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  1. Engineering Scholarship (AST-CCs ) essay by Emmanuel Nwokocha currently studying Electronic and Electrical Engineering at Obafemi Awolowo University.

Engineering Scholarship Essay "The Future of Industrial Automation Technology"

connected future industrial automation
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Let’s talk a bit about the new and future trends in industrial automation technology shall we? But before we do that, I think it’s important that we first explain what industrial automation is, and what it’s all about.

What is Industrial Automation?

Industrial automation is a set of technologies that uses control systems and devices that includes software and hardware such as: computer software and robotics to enable automatic operation of industrial processes and machinery. It generally encompasses: Information processing, measurement, manipulation and control of industrial processes according to an expected aim in machine equipment or production process without direct manual intervention. That is, requiring minimal human intervention.

industrial automation heirarchy

What are the various Industrial Automation components?

The components that make up the industrial automation system include, but are not limited to:

A) PLCs (Programmable Logic Controllers): This is a rugged industrial computer, designed for the control of manufacturing processes. They can act as standalone units that continuously monitors and automates processes. They can also be networked to control an entire plant. It could be of a compact or a modular design, consisting of three (3) major parts:

  1. i.  Power Supply Units
  2. ii. CPU or Processor
  3. iii. Input and Output Modules

It operates by continuously monitoring the inputs, and updating the outputs as a result of some set logic.

B) HMI (Human Machine Interface): A software application that enables interaction and communication between a human operator and a machine or production system. It translates complex machine data, into accessible information, enabling better control of the production process and its various application.

C) SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition): SCADA systems control and monitors industrial processes. The system acquires and processes real time data, with direct interaction with devices such as sensors and controllers and records event into a log file. This data is often important for data analysis and it enables effective decision making for process optimization in industrial processes. Functions of SCADA includes :

  1. i.   Data Acquisition
  2. ii.  Data Communication
  3. iii. Information and Data Presentation
  4. iv. Monitoring and Control


D) Robotics: Robots help to efficiently perform tasks in complicated or dangerous situations, improve production flow and quality and Increase employee safety.

E) DCS (Distributed Control Systems): Just as the PLC, the DCS is also an industrial controller. But it differs from the PLC in that it is used in a more geographically spread out plant. It has remote I/O modules that can be spread in different locations and often has its own HMI built in.

What are the benefits of Industrial Automation?

The benefits of Industrial Automation includes:

  1. I. Increase in productivity.
  2. II. Reduces or eliminates the possibility of human error.
  3. IIII. Reduces cost through energy savings, material consumption, and labor costs.
  4. IV. Saves time. V. Helps to achieve higher performance and production rate.
  5. VI. Improved reliability and safety.


Now that we have covered the basics of industrial automation, we can now move into what the future of industrial automation is.

industrial evolution


What is the future of Industrial Automation?  

The future of industrial automation (Smart Automation) is a complete restructuring of production processes; transforming analog and centralized work flow into a digital decentralized, hyper connected production process. It is an intelligent connected control system that modernizes automation. And its foundation is:

  1. I. Digitalization
  2. II. Networking
  3. III. Integration


Industrial automation in the era of Intelligence, transforms centralized control into decentralized enhanced control and this can only be achieved through a seamless integration of Information technology (I.T) systems, with operations technology (O.T) systems. Networking across manufacturing and industrial automation system, will be the primary foundation factor of future industrial automation.

What are the components and features of the future Industrial Automation system?

The new trend and future automation will include:

A) Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT): communication between machine to machine (M2M), people to people (P2P), people to machines (P2M), through the use of smart networked sensors will play a vital part in the future of automation. This would enable machines communicate with each other and will better improve the interactions between operators and machines. Shared data can be used to provide a feedback system that improves processes.

B) Advanced Analytics: Information they say, is power. The future automation will require advanced analytic solutions that mine both structured and unstructured data, gaining insights and pulling intelligence out of production system data. One of the greatest strength we could have on any production floor is improved situational awareness. And advance analytics, is one way to attain this.

Advanced analytics goes beyond simple data analysis. It involves four (4) major categories:

  1. i. Descriptive Analytics: where we try to understand from given data, what has happened (simple data analysis falls into this category)
  2. ii. Diagnostic Analytics: where we try to understand why an occurrence happened. Here we apply concepts like root-cause-analysis.
  3. iii. Predictive Analytics: here we try to understand what could happen next. We apply the power in machine learning-more on this in the next section, to try and predict future occurrence.
  4. iv. Prescriptive Analytics: here we try to understand how we can attain a desired state, by taking specific actions.


C) Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning: A.I is the ability to give computers and devices cognitive abilities. That is, giving computers the ability to do things that would normally require human intelligence. Machine learning on the other hand, is a branch of A.I that seeks to “learn” from good quality data, patterns and trends in the data to enable it make predictions without explicitly being programmed to do so. With this incorporated into industrial automation systems, data gotten from sensors and controllers could be harnessed and could be used to make equipment and machines more intelligent through self-diagnosis, self-correction and predictive capabilities. This can better prevent system down-time and improve asset management. Machine learning also promises solutions such as: preventive maintenance, automated quality check and anomaly detection.

D) Mobile Technology and Virtualization:

i. Mobile Technology: This will make process management and automation in the future more flexible. With the access to production and process data on-the-go through tablets and or mobile devices, operators and factory managers can communicate with production systems and operators on the move anytime and anywhere.

ii. Virtualization: Digital twin technology will be of great use in the future of industrial automation. This is a process of having a digital replica of the entire plant or production floor with the help of advanced modeling systems. This helps in improved design and optimization of industrial control systems. Entire production lines can be virtualized from start to finish, top to bottom. Allowing management and machine operators to make smart decisions that yield higher quality outputs.

E) Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR):

Augmented reality (AR) is the technology that gives us the ability to superimpose computer generated images into our physical reality. This can and will act as the future of HMI. With technologies like smart wearable devices, operators can carry their HMI everywhere they go. Which is a step higher than the mobile HMIs. With this, real-time data can be converted into a graphical process representation and operators can literally see what is going on with their own eyes.

Virtual reality (VR) is the technology that gives us the ability to be immersed into a full computer generated reality. This could come in handy for advanced process simulation and training of technical operators, which can save a lot of cost that would been incurred for training technical operators with real life equipment.

F) A Unified Architecture:

The future of Industrial Automation would require interoperability between machines and devices irrespective of the OEM that manufactured it. These devices would need to collaborate, communicate and share data in order to work efficiently together. For optimal operations, it would be necessary to seamlessly integrate various equipment from various OEMs into a coordinated integrated system. So a unified control and communication platform and standard (like the OPC UA) will be a great requirement in the industrial automation of the future.

G) Vertical and Horizontal Integration:

The levels of the industrial automation hierarchy includes:

  1. i.   Level 1 (Field level) – This includes devices such as: sensors, transmitters and actuators
  2. ii.  Level 2 ( Control level) – This includes the various industrial controllers such as: PLCs, DCS
  3. iii. Level 3 (Supervision and Production control level) – This Includes: SCADA systems, MES
  4. iv. Level 4 (Enterprise and Information Management level) – This includes: ERP, PLM, SCM systems


Horizontal Integration: In the automation technology of the future, the control, sensing and low voltage distribution systems like those in Level 1 and level 2 of the automation hierarchy, will be deeply integrated to form a unified platform for automation. Providing scalable equipment control in a single programming environment. Open control platforms ensures easy integration with various equipment from various OEMs.

Vertical Integration: The future of automation would require a vertical integration of the automation system. Where lower level field devices, control layer devices and upper enterprise management systems are all integrated. It will become imperative to combine all the data from the plant operating system with the information from business applications to create improved operational intelligence.

What are the requirements for the future Industrial Automation System?

In summary, the future automation system would require:

  1. i. Modularity.
  2. ii. Interoperability.
  3. iii. Decentralization of control.
  4. iv. Virtualization.
  5. v. Advanced safety systems.

What are the benefits of the future Industrial Automation technology?

The benefits of the smarter industrial automation systems include:

  1. i. Improved productivity.
  2. ii. Enhanced customization for a more flexible manufacturing.
  3. iii. Access to data across production floor and supply chain for better and informed decision making.
  4. iv. Improved quality of output yields.
  5. v. Shortened production life-cycle.


Emmanuel Nwokocha

 About the Author:

 Emmanuel Nwokocha, a recent winner of the Automation Specialist Training Certificate Courses Scholarship (AST-CCs ), attends the Obafemi Awolowo University studying Electronic and Electrical Engineering.