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2022 Industrial Automation Trends

Industrial automation describes a wide range of control systems, such as robots, PLCs, HMIs, Industrial computers, and information technologies, which are used to handle different machines and processes within the factory floor in an effort to reduce/eliminate human intervention. Industrial automation systems are classified based on their level of flexibility and integration into manufacturing operations and processes. In the context of industrialization, industrial automation comes after mechanization.

In the past two decades, industrial automation has introduced drastic changes in the manufacturing landscape. For example, the advent of smart computers and Internet of Things (IoT) technology has rendered automation an essential element in today’s global and local manufacturing environment. Such as by demonstrating increased productivity as automated equipment can function 24/7 without breaks and will normally outperform humans in production operations and efficiency. Subsequently, this leads to increased output levels and reduced production time.

These past years, industrial automation has proven its value, especially because of the Covid-19 pandemic which resulted in travel restrictions hence the scarcity of engineers. Today, remote connectivity and automation of most industrial processes have become a standard part of our day-to-day operations.

The nature of industrial automation is that it has never been a static category: constant innovation, the rapid growth of new technologies, broader adoption across the industry; it’s always evolving at an incredible pace. So, what are the Industrial Automation trends for 2022? Let’s take a look ahead to what this new year will bring to Industrial Automation.

Industrial Automation Trends for 2022

Top view of modern operational plant producing fiberglass heavy industry machinery metalworking workshop concept.

1. Increasing Remote Plant Operations

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced industries to shift to the remote running of their operations, with many plant operators working from locations outside the plant, such as their homes. With remote plant operations becoming the new normal, a connected workforce with precise cyber-secure tools is required to provide real-time visualization and control, as well as meet the challenges associated with full remote access of plant operations.

Thus, appropriate technology is required to enable a connected and remote workforce, provide secured access to information to all the parties involved, facilitate collaboration and reduce paperwork. Remote operations greatly benefit from Augmented Reality (AR) technologies; whereby a remote user can access any asset in the factory floor with digital information overlaid.

For example, AR devices are able to sense what a remote operator could be looking at, they then display the data needed for that particular operation using smartphones, tablets, wearable computers, or smart glasses. This improves the efficiency of performing tasks remotely and provides a safer working environment for employees. Also, it makes it possible for industries to capture and manage data, and incorporate and deploy new workflow processes remotely.

In 2022(and beyond), industry stakeholders particularly manufacturers will continue to practice remote plant operations to a significant extent even after the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have passed.

2. Optimization of Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

More and more industries are turning to industrial automation solutions to digitally transform their processes. But having more automation systems in operation often brings about new challenges, this has led to an increase in the demand for Robotic Process Automation (RPA) alongside growing adoption rates. RPA is a data transfer mechanism between automated systems, so it will be useful in ensuring data parallelization and consistency between such systems. This is a necessity in the face of the increasing adoption rates of new automated industrial systems.

For example, the main objective of semantic automation is to improve the capacity of a robot to understand processes as humans do. When robots are trained to handle semantic commands, they can be extensively acquainted with the processes being automated and complete workflows without the assistance of step-by-step instructions from the programmer. Semantic automation signals also have pattern recognition functionality which allows robots to understand the context behind applications, documents, and processes so as to complete the workflow. When adopted in a factory setting, semantics-driven robots can contribute to 40-60% of workplace automation by taking on redundant tasks.

Looking ahead, RPA will be critical in building bridges as the adoption of industrial automation grows. Although it might not be a long-term solution to the challenges associated with automated systems, its demand now will determine how these systems will survive in the coming years. This is because new digital systems will not be utilized effectively without the addition of RPA. Hence, as far as 2022 Industrial Automation trends are concerned, RPA is here to stay.

3. Building Cyber Security Resilience

With the growing use of networked intelligent devices and sensors in the industry, cyber security resiliency has never been more critical. Cyber security is defined as the application of IT infrastructure, information security, processes, and business policies to protect systems, devices, data, programs, and networks from cyber-attacks.

As software continues to increase in complexity, and with more machines and more machines getting connected, it is now more feasible for cybercriminals to hack automated systems or install ransomware which can cause damage or interrupt factory operations. In the worst-case scenario, data is stolen or entire factories go down, leaving a huge impact on customers due to reputation damage and lost production.

Companies are also increasingly realizing that they have a treasure trove of information which if is better organized and made more efficiently accessible is of great value. However, cybercriminals are also aggressively looking for ways to access that same information. For instance, in 2020(during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic), there was a 200% increase in industrial cyber-attacks which caused numerous operational disruptions. This fast-tracked the need to digitally transform cyber security measures and broaden the security perimeter to encompass employees working remotely.

Currently, industries are shifting the automation of security functions to threat detection from identity authentication, with faster response rates. This will help ensure that factory machines are properly secured against incoming connections either from the internal factory network or external networks. In 2022, industries will continue to look for ways to automate first and second lines of cyber security defense, i.e., through cloud platforms to better respond to factory-wide threats, while simultaneously validating that security controls are functioning as expected.

4. Collaborative Safety

One of the interesting industrial automation trends expected in 2022 is a new focus on industrial safety. Every automated system will have to include a safety feature in it whether it is a wired/wireless network, or safe autonomous technology (PLCs, PACs…etc.).

For example, Elon Musk (the CEO of Tesla), redesigned one of his Tesla Gigafactory when he realized that over-automation on the factory floor- too many robots- just can’t work. Concluding that Industrial Automation should also include human collaboration. This is because humans are good at thinking, anticipation, and problem solving- a key safety feature.

A sector that has extensively integrated safety, is in the design and implementation of collaborative technologies: Robotics, and Autonomous material handling bots such as the new line of Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) and forklifts.

Going forward, in 2022 we will see system engineers designing mobile industrial automated systems to include safety, plug, and play features, and with increased human collaboration as part of their industrial design. More manufacturers are also expected to produce bolt-on technologies that make all robotic applications aware, smart and collaborative.

5. Automation as the Pathway Towards Sustainable Manufacturing

Net-zero emissions, resource efficiency, and climate neutrality are global topics across the industry sector. Globally, governments are prioritizing proposals and strategies to achieve climate neutrality. And industries play a key role in the actualization of these strategies.

In Europe, for example, the main objective of the Green Deal Scheme by 2030 is to reduce the overall greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55%. A major pillar of this scheme is a twin focus on the green and digital transitions for industries in Europe. In the US, we have a federal technical assistance framework called E3: Economy, Environment and Energy; whose aim is to assist manufacturers to increase productivity while reducing energy costs and environmental pollution.

As such, most manufacturers, in collaboration with government initiatives are seeking practical applications of industrial automation technologies for sustainable products and services. Also, to stay globally competitive, more and more industries are focusing on automation solutions that create high-efficiency machines that produce less waste with reduced energy consumption. In 2022, we expect a stronger focus on sustainable industrial automation systems.

6. Increasing Investments in Research & Development

Industrial automation is a fairly conservative field when it comes to innovation. Gradual steps are usually more common than large leaps. This is understandable because engineers, and manufacturers of automation solutions loath taking risks that may jeopardize their careers, or, worse, result in poor working machines.

However, every now and then, robotics companies are releasing new models of robots, with the innovative end of arm accessories. Young engineers from universities and similar institutions are also creating innovative industrial automation technologies which solve unique, niche problems. Individual companies such as Yamazaki Mazak Corporation and Linamar Corporation are locally investing in labs and innovation spaces for industrial automation technologies, with an understanding that innovation comes at a cost but focused innovation often pays off stakeholders, customers, and shareholders in the long run. In 2022, it is expected that governments and other industry stakeholders will pour more money into the research and development of high-end industrial automation systems, robotics, software, and other accessories.

7. Condition-Based Industrial Automation Strategy 

We have all at one point put “condition monitoring” on our road maps, though we somehow keep postponing the actual implementation. This past year machine builders are starting to truly understand the major benefits of condition monitoring, such as reducing the risk of critical equipment failure and on-time replacement of wear and tear parts.

2022 is likely to be the year in which machine builders and system integrators who are already collecting data- will take the initial steps towards a condition-based industrial automation strategy. They will then be able to design and develop automated systems that can monitor the conditions of certain machine parts using real-time data (i.e., running hours, usage, cycles). When applied in industries, such systems can detect performance abnormalities and replace the appropriate machine part before it breaks down. Once the art of condition monitoring on a single machine part is mastered, then it will be possible to expand the process to other parts of the machine.

8. CIOs leading the way in Industrial Automation

Chief Information Officers (CIOs) play an important role in catalyzing the growth of industrial automation within organizations. In 2022, it is expected that CIOs will increasingly have the power to choose the appropriate industrial automation technologies, formulate strategies to amplify the pace of digital transformation and create automation directives. Therefore, it is imperative that CIOs comprehend the changing requirements of Industry 4.0 and formulate the way forward for adopting industrial digital technology at a large scale.

Note, this fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) includes Robotics, Industrial Internet of Things (IoT), Additive Layer Manufacturing, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Cloud-based platforms.

9. A New Approach of Adopting AI technology

As Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues to become more sophisticated and companies across different industries increasingly introduce it in their operations, employee anxieties are likely to grow, as will misperceptions of what AI technologies can do and can’t. AI is often dismissed with the notion that it isn’t as smart as people take it to be.

However, whether that is true or not, it is more productive to explore where and how humans can add value to industrial automation using AI and Machine Learning (ML) technologies. This is not the first time that humans have had to adjust to such technological advancements. For example, mechanized automation significantly revolutionized the automobile industry in the early 20th century by increasing the production rates of automobiles. Today, automobiles are still produced by automated systems rather than people, but humans have remained critically involved in their design and assembly.

Also, even though people will no longer be the ones doing the manual labor of screwing in lightbulbs, they will still be involved in designing these robots. This perspective on AI adoption is likely to grow in importance throughout 2022 and even in the years to come.

Conclusion

Irrespective of the type of industry, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented and Virtual Reality, Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, Cloud Computing, 5G technologies, and Digital Twin technology have been identified by industry experts as the key drivers of Industrial Automation.

And with the progression of the Covid-19 pandemic, the increase in the adoption of digital technology in industries is imminent. As a result, 2022 will witness a significant jump in progress toward autonomous operations in the industry, and the key trends discussed in this article are expected to emerge in the process. For more information or to discuss which equipment might be best for your application, please visit our website here, or contact us at sales@pdfsupply.com or 1-919-535-3180. 

This entry was posted on January 19th, 2022 and is filed under Automation, Education, Technology, Uncategorized. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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