When things can talk, listen, and respond

Communicating with machines is something that is closer than one might think. According to discussions with representatives from several factory automation companies, the ability to communicate – and have a dialogue – with automation technologies is already taking place and the capabilities are improving dramatically.

Many years ago, I had a “philosophical” conversation with Peter Martin, vice president at Invensys Operations Management (,  around the thought, “What if you could easily and inexpensively install sensors in many critical areas of the plant? How much could you know about how the plant is really working?” Thereafter, Invensys began revealing software development designed to exploit information directly from the plant, as well as any other relevant data source, in order to help its customers make better decisions at every level of the organization.

Similar conversations with John Berra, then CEO of Emerson Process Management (,  and Peter Zornio, chief strategic officer of Emerson Process Management, delved into the technologies of wireless sensor networks (WSNs) that would enable these visions of more and better plant operations data. Emerson—along with several other companies—backed the WSN developed by the HART Communication Foundation known as WirelessHART. Others backed the technology espoused by the ISA100 committee ( ). These technologies are now being rapidly deployed.

You know that technologies are maturing when companies not known specifically as “controls” companies begin embedding them in products. The SKF Group (,  which manufactures bearings and related components, has recently done just that. It has released SKF Insight, a bearing with sensors and a WirelessHART transmitter embedded. Now your condition monitoring of rotating equipment can go to an entirely new level.

With more and more machines being equipped with communications technology and software, the next step in factory automation technology communication is to accelerate development in order to continue to improve communication speed and responsiveness.

To learn more, visit Automation World.

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