2020 CEO Insights: Harry Mulder

Omron Electronics Pty Ltd

Tuesday, 28 January, 2020

2020 CEO Insights: Harry Mulder

What key trends will have an impact on the growth of your industry in 2020?

We see three trends that will significantly impact growth in manufacturing in the coming years. Disruption due to digital transformation will continue full speed ahead, with greater adoption of IIoT to gather analytical data to improve production. Manufacturers are increasingly seeing the value of IIoT, with one IHS Markit report forecasting the total number of connected devices surpassing 302 billion by 2020. It also said many projects did not deliver expected value, indicating there is much unrealised potential within IIoT.

Production itself will be enhanced by greater utilisation of robots. While traditional pick-and-place applications will continue to be serviced by fixed robots, most growth will come from mobile robots and cobots. Mobile robots can transport heavy items, and do so autonomously — where each robot determines its most efficient route within the fleet. But cobots present the most exciting opportunities: they offer similar dexterity as articulated robots but can work beside humans without needing safety barriers. This is because their operational force is limited in such a way that it can detect collisions and stop movement. This groundbreaking technology offers new levels of flexibility in manufacturing.

But IIoT and, to a lesser extent, robotic systems, are only as good as their underlying sensing technology. Sensors are often described as the ‘eyes’ of production, but the demands placed on them has meant many applications have morphed into full-scale vision systems. Vision systems themselves have become faster and substantially more functional, and will no doubt be called upon to delivery ever more data, with greater accuracy.

What are the three biggest challenges facing your industry in 2020?

The continuing economic uncertainty across the globe has meant tighter management of capital investment. This lack of confidence in the immediate future has resulted in many projects being either delayed or postponed. The volatile nature of commodity prices for Australian producers has also tended to undermine the confidence needed for significant investment.

Cybersecurity is an ever-present and ongoing concern. Some of the apprehension to migrate to data-intensive systems can be justified by the high sensitivity of the information being exchanged — if it was ever compromised, considerable damage would result. However, if current technology is implemented properly, then even very sophisticated cyber attacks can be thwarted.

There is still some reluctance in certain sectors to adopt new technologies due to inertia to change from the old way of doing things. Some remain unconvinced about the true value of new technologies or still cannot see their ultimate benefits.

What difficulties has your business faced when implementing advanced manufacturing capabilities?

Two main difficulties faced when implementing advanced manufacturing are a reluctance to invest and the lack of qualified staff, who need to be highly skilled. Coupled with this is the challenge of training staff to adequate levels to be able to handle advanced techniques.

The relatively small domestic market base in Australia presents a limitation because it restricts the economies of scale required for significant investment in advanced manufacturing. This reduces the opportunities for candidates to attain the experience necessary to become proficient in advanced manufacturing, which in turn makes finding qualified staff difficult.

The newness of the technology, as well as its ever-evolving nature, make training problematic. A good example is mobile networking technology — just as 4G has been understood and mastered, 5G emerges and offers game-changing performance. 5G has the power to make TSN (Time Sensitive Networking) over wireless connections a reality, but this also means an entirely different set of standards and totally new infrastructure. This in turn means a completely new skillset must be learnt by engineers in order to maximise the capabilities of the product.

How is your industry preparing for artificial intelligence (AI) developments?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more prevalent and has been implemented in Omron’s standard ICS (Industrial Controllers Systems) platforms, including industrial PCs. These controllers reside on the factory floor and can ‘learn’ from past events and use this knowledge to adjust output accordingly. Because these controllers base their decisions on a wide range of data that’s collated over a long period of time, AI can be more effective than human intelligence.

But AI is also being progressively rolled out as an extension of the analytical tools offered by cloud service providers, like Azure, Amazon and the like. These vendors offer highly advanced AI tools, some of which are state of the art. These tools utilise the data already collected by IoT and while they’re continuing to evolve, they already offer some very exciting opportunities.

The uptake rate of AI has hereto been limited. However, interest and enthusiasm remain high and as the technology and its applications become better understood, it seems certain that the adoption of AI will become more widespread.

Harry Mulder is Marketing Manager for Omron Electronics and has been working with industrial control systems for 30 years. He has seen a great deal of change within the industry during this time but believes the recent developments have been the most exciting.

Image: ©stock.adobe.com/au/ipopba

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