Simatic Family: We have not yet achieved the goal
24 October 2008
Are 50 years of development enough? No, is the clear response from Dr. Gerd-Ulrich Spohr, head of Strategic Development Technology for the Siemens divisions Drive Technologies and Industry Automation. SPS Magazin (www.sps-magazin.de) interviewed him on the future of automation and which trends are already apparent today. (This translation was provided by Siemens Industry Automation.)
Mr. Spohr, how would you describe the current state of automation – as taking small steps forward at a high level or are we on the verge of the next technological revolution?
Although we have achieved an impressive level of automation in the industrialised world, advances in technology will always be triggering new spurts of development. For instance, the possibilities of wireless technology are currently being tested in many applications accompanied by a plenty of wireless products from several different manufacturers on the market.
Which requirements are customers demanding for their automation solutions?
The most frequently cited customer requirements pertain to fundamental simplification with the associated acceleration of engineering of automation solutions on the one hand and, on the other, greater ease-of-use for HMI based intuitive user interfaces. These demands are nothing new, but they do show that we have not achieved the goal yet despite all the progress we have made.
Are there different themes in individual industries or are there any “hot potatoes” relating to a variety of industries?
Of course, there are a few single-industry issues, but there is also a big cross-industry theme for the future: the “Digital Factory.“ All industries are currently planning both products and the required production plants with CAx and PLM tools to some degree and testing the functioning of those solutions in computer simulations. This approach will be greatly intensifying in the coming years: roughly 10 to 15 years from now, just about every new factory will be completely simulated on the computer before construction begins. That also represents a challenge for automation systems. A majority of the engineering can then be derived from the simulation results, but, at the same time, an electronic model of the automation system must be provided for the simulation. There is much need for development in this area in the coming years.
Does this apply to the global situation, or are there regional differences?
In general, certain quality standards can only be attained through a minimum degree of automation. In some sub-areas, however, it may definitely be more economical to forgo the use of one or more robots or a fully automated ground conveyor in favour of less expensive human resources. This is very much a factor of the supply/demand and wage level of those human resources.
In your opinion, how will global competition influence the development of productivity and, in turn, automation?
The answer is clear: with global competition, the degree of automation is a crucial factor for compensating, or even reversing, any disadvantages based on location.
What roles do legislative and regulatory bodies play in the changes taking place in industrial production?
Traceability and product liability are certainly extremely important issues. Demands for gapless traceability and documentation, as is the case with pharmaceuticals, has led to a high degree of automation with the recording of all relevant production data in the pharmaceuticals industry. Similar requirements are now stipulated by the EU for production of food and beverages. But the automotive industry also expects its suppliers to provide gapless documentation of their production processes.
How does Siemens view its role in this environment – are you following or taking the lead?
We see ourselves at the forefront of developments, particularly concerning the future theme “Digital Factory.“ Through the acquisition of the PLM software provider UGS last year and its integration into the Industry Automation division, we are currently probably the only solution provider to cover the entire range of themes, from product planning to production planning to simulation, automation and operation of the production plant with all corresponding tools and products in our portfolio. This is a great pole position for better integration of this tool chain in the coming years and further development according to the requirements.
Click here to read the interview with Arnold Zankl on "The History of Simatic"
Click here to read the article "Fifty Years of Simatic Automation Revolutionises the World"
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