This year’s “Key Technology Trends” report was again strongly influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a year where markets did not typically suffer from demand problems but were often impacted by supply problems. This drastically shifted the need for industrial companies to respond instantly to any supply chain issues and become more agile and flexible, sometimes needing to redesign their products and manufacturing work processes in real-time. The result of this will create demand for technologies that ARC feels will grow more mainstream in 2022 and beyond, helping industrial companies increase their business and operational resilience as well as their sustainability.
Digital transformation is expediting the ability for physical and organizational boundaries to be broken to engage a real-time workforce, connect teams, and drive collaboration. This is driving demand for key technologies to better monitor, control, and protect against failures, ensure product fulfillment and high productivity, protect and upskill personnel, and do all this while leveraging enhanced cybersecurity architectures. To meet these imperatives, industrial companies must continue to accelerate their digital transformation and deploy these key technologies, leveraging a common digital thread from engineering to operations that enables these key technologies to improve agility, reliability, and efficiency.
In last year’s Key Technology Trends report, we focused on trends that include technology convergence morphing into technology fusion; operational resilience becoming a key objective; remote operations becoming the new normal; automated operations becoming autonomous operations, and edge computing platforms becoming edge automation platforms; all of which are poised to either enter the mainstream or – if already there – to continue to gain acceptance. All relate to the overall digital transformation of industry, infrastructure, and today’s increasingly smart cities and municipalities. For this year, in no order, here are some of the key technologies that ARC Advisory Group believes will increase in importance over the next twelve months or so. While far from a complete list, the technologies discussed in this report will almost certainly make an impact on industry, infrastructure, and municipalities in 2022, building upon the demands created for companies to thrive in a world where the only certainty is uncertainty.
Meta-Machine Interface, the Convergence of HMI with AR/VR
To leverage data gained through digital transformation, industrial companies must address the methods they use to deliver and consume information. The HMI visualization hardware and software used in many industrial applications are well suited for many tasks. However, within a connected digital enterprise, additional visualization tools will be needed to accommodate the special requirements of all roles, especially the remote worker. Augmented reality (AR), which is often used for maintenance applications today; and virtual reality (VR), which is often used for training and simulation applications today, offer unique capabilities that can address many of these requirements for engineers, operators, and technicians.
To realize the full potential of visualization to support digital transformation in industry in the future, AR and VR should begin to be integrated with HMI Software and become part of the Meta-visualization experience. When packaged with IIoT and analytics, Meta-visualization tools will offer the potential to provide users with immersive experiences, real-time contextualized data, and role-related information to help users execute their daily tasks quickly, accurately, and effectively. Within the connected digital enterprise, Meta-visualization can enhance the user experience, support innovation, and transform the customer interaction model to help improve the way companies design, manufacture, operate, maintain, and service their products and assets. The future success of such Meta-visualization platforms will rely on integration with other enterprise software, such as product lifecycle management (PLM), manufacturing execution systems (MES), and field service management (FSM). Any Meta-visualization initiative must function horizontally across these and other business groups to provide and manage tailored applications for the roles within them.
In 2022, look for the introduction of innovative solutions where these visualization technologies will start to move into a single offering, beginning with HMI Software and AR on fixed, mobile, and wearable hardware.
Real-Time Smart Supply Chain Solutions
Manufacturers and their supply chain managers face further risk and operational disruption as they strive to minimize their reliance upon global partners. Thanks to many industrial company’s inabilities to deliver products in high demand, it is becoming increasingly critical that digital transformation becomes a top priority for supply chains as well as manufacturing operations in order for a business to be competitive and operationally resilient. The pandemic further exposed global supply chain weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Industrial companies are realizing that traditional supply chain solutions are inadequate to compete today, and there is a real need to shift to more adaptable, agile, and intelligent supply chain tools that are fully digitally enabled.
This trend has been a major factor in the rising demand for real-time smart supply chain solutions that are not only connected to raw material and component manufacturers, but also are part of a digital thread that connects to PLM and digital twins so industrial companies can make product design and manufacturing workflow changes if alternative material and components are sourced. These real-time smart supply chain solutions are also based on predictive analytics that can also allow for on-demand manufacturing and tighter collaboration with supply chain partners.
In 2022 and beyond, look for the deployment of real-time smart supply chain solutions as it is becoming more crucial than ever that these technologies are in place to optimize efficiency and visibility and meet the requirements of manufacturing, logistics, and warehousing that is needed to remain globally competitive.
AIoT Solutions, The Convergence of Artificial Intelligence and IIoT
Industrial companies are looking for better ways to connect their workforce to decision tools and digitally enhance or augment work and business processes. These companies are looking to make better use of industrial data already collected and help persons make better decisions that improve business performance. ARC sees this dynamic across all aspects of manufacturing, from design engineering to operations and maintenance to supply chain and human resources. The foundation of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is the ability to collect massive quantities of data at high frequency and make these integrated datasets mobile and accessible across the organization for strategic decision-making. However, industrial manufacturing has not typically built organizational competency in data science, which incorporates artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). While engineering roles are skilled in analyzing large amounts of data, setting up and creating production-grade AI and ML environments is not easily accomplished.
The confluence of AI and Industrial IoT technological forces gives rise to a new digital solution category, the Artificial Intelligence of Things (AIoT), that centers on unlocking the untapped business value in industrial data. This category describes the combination of AI technologies with the Industrial IoT to enable the next generation of Industrial AI infrastructure, allowing organizations to enable seamless human-machine workflows, harmonize industrial data management, and rapidly transform raw data into tangible business outcomes. AIoT brings intelligence from the edge to the cloud in industrial environments, transforming the data into useful information for an improved decision-making process, with processing done in a location where it is most needed. AIoT is the democratization of AI and ML in the industrial domain by converging data science with IT providing software at scale and OT domain expertise.
In 2022, look for the growth of fit-for-purpose, cloud-ready AIoT solutions that provide the integrated data management, edge and cloud infrastructure, and production-grade AI environment to build, deploy and host industrial AI applications at enterprise speed and scale.
Smart Safety Solutions That Increase Productivity and Resilience
Digital transformation requires industrial companies to obtain much more production and machine information, which means that more industrial components need to have the ability to collect production operations or machine data, process that data into meaningful information, and send that information to the edge, to a control system, to a cloud, or some combination of those options. This has led to the development of smart solutions that have these built-in capabilities to help production lines and machines to be more productive and information-enabled to increase production efficiencies and decrease unscheduled downtime. At the same time, safety continues to increase its importance, helping to protect workers from injuries or potentially life-threatening situations.
Integrating safety to leverage the full capabilities and benefits of smart devices, such as gathering and processing data in real-time at or close to point that the data is gathered, but still able to leverage all safety functionality, represents a convergence of the two technologies. This is leading to the deployment of a number of new smart safety solutions, which are now also an essential component of an industrial company’s operational resilience strategy. Smart safety devices provide great benefits to persons who install, program, operate, and service the automation equipment, as well as the manufacturing assets themselves. So, this not only makes these assets safer to operate, but also provides valuable insight as to what is occurring, since the smart devices are designed to gather key data that can be analyzed and leveraged to make the overall production process safer, more efficient, productive, and profitable.
In 2022, look for the broad roll-out and adoption of devices designed to be both safe and smart, ranging from input devices, interlock switches, relays, PLCs/PACs, I/O, actuators, contactors, AC drives, and motion controllers.
Virtual Commissioning Converging with Digital Twin
Advanced simulation tools allow for products, production systems, machines, and work cells to be simulated virtually to test and validate physical systems prior to assembly and installation. Moreover, the virtual commissioning (VC) of production automation, an established technology and process, is merging with the more expansive scope of the digital twin. VC is typically a one-time validation of an automated production system. In contrast, the digital twin represents an ongoing analytical and optimizing process that takes place in real-time. Today, ARC is seeing the convergence of established VC technology with the more recent emergence of the concept and implementation of the digital twin across industries. While VC represents the simulation and modeling of machines and production systems to virtually validate the system and the controls that automate it, the concept of the digital twin is broader in scope and involves capturing sensor data from physical machines and systems in operation and using that data to create simulations in real time.
VC is the initial step in bringing a production system to operation and is a part of the overall digital twin process. Because of its real-time characteristics, a digital twin can simulate a system while it is operational. This allows manufacturers to monitor the system, create models for adjustments, and make changes to the system. Advanced virtual simulation applications offered today enable users of digital twin systems to optimize production systems and assets in the field in real-time. Additionally, simulations of physical products and assets allow for design improvements by product engineers.
In 2022, look for additional smart manufacturing solutions that leverage both VC and digital twin technologies converging together to be deployed that better simulate, predict, optimize, and maintain products, assets, and production systems.
Other Trends to Watch
Other potentially transformative technology trends and approaches that ARC Advisory Group is following right now include, among others, smart vision systems and video analytics; additive manufacturing becoming more mainstream in production environments; the growing deployment of 5G networks in industry, infrastructure, and smart cities; the containerization of apps; and lifecycle management/optimization for connected assets. ARC Advisory Group will continue to research and evaluate these latest technologies and approaches and looks forward to witnessing their impact on the digital transformation of industry, infrastructure, and smart cities.
To learn more about upcoming trends, please consider attending the Annual ARC Industry Forum.