Carrie Lee is product manager—controller at Omron Automation.
What have been the biggest improvements to machine-controls technology in the past five years?
Carrie Lee, product manager—controllers, Omron Automation: The biggest improvement or change in machine controls is the efficiency and amount of data collected. Information has always existed in machines and devices on the plant floor. Advances in data analytics and increased data-storage capabilities—for example, cloud storage—have accelerated data gathering from automation devices. The challenge has been to get the right data collected securely and accurately, so that decisions can be made and actions taken based on that data.
What’s the most innovative or efficient machine-controls technology application you’ve ever seen or been involved with?
Carrie Lee, product manager—controllers, Omron Automation: The most innovative machine-controls technology I’ve been involved in is the AI controller. Customers are able to take advantage of high-quality, accurate data combined with artificial-intelligence algorithms within the same controller used for machine control. This allows users to deploy a solution that will not only control a machine, but also detect an anomaly in the system and go into a pre-programmed automatic run mode that will protect the product, process or equipment.
How has machine-controls technology benefitted from remote monitoring and connectivity?
Carrie Lee, product manager—controllers, Omron Automation: Remote monitoring and connectivity have improved machine controls technology in many ways. One way is that they have made engineers and operators more efficient as they can understand what’s happening on the plant floor without the need to travel onsite. Increased connectivity makes it easier to gather data and incorporate into other business systems as well.
Can you explain how software development has changed machine controls in discrete manufacturing?
Carrie Lee, product manager—controllers, Omron Automation: The biggest software development to change machine controls in discrete manufacturing has been the improvement and evolution of simulation capabilities. With increased remote work, developers don’t always have the opportunity to test out code on a physical machine. The ability to simulate and test logic and then tie it to a 3D CAD model of the machine to visualize the physical movements and interactions greatly reduces controls engineering development time (Figure 1).
When will machine controls become IT-friendly enough that engineers are no longer required for installation and operation?
Carrie Lee, product manager—controllers, Omron Automation: I don’t see a time when engineers are not needed. Omron’s approach has been to create tools and simplify connectivity to the IT world, so that it’s easy for engineers to get data to other groups such as IT. Examples of this would be embedded structured-query-language (SQL) client and transport-layer-security (TLS) services in controllers. This functionality combined with premade function blocks allow controls engineers to put data into IT formats using tools and a software environment they are used to without the need to become IT experts.
What future innovations will impact the use of machine-controls technology in discrete-manufacturing operations?
Carrie Lee, product manager—controllers, Omron Automation: The trend of IT/OT convergence will continue to impact machine-controls technology. Communication and data sharing will be critical. In addition, as labor shortages continue, everyone from engineers to operators are tasked to do more with less. A solution to this problem is full integration—one software to learn, one program to manage, one interface to troubleshoot. Increased technology integration from vision systems to robotics will be critical for machine controls in the future.