” from the event.

1. Manufacturing Still Matters: While we live in an increasingly “virtual” and information-based world, tangible things remain a strong driver of modern life. According to research conducted by Harvard and the MIT Media Lab, the advancement of manufacturing capabilities is the most important link to increasing the economic prosperity of a nation. Craig Giffi, vice chairman of U.S. consumer and industrial products for Deloitte & Touche USA LLP, said access to technical skills will be a key driver of manufacturing success going forward. And in this area, he said the United States has some catching up to do, as it currently ranks 31st in Math, 23rd in Science, and 17th in Reading worldwide.

2. Ethernet Is the Bridge: Rockwell, which developed the EtherNet/IP protocol in the 1990s and has since turned it over to the Open DeviceNet Vendors Association (, is as bullish as ever on the role Ethernet will play in the future of manufacturing. The company sees standards-based Ethernet as the most logical solution for connecting the plant floor to the enterprise—given Ethernet’s widespread acceptance for enterprise-level IT—as well as for providing the flexibility to interface with a range of disparate systems presented by an increasingly diversified and global supply chain.

3. Mobility Matters: Mobile devices can be an enabling technology for manufacturing automation, providing access to key information anywhere, anytime. At the same time, these devices—particularly personal mobile devices—pose a significant security risk. According to research by Price WaterhouseCoopers LLP, 63 percent of manufacturers permit employees to bring their own mobile devices to work. With so many personal devices already in the workplace, turning back at this point will be difficult. As such, effective security strategies will be required for managing the use of personal mobile devices where sensitive data and/or systems are a concern.

4. Hybrid Cloud Computing: Fran Dogherty, CTO of the Worldwide Incubation Enterprise and Partner Group for Microsoft, said one of the core challenges for manufacturers is to figure out how to take data and make it into something meaningful. He says cloud computing—where hardware, software and data are accessed and housed remotely—can help end-users do this by making IT resources more widely and efficiently available. However, Dougherty acknowledged that security is a central concern for industrial cloud computing. He suggested a hybrid cloud architecture—where parts of the cloud are private and others are public—may be the solution.

5. Cyber Security: In many ways, cyber security is, at the same time, the key enabler and disabler for the manufacturers of tomorrow. According to conversations I had during Automation Fair, companies far and wide are under persistent attack from cyber threats that seek to gain access to information or, worse, disable key pieces of their manufacturing systems entirely. There is clearly significant concern in the manufacturing and automation community about what the cyber security threats of the future will be and how to protect against them as manufacturing systems grow more information-based and highly connected. It seems almost inevitable that major cyber security breaches will be part of the learning curve as manufacturers work to devise strategies for effectively protecting their data and systems.

Matt Migliore is the executive director of content for Flow Control magazine and
He can be reached at [email protected].

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