The Future of Automation


Thread Starter

Bob Pawley


I was struck by three of your comments from a couple of recent posts -

"However, at least 80% of IMC design work at this level is grunt stuff - preparing wiring schedules, associated loop drawings, etc, as well as entering scads of info into data bases. It's a matter of drawing the line so they get a good idea of what the work involves (warts and all) as well as spend their time as productively as possible learning useful skills."

You are working with information. Developing and distributing one piece of information at a time. This volume of work is necessary because automation is still in the Information Age of the Digital Age. The good news is - a new Age is coming. An Age in which you will develop the most basic information then turn this information into knowledge. The project design you end up with will be a succession of knowledge blocks representing loops, processes, plants and the project as a whole. This project knowledge will be self-organizing and for the most part self-developing. This second phase of the Digital Age may well be known as the Knowledge Age.

"So they start off with a P&I D and learn how to interpret that, prepare spec sheets for various instruments, size orifice plates and control valves, etc. Then they end up deciding how to implement the controls, preparing writing drawings for a PLC, and writing chunks of PLC code".

Your teaching approach will also change. The basics still need to be learned by your students, but how they process the information and how they apply it, this learning will undergo change similar to the learning transition in mathematics that took place in the 90s. Calculators, as soon as they were allowed in classrooms, freed the student (and others)from the repetitive drudgery of simple arithmetic. In much the same manner, the Knowledge Age will free students and designers to design, learn and work in new business opportunities that require the higher level skills that now make up only 20% of your work..

"Sensors - tag, descriptor, brief specifications Actuators - tag, descriptor, brief specifications ( These should be scheduled so that they can be expanded into eg a PLC I/O map with minimum rework. Also keep associated elements together so that the correctness of relationships can be verified - so a conveyor speed measured by tacho, involving raw speed, tacho speed, and final indication/switching point are all adjacent)"

This is more "grunt stuff" that will, in the future, be developed, organized and structured - automatically, with little or no human input. If you are interested in discussing this further please let me know off line.

There is great change coming to our industry. A change for which we are certainly in need.

The business of designing automation systems has not changed since its inception in 1947.

The computer revolution brought the drafting board into the virtual world where copying, changing and transferring information was made somewhat easier. But the business of producing drawings and documents, manually transferring design information to the control system and redrafting each and every drawing and document for each and every change to the project data base - remains to this day.

Companies have spent years and many millions of dollars attempting to decrease the manual cost component of automation design and implementation. Vast resources have been spent trying to make our drawing based design system better. The results have been marginal.

We need to take the next step. A step that -
- Greatly eases the design burden.
- Vastly diminishes the project time to market.
- Increases design accuracy from the accepted 95% to 100%.
- Fuses the design, implementation, control and business sides of the
- Holds the promise of new and exciting business opportunities.
- Allows transparent and unfettered access to all project information.

The next step, within the Digital Age, will change our old views of information development and distribution. The next step will revolutionize the business of automation design and how we implement that design. Twenty years after the introduction of computer aided design, the time and technical conditions are now ripe for this next step.

Bob Pawley
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