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Industrial automation market is `at a crossroads`

15 November, 2011

The industrial automation (IA) sector is at a crossroads, suggests the market analyst Frost & Sullivan in a new report, which predicts that European automation and control systems (ACS) market could be worth €6.45bn by 2017. It says that ACS product portfolios are nearing saturation and that distinctions between ACS products are narrowing – in particular, between programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and distributed control systems (DCSs).

“Vendors have emerged with hybrid products that combine PLC and DCS functionality as a means to counter high competition and to gain end-user recognition,” explains Frost & Sullivan senior research analyst, Karthik Sundaram. “Despite economic advantages, the emergence of such products has clouded end-users’ perceptions to a large extent, and it remains to be seen whether this technical strategy will yield expected results.”

At present, a company’s product portfolio is its most influential factor in the market, followed closely by service support and cost considerations. However, this is set to change, Sundaram argues.

“In the coming years, the emphasis on the IA product portfolio is likely to diminish,” he says. “In contrast, the need for globalised service support, coupled with cost factors, is expected to gain significant momentum.” This will give IA vendors “challenging opportunities for growth and excellence”.

Frost & Sullivan identifies five “megatrends” that will shape the factory of the future – cyber-security, mobile and wireless technologies, enterprise ecosystems, cloud computing and sustainability.

For instance, in future factories personnel will not be confined to workstations in control rooms. The advent of tablets and mobile platforms will allow them to track production, perform maintenance and monitor processes, while on the move.

The adoption of secure cloud computing will allow factories to access strategic data from the Internet to execute real-time decisions and enhance operational efficiency.

“In essence, future factories will have secure wireless networks supporting a highly automated production process, seamlessly interlinked with enterprise software working through the cloud,” Sundaram suggests. “A high-end factory will also involve collaborative manufacturing promoting operational excellence and aiding sustainability.”

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