The first step in automating machining systems was the introduction of computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tools. The primary function of CNC is to automatically execute a sequence of multiaxis motions according to a part geometry.
Realizing the value from automation systems and technologies is a much broader subject than may initially be perceived. Automation is an enabler for performance improvements in efficiency, safety, environmental integrity, and profitability. It may appear as though most industrial companies have already capitalized on the available automation technologies to the greatest extent possible. This is simply not the case.
There are many barriers to getting the full value from automation, including embedded business processes, too much technology focus, and existing cultural mindsets. Breaking down each of the barriers is a daunting challenge. The solution to breaking down each of these barriers involves significant changes to the status quo. Most people dislike change and avoid it like the plague. Change is painful. With industrial automation, the key to getting started is simple: measuring and visualizing the value enabled by the automation solutions in real time. A financially based real-time decision support system makes the pain of staying the same and the benefit of changing clearly visible. Once they become visible the motivation to change will increase significantly.
The good news is that making the value enabled by automation solutions visible across the organization creates a common language between management and plant personnel as to what “good” consists of. Engineers can talk about the goodness of a well-tuned control loop. Operations can talk about the goodness of the small number of alarms in the operation. Maintenance can talk about the goodness of the high uptime of the plant assets. None of these has a direct point of connection with the executives of the business. Executives need the goodness of increased profitability across their operations. A consistent, contextualized, financially-based, real-time decision support system provides a common definition of “good” across the operation. With that common definition, every person in the operation should be working to the same objectives, underpinned and enabled by real-time automation and technologies.
This is by no means meant to demean the value of specific automation technologies and tools that have been developed over the past decades. There are many automation technologies and tools available across industry that can yield significant business benefits for the operations, but if those benefits are not clearly measured and made visible in financial terms, they will continue to be underappreciated at best.