Robotics & Automation News

Market trends and business perspectives

SPS at the nexus of IT and OT convergence

There seems to be more interest in the SPS IPC Drives event this year than there was last year. 

It’s noticeable to us here at the website because we have received many more press releases and articles talking about the event.

But there could also be another reason. It’s very likely that the trend of connecting machinery to the internet and computerising production processes is the real reason behind the growing interest in the event. 

The organisers of SPS IPC Drives say that, in 2016, the event attracted almost 64,000 visitors, who had more than 1,600 exhibitors to see.

It remains to be seen what the numbers for 2017 are, since the event starts next Tuesday.

SPS is described as Europe’s leading exhibition for “electric automation”, which could mean automation without computerisation.

However, this year, as with the last few years, “digital transformation” is a much-discussed subject.

Digital transformation is one of the many terms brought about by the over-arching concept that we are now living through the fourth industrial revolution.

For a longer explanation of digitalisation and Industry 4.0, you could read our article, Digital manufacturing: An overview of an increasingly complex scenario.

But to summarise in broad terms, Industry 4.0 and digital transformation refers to the connecting industrial machinery to the internet.

Much of this machinery was not previously connected and although the process has accelerated in the past couple of years, industry could be said to be in a learning phase.

As the organisers of SPS put it: “The topic of Industrie 4.0 is developing from a vision to reality and once again will be a main focus of the exhibition.

“In the age of digital transformation, IT and automation are increasingly merging and this will be reflected at this year’s event as never before.”

It seems that it’s no longer enough to connect machines to electricity supply. It also needs to be connected to the data network, through sensors and internet gateways.

This is why so many companies exhibiting at SPS are promoting their computing solutions – from chips and components to industrial PCs and cloud computing infrastructures.

Many refer to the this as evidence of the merging of operational technology – meaning the machines on the factory floor – and information technology. Or the so-called OT-IT convergence.

It’s inevitable that this OT-IT convergence will happen because the benefits are too great to ignore.

From being able to monitor a machine on a microscopic scale, in terms of its performance data, to managing an entire operation from a macro viewpoint, all manner of new perspectives are opening up for industrial companies.

Recent developments in open standards of data transmission – such as the OPC’s Unified Architecture for industrial interoperability, and the IIC’s Time Sensitive Networking – have made connecting disparate machines, devices and technologies up to one central database if required.

As Christian Hohnen, head of marketing at TKD Kabel, says: “The industrial communication sector, driven by Industrie 4.0, will present among other things the latest innovations in the area of OPC UA and TSN.

“With the help of simple and standardized access to data and devices in the field, concepts such as cloud-based applications or even predictive maintenance are possible.”