As many eagerly await Keanu Reeves’ return as Neo in the upcoming “The Matrix: Resurrections,” fan discussions have exploded with theories about whether the original Terminator series had any influence on the franchise. My thoughts, however, rushed in a completely different direction. The dystopian future created by these great cinematic minds – an evil combination of AI and machines taking over humanity – could never be possible in the siled reality of industrial automation we have today. Pure and simple, we are not even close.
The view of machines plotting, collaborating and moving with ease is still the opposite of what reality has to offer. When it comes to industrial automation, industry and manufacturing in general, these areas are hampered by vendor lockdowns, merged software, and incompatible hardware. Interoperability is a distant dream as organizations are forced to align with a single vendor and compromise on the best industry solutions to serve their customers.
Valuable data becomes disparate and difficult to access and analyze at high speed. Collaboration between best industry solutions or easy real-time upgrades is anything but science fiction. Talented engineers waste precious time reprogramming where it can be automated. Efficiency is compromised and profits are minimized as a result.
And while the winning supplier takes it all, it is not the industry or the end customer that benefits. The situation is far from sustainable, in every sense of the word. Customer experience – which should be the goal of every vendor or any market-driven organization for that matter – inevitably takes a hit.
A revolution in industrial automation
Yet change is in the air. Quite recently, a group of industrial players have started a movement. Organizations like Shell and Intel, alongside academia and several industry pioneers (full disclosure: including Schneider Electric), have joined forces to form UniversalAutomation.Org. It works to recreate for industrial players what we take for granted in our daily lives, such as the ability to use any PC or smartphone with any application or software.
An independent, non-profit association, it aims to create a fully vendor-independent ecosystem for automation software that can run on any hardware. This means that organizations would no longer be limited to a single vendor, could get the best tools for each individual task, and have a fully integrated technology ecosystem that works seamlessly.
Not only will this new industry standard for interoperability have a positive effect on efficiency, but it will lead to new ways of working and a better digital experience. By enabling the best systems to communicate and fully exploit all data, it becomes possible to identify areas where organizations can save energy, minimize waste and increase profits.
UniversalAutomation.org aims to disrupt the market, but it also seeks to unite the industry around a common and universally acceptable industrial automation standard. The end goal is similar to what the Connectivity Standards Alliance aims to achieve with the introduction of Matter into the smart home space. This makes the IoT more accessible, secure and usable by everyone, thus expanding the market for all players. The interoperability of solutions and mass market adoption are at the heart of the vision of both organizations. The key point is that by agreeing on a universal standard – the lingua franca – for industrial or intelligent home automation, respectively, the whole market benefits.
Red pill or blue pill?
However, there is another reason to standardize approaches to technology, whether at home or in a factory. It goes beyond ending the “wars” of territorial vendors. Like the Matrix and Terminator showcase, once the technology is adopted on a large scale, it reaches a tipping point, after which barriers to adoption become virtually non-existent. Then the technology builds on itself and creates a new reality.
We’ve seen it with the World Wide Web and the emergence of e-commerce and the shared economy – it wouldn’t have been possible without this large-scale buy-in from the entire industry. Universal automation is the next area that promises a similar transformation for the industry and is open to everyone. Those who do not join the revolution risk being left behind.
Manufacturers, equipment manufacturers and sellers must now make a choice. Are they taking the red pill? Join the movement and fully embrace a future of intelligent industrial automation, and evolve into a more efficient and sustainable future. Or are they taking the blue pill? Stick to one vendor, continue to be hampered by inefficient tools and incompatible systems, and prolong the agony of an industry ripe for disruption?
Industrial interoperability will create countless new opportunities for the digital economy, for businesses large and small, leading us towards a net zero utopian future, rather than a dystopian future. This is certainly the promise of universal automation if it were to become large-scale and reach its inevitable tipping point. The question inspired by franchises on the big screen remains: how many will join the “resistance”?