AI and data science will lead the next Industrial Revolution


By Makarand Mujumdar
Friday, 19 April, 2024

AI and data science will lead the next Industrial Revolution

My firsthand experience with process control and instrumentation dates back to when we were transitioning from pneumatics to a more compact and robust solid-state electronics. Later, chipsets were added to the field instruments that made them smarter. Due to this, smart instruments and valves in the process area began having communication over the loop wiring for remote configurations and diagnostics. These smart instruments could perform some mathematics, and some were even capable of performing multivariable measurements.

In the control room, large panels of pneumatic controllers were being replaced by the electronic and microprocessor-based single loop controllers and recorders. These new instruments could be fitted in the same space as that of pneumatic instruments, making transition somewhat simpler. Very soon smart features such as auto tuning of the control loop and fuzzy logic were added to microprocessor-based controllers, making them smarter.

At that time, electronic mimic panels provided process health and alarm information to the control room operators from a distance.

This journey from pneumatic to smart electronics provided better process control with increased throughput and reduced maintenance. This third industrial revolution saw the introduction of PLCs for discrete control while distributed control systems were adopted in continuous process control. Both DCS and PLCs introduced computers and software-based control, shrinking control rooms and introducing advanced process control.

Advanced microprocessor and computer-based technology helped R&D labs and scientists to get better analytical instruments. Operator and process training simulators were introduced, helping to improve product quality and operator efficiency. Software simulation helped labs and design companies significantly in achieving their goals.

Industrial automation has changed significantly in the 21st century. Extensive use of communication technology, industrial networking and the use of commercial computers saw us entering the fourth industrial revolution, popularly known as Industry 4.0. Greater communication now brought issues of cybersecurity into play for operational technology (OT) as well as IT. We saw the overall process control and instrumentation field maturing further. Wireless instruments and remote monitoring helped with pervasive sensing. Now it was not just the scientists in R&D labs and design companies who were involved in process modelling, pattern recognition and simulations — operations and maintenance staff on the shop floor are now leveraging analytics and prediction.

In recent times, COVID-19 has turned out to be the big disrupter and has changed human behaviour globally. Vaccine discovery and rollout is a true example of global collaboration. Remote working for design work, software development and delivery is the new normal in our lives, while logistics and the supply chain have seen the biggest changes. Virtualisation, cloud computing and edge computing will see the industrial footprint shrink further.

Are we there already? Or is AI just another buzzword that will soon pass?

I don’t think so. One thing is clear: we are generating more data than ever before. The World Economic Forum says that industry is generating 130 ZB of data every year. This is expected to double every year, but IBM Smart Factory estimates indicate that we are able to use only 1% of the data.

We can safely say that we are now moving into the era of Industry 5.0 with digitalisation, ML, AI and robotics to make use of all this data and make our lives safer, more sustainable and smarter: moving beyond efficiency and productivity as the sole objectives.

*Makarand Mujumdar (Mak) is an Electrical Engineer and has a postgraduate diploma in Sustainable Energy from RMIT University. He has been supporting clients within all major verticals for over four decades. Mak has a passion for data management, industrial software and emerging technologies, and currently looks after Emerson’s Industry Engagement within Life Sciences sector.

Top image credit: Le Moal

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