Top Technology Trends for Manufacturers and Processors in 2020

By Chris Cunnane

Industry Trends

At this year’s 2020 ARC Industry Forum in Orlando, Craig Resnick, Vice President, ARC Advisory Group, spoke to ARC’s Chris Cunnane, Research Director, Supply Chain Management, during the ARC Industry Forum in Orlando last month. The full interview is covered here, and portions of the interview can be seen here and/or on YouTube.


Craig discussed the top technology trends for manufacturers and processors in 2020, and with the accelerating number of new technologies that are constantly being introduced to the market, how he decided what trends should be on the list.  Craig mentioned that ARC is in continuous contact with its end user, OEM, and supplier clients to determine what technologies the market is demanding and more importantly, which technologies are end users and OEMs willing to invest in now.  He mentions that, “In many cases, sometimes we'll talk about technologies that may be a little bit too leading-edge and great to talk about today and plan for tomorrow, but they're not quite ready yet to be installed in the factory floor or plant floor.” An example of that would be Blockchain technology, which is being evaluated and planned for the future by a large number of end users but is currently being deployed primarily in select applications, such as food, beverage, and pharmaceutical manufacturing, that truly benefit from the ability to track and trace the entire ingredient lifecycle, ranging from the raw materials to the finished product.

The trends that Craig chose for 2020 include deploying industrial IoT Edge 2.0 solutions, shifting focus from digitization to digitalization, increasing use of cyber-physical systems, accelerating development of open process automation systems, and applying systems engineering practices to industrial cybersecurity.

Looking back, how did the 2019 top technology trends you chose evolve into a wide number of solutions that are being implemented by industry?

Last year, the trends that Craig Resnick chose were augmented reality for knowledge transfer, virtual reality for training and simulation, deployment of combined cloud/Edge solutions, convergence of IT/OT cybersecurity, and digital twins.  According to Craig Resnick, the answer was a resounding yes to each. “We're seeing, throughout the factory floor, people using augmented reality for maintenance, guiding people step by step as they are servicing and maintaining equipment.  Virtual reality is being used broadly for training and simulation.  The deployment of Edge solutions has taken off, especially in hybrid configurations that leverage data collection and analytics locally at the Edge and sending that data for further analysis and storage in the cloud.  You can’t discuss IT/OT convergence without implementing a corresponding plan that addresses cybersecurity implications and deployment of corresponding cybersecurity solutions.  For digital twins, the ability to simulate a process before you run the process helps to predict what's going to happen ahead of time, so changes can be made to better optimize the process before start-up.    So, I think each of those top technologies from 2019 are having an impact.  We're starting to see them purchased more broadly and certainly, going forward in 2020, you're going to see even further acceleration of all of those 2019 top technologies being purchased and deployed on the plant and factory floor.”

How are industrial IoT Edge 2.0 solutions different from the Edge solutions talked about last year?

Edge solutions discussed by Craig last year focused on delivering timely, clean data to cloud-based applications. Companies rely on the Edge not only for cloud integration, but also as a solution to address manufacturers’ concerns about latency, security, cost containment, and isolation for production environments.

However, according to Craig, IT and OT suppliers alike are introducing new Industrial IoT Edge hardware, software, and solution offerings, which are incorporating more high-value analytics and artificial intelligence delivered via machine learning, allowing data to be processed near its source.  ARC now refers to this as “Industrial IoT Edge 2.0.” It offers important improvements in ease-of-use, self-service, and turnkey operation; while emphasizing business outcomes and application-specific solutions versus pervasive infrastructure.  Moving forward, Industrial IoT Edge 2.0 offerings will place greater emphasis on turnkey solutions that address specific outcome-oriented use cases.  This represents a shift away from a simple “run the operations” mentality to use of real-time data analytics to rethink competitive fundamentals.

What is the difference between digitization and digitalization? 

Craig explained that digitization focuses on technology and infrastructure and involves creating digital versions of previously analog data, such as replacing paper-based work orders with digital work orders and replacing legacy analog field instrumentation and control systems with digital technologies.

Digitalization, in contrast, involves using digital data and technologies to improve business or work processes. For example, utilizing data from a digital work order to improve maintenance work processes and execution, or using digital twins to improve asset information and/or engineering processes. Digitalization can improve the way people work, collaborate, and get things done within a plant, across a company, or across the entire value chain.  Examples would include using digital twins to support engineering, augmented reality for assembly and maintenance, and virtual reality for training and simulation.

What about the other trends cited, the increasing use of cyber-physical systems, accelerating development of open process automation systems, and applying systems engineering practices to industrial cybersecurity?

Craig addressed the increased use of cyber-physical systems in 2020 first, which are the integration between the computational, or virtual world, and the physical, or continuous worlds.  Cyber-physical systems are an engineered system or mechanism controlled or monitored by computer-based algorithms and tightly integrated with both the internet and its users.  In cyber-physical systems, physical and software components are deeply intertwined and get much of their intelligence from the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning.  Factory production lines, process plants for energy and utilities, and smart cities will look at using cyber-physical systems in 2020 for applications that can self-monitor; optimize; and even run infrastructure, transportation, and buildings autonomously.

Craig also cited that new components, standards, and system features will be added and tested in 2020 by the Open Process Automation Forum, an organization that identifies and selects standards for technology and systems designed to support interoperability, avoid technology obsolescence, and deliver added business value. The goal of the development of an open process automation system standard is the creation of a standards-based, open, interoperable, and secure automation architecture that addresses both the technical and commercial challenges of current process automation systems without being closed or proprietary.  The development of a test bed for testing the performance and operation of individual systems, components and standards in 2020 will result in moving ever closer to developing specifications for suppliers to produce commercially available open process automation solutions.

Finally, Craig discussed the trend in 2020 of increasingly applying systems engineering practices to cybersecurity, versus looking at cybersecurity as a one-time project with a defined beginning and end. Asset identification and management, patch management and threat assessment are all parts of a broader response that must continuously address all phases of the cybersecurity lifecycle journey, versus just as a single event.  This system engineering approach begins by identifying principal roles and assigning responsibilities and accountability for each stage of the system lifecycle.  By addressing this, the well-established systems engineering discipline can provide effective tools and methods to help define, plan, and conduct an ongoing cybersecurity response.

Concluding the interview, Chris Cunnane asked Craig about other potentially transformative technology trends and approaches that ARC is following right now.   Craig cited smart vision systems and video analytics; additive manufacturing moving into production environments; the impact of emerging 5G networks on industry, infrastructure, and smart cities; the containerization of apps; and lifecycle management/optimization for connected assets, among others. 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 in 2020 and beyond.

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