I believe we might have a new player in our space. Well, not really new, but the face is different. And it might be a bit angry.
Microsoft's Windows 8 platform has failed miserably. They have shaken up the division to be more agile and to become more competitive in the ever-changing marketplace of data access and mobility.
Let's take inventory. Most applications use Windows-based platforms and data structures like SQL. Most floor-based stuff is Wintel. Any server-based stuff is typically Microsoft. There's wide acceptance of OPC-based communication drivers for interconnecting devices from all vendors. There's OPC connectivity for IEC-61131 projects, and building and home automation. You can create your own driver for your fridge.
The only wall of protection with most PLCs is the firmware that compiles or interprets the actual code in the PLC. That's no accident.
Industrial software always has been very expensive. Hardware was, too. But hardware costs came down big time, and it became commodity-like. We still need software though. Those pesky support agreements, too.
Revenue streams are becoming harder for all of us to find and maintain. That won't change. Manufacturing is stagnant if not still declining in parts of North America. The global market is in the same boat. We don't need all the widgets that are made, and we don't have enough people with any money to buy them. So, expensive support agreements might be the first to fall.
The biggest area of vulnerability is HMI/SCADA. We don't need the Wonderware's and RSView's anymore. We don't need or want to pay for machine licenses, or by the number of screens. In fact, we have become the children of the net. We don't want to pay for anything.
We will have that chance, I believe. We've given the world the opportunity to take our software market. We use commercially available standards and hardware. We use software platforms and interfaces that everyone uses. We promote the concept of putting it all online using web browsers to get at the data.
I believe strongly that due to security and a lack of specific controls at the IT level that are intrinsic to industrial software, the bigger boys like Microsoft, maybe Google and others, could come calling. They don't have to interface with anyone anymore because we've given them the key to the office.
We said it wouldn't matter because our industry is a comparatively small market for them to care. That is and will change due to the struggles that all companies are having with revenue streams. Heck, even I can create an HMI package or SCADA package using Java, VB.NET, Visual C# and distribute it on Cnet at no charge. Just because I could didn't mean I would.
Inductive Automation has done just that. A single machine interface is a no charge item. It includes the OPC server as well. It can run on Linux, so costs are reduced dramatically.
pvBrowser is a GNU project which provides a free platform for SCADA. While it might not be as flashy as some mainstream products, it isn't an example of "you get what you pay for."
The recurring revenue model is making a comeback. Some companies' longevity depends on it. I talked to a few machine builders about recurring revenue models that could include gathering performance data so you can plan or schedule predictive maintenance, or provide a valuable service to their client by monitoring their machines tolerances so their production doesn't experience unscheduled downtime. I was met with a blank stare. We sell machines. End of story. Sorry, I thought you ran a business. I must be mistaken.
Opto 22, for one, gets the definite-purpose thing. Their new groov box requires the hardware to develop anything. It needs its own hardware to work, so one wonders a bit about the concept.
I still believe that PC-based control was shunned by the "rent-collectors" of our industry. They couldn't have their PLCs replaced by commercially available hardware. Proprietary is the only way to go, they tell us, but they've been pulled kicking and screaming into this land called
This is Microsoft's new focus: operating systems, applications, cloud computing and devices. Ring any bells?
We've opened the door to any and all participants. After all, most of our stuff isn't rocket science. Not to worry, there will be an app for that.