From the Editor's desk: Automation vendors respond to disruption in the market

February 2017 News

Led by a crash in the oil price, the global contraction in commodity demand has forced many of the major automation suppliers to refocus operations in an effort to protect their businesses against the resultant turndown in capital investment. Fortuitously (or was it), a technology disrupt burst onto the scene at almost exactly the same time as the oil price collapsed, which promised improvements in production efficiency the likes of which had never been seen before.

The Industrial Internet of Things paved the way for vendors to extend the value of their traditional hardware and software offerings to compensate for the slowdown in revenues from new project investment. Through the next generation of cloud-based IIoT service offerings, suppliers reacted decisively to a demand from key customers to “get more from the assets that we already own”.

Today, automation suppliers prefer their clients think of them as automation partners for life. Remote monitoring of plant assets coupled with IIoT-enabled analytical services designed to optimise plant performance and maintenance efficiency have become the new drivers of business creation. It is no accident then that many retirement age baby boomers in the manufacturing sector are being snapped up as consultants to the large automation houses; a phenomenon Automation Insider’s Walt Boyes refers to as “the strategic acquisition of knowledgeable grey heads”. A better way to a complete understanding of a customer’s processes simply does not exist – at least not a legal one.

Nick Denbow has done an analysis for us this month that provides some eye-opening insight into the different approaches taken by a few of the better known control system suppliers. Company cultures and personalities differ of course, and different circumstances must be allowed for in different industries, but the common thread is the shift from a supplier of automation equipment (primarily for new projects), to a provider of automation services (over the entire life of a facility). The system platform that brings this all together is the Industrial Internet of Things, with companies differentiating their services based on whether they operate from the edge up (sensor-based) or from the enterprise down (analytics-based). See the article “Control systems vendors see opportunities in cloud-based IIoT data services” for more.

Siemens puts things into an African perspective

Siemens announced the findings of its African Digitalization Maturity Report at a function towards the end of 2016. Designed to determine a digitalisation benchmark across four African countries, namely South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia, as well as the key vertical industries of transport, manufacturing and energy, the report presented some interesting conclusions.

Manufacturing showed the most maturity, but the adoption level of the smart technologies that will accelerate Industry 4.0 (IIoT) remains at a foundation stage. However, awareness of the significance and potential of this technology is high.

In the energy sector, the report noted that without stable electricity it is challenging to do anything digitally. In fact, as we South Africans have learnt firsthand, it is challenging to do anything at all. One hopes therefore that Africa’s utility operators realise that help is at hand. In fact, due to the current level of market evolution, there is now a plethora of automation service providers all ready willing and able to assist with the upkeep of what has become a decidedly creaky infrastructure.

What really gelled for me about the Siemens report though is one of its key recommendations: In an African context, disruptive technology drives development rather than disruption. Will this be the year in which digitalisation makes a meaningful difference in Africa? The full report is available on request from Keshin Govender,

SAIMC celebrates its 60th

Congratulations to the SAIMC which celebrates its 60th birthday this year. Under the current leadership, the organisation has grown from strength to strength over the last few years. Check out the call to action from the president as well as the new commemorative logo in “From the President’s desk”.

Steven Meyer

Editor: SA Instrumentation & Control


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