Brendan O’Dowd, GM of Industrial Automation at Analog Devices, has put together his 2019 Industrial Automation predictions:


In 2019, we can expect to see a more dynamic (and flexible) factory floor given the transition to Industry 4.0

  • The journey to Industry 4.0 is already well underway. We are already seeing greater instrumentation than what we’ve had previously in our factories as well as process and control plants. Manufacturers are uncovering new ways of understanding what’s going on in their respective processes and using that information to improve overall performance.
  • Factory floors are all about efficiency and productivity. Manufacturers don’t want to waste any downtime doing preventive maintenance. To achieve this efficiency, businesses must be flexible and ensure they implement changes that are compatible with their current operations. Some of the challenges in achieving this include the difficulty of re-purposing equipment and reducing downtime. It’s not practical to develop or purchase an entirely new production floor every time a change is needed. For organizations looking to modernize and transition to Industry 4.0, it is critically important they have flexibility in their equipment and leverage the type of technology that will enable workers to manipulate configuration. Additionally, it’s important to be able to monitor what’s happening with equipment in real-time to sense any potential failures and to act on those before they negatively impact productivity. This increases the prevalence of predictive maintenance.
  • The digitization of the factory by transitioning to Industry 4.0 provides more and more data, so businesses can turn that data into information, transmit it around the factory and act on it properly. Any technologies that address several of these areas allows us to react, pick control systems, and have control locally rather than having it all be centralized. Safety and security are built into these systems. How businesses build that function in will help achieve the aims of efficiency, reliability, and productivity.

In 2019, while we expect to see accelerated deployment of robots and cobots, increased safety will be paramount when implementing both on the factory floor

  • Robot and cobot development shows no sign of slowing down. In 2019, the focus for manufacturers will shift towards accelerated creation and deployment of more capable robots with advanced features and functions. Cobots, the robots that interoperate with humans, will also become increasingly popular in manufacturing operations. For example, it’s common in car plants today for humans to remain separate from robots on the plant floor. Machines moving parts of the car frame will automatically stop if human workers cross a barrier separating the two. However, in the not-too-distant future, given advances in technologies like machine vision and machine learning, cobots will be able to move in the same space as human workers.
  • Cobots are becoming a viable option for manufacturing operations largely because of their low-end price points, flexibility, and constantly evolving capabilities. Because of this, it’s going to be crucial that robots and cobots meet safety requirements, especially given they will be interoperating with humans. Cobots are tailored to ISO standards with regards to safety, yet because of their functionality, industry must develop further safety standards. For example, cobots have defined speeds of motion. If you surpass designated speeds, then cobots can’t interoperate with humans because they can create and cause damage. To further address safety concerns, time-of-flight sensors including camera systems, RADAR, and LIDAR, are becoming more frequently utilized. Both RADAR and LIDAR are instrumental in ensuring robots/cobots do not detrimentally interfere with people on the factory floor. It can be expected that many different technologies will be brought in to address safety concerns surrounding cobots to avoid potential problems.
  • If manufacturers start making more capable cobots and have them handling bigger task loads, they become stronger and more capable of damage. That’s why the safety element becomes important. Manufacturers want cobots to be able to move within the same space as humans but they certainly don’t want them banging into or hurting them in any way. Safety concerns surrounding big robots can be addressed by exclusion. For cobots, you must be much more careful.
  • In the transition to Industry 4.0, the factory will face digitization allowing for more and more data, which means data security becomes more critical, even though the process is slow-moving. Installing factory equipment is time sensitive, and organizations need a way of implementing security that is simple.
  • While security in the IT world on the Internet is well understood, that’s not the case in the OT world, which are the operation technology networks that run the factories. As more and more of these factories become connected to the internet, addressing security issues becomes that much more important. The problem is the OT network and IT network speak two different languages. The strategies that are available at the IT level are not applicable at the OT level, and OT networks traditionally have not faced a problem like this before. As factories add increasing levels of connectivity, they need proper strategies to address it, and then develop a plan to implement these strategies down to the edge. The edge of the network includes that simplest valves, flow meters, and temperature sensors, and they need to be protected. A simple way of securing data is at the gateways into the factory, but we are going to need to secure the edge nodes in ways that don’t generate huge cost amounts or complexity to users.
  • To meet the challenges of industrial automation, we can expect companies to develop next generation software configurable IO products and next-generation TSN products. These technologies will enable factories to accelerate adoption of industrial automation, including the deployment of robotics, factory automation on the floor, and process control. Sensing technologies, like RADAR and LIDAR, will affect the future of IAT at the factory level, specifically for robots and cobots, and in terms of autonomous vehicles. Robots arms will become mobile and cobot development will really take off. These robots and cobots will become mobile rather than fixed, moving around the factory floor. RADAR and LIDAR will be used as part of the navigation systems for these pieces of equipment, not only as a location detector, but to ensure they’re not interfering with people working in the same area. Similarly, time-of-flight based camera systems will work together with these sensing technologies to enable a better performance around the factory floor.

Deterministic Ethernet will have greater influence

  • With Ethernet, there are certain limitations in standards. However, when a command is being sent inside a factory, that command can’t afford to be lost. Large corporations building a factory with their own equipment can create their own specific standards. Yet if you’re a small equipment supplier that’s supplying into many of these factories, you need to be able to do more.
  • The IEEE have stepped in with a set of time-sensitive networking standards that cover things like ingress and time synchronization distribution that will provide quality service guaranteed, including low latency guaranteed delivery, bandwidth reservation, and so on. The expectation is that these standards would be the future of industrial Ethernet and that the various standards would converge on TSN for next generation.
  • Another question 2019 will address is Ethernet as a solution over longer distances as a 4-20 mA replacement. There is work currently taking place surrounding a 10-Mbit one kilometer Ethernet standard called 10Base-T1L. This will allow you to use just a single twisted pair to route an Ethernet signal a kilometer away at 10-Mbit of data speed. This is something that will be interesting to see in the coming year.