How will approaches to digital technology change in 2018?

Posted on 24 Jan 2018 by Jonny Williamson

Manufacturers’ attitudes and understanding of modern digital technologies and their capabilities have matured greatly over the past 24 months. Will that continue during the year ahead, or have we reached saturation point?

digital technology Engineer Laptop Digital Skills Data - image courtesy of Depositphotos
Less than 25% of businesses have achieved topline growth as a result of their investments in ‘digitalisation’ – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Since 2014, more than 80% of companies globally have made some form of investment in ‘digitalisation’ – adopting digital technology to change business models, become more flexible and drive revenue.

However, less than 25% of these businesses have achieved topline growth as a result.

The Manufacturer recently sat down with John Fryer, senior director of industry solutions for global fault tolerant computer servers and software company, Stratus Technologies, to discuss what the future may hold.

“We are going to see more businesses deploying small-scale test projects based around the industrial internet, data analytics, asset performance management, and machine learning in 2018, that’s for certain. This will be the year businesses start to truly explore what they can do with data, many for the first time.

With almost all modern pieces of equipment, there’s a lot of data being generated and floating around which isn’t always being captured or if it is, it’s not being used. Making use of this huge untapped resource will lead to a huge increase in interest around edge computing this year.

“Manufacturers are already looking at integrating compute technology down in the control cabinet; not just inside the PLC, but something with a bit more beef to it than that. That’s a trend that will grow.

“Alongside that, there’s definitely growing interest in people doing more with data in different places. I think that’s a precursor to people looking at what they can do it with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). For example, is there something simple they can do, could they run a trial project under the radar, dip a toe and gain some experience?

“Manufacturers and engineers, particularly those involved in automation, don’t have the resources, certainly in smaller companies, to invest lots of time and capital in trying to figure out how to make something work – that’s not the sort of business they are in.

digital technology PLC programable logic controler,This picture show hard wiring communication socket connection during technician maintenance - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Manufacturers are already looking at integrating compute technology down in the control cabinet, not just inside the PLC – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

“Therefore, tools and usability are vital. If the equipment makers, alongside the companies building machine learning engines, can produce the tooling that makes them easy to adopt and use, then you will get people onboard.

“Another trend is manufacturers using technology partners to consolidate islands of automation, this speaks a little bit to the interest around asset management.

“A plant may have several automated lines in isolation, but now they are being consolidated and centralised either to integrate those product lines if there’s a flow of product from one to another, or to compare and contrast what’s happening across the operation if the same product is being run through different lines.

“Manufacturers increasingly want to analyse different product lines and machines and determine why one is more efficient than another, for example – which is where data, once again, plays an absolutely vital role.”

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