Current and Future Trends in Industrial Automation

3 big trends that impact machine designers

Factory machinery is moving towards a future of unprecedented productivity spurred by superior energy efficiency, better design and operator visualization, and rigorous safety standards. Here are 3 ways  these trends are affecting machine designers.


Lower Energy Consumption Leads the Way
The most compelling trend relates to the staggering amount of  power that drives each and every factory. According to Mark Watson of research company IHS, up to 42% of the world’s electricity is consumed by factories.

Of that 42%, roughly two-thirds is used to drive the motors in machines. Extending that analysis suggests that roughly 28% of all of the electricity in the world goes directly into driving factory motors.

There have been significant advances in the energy consumption of electric motors.  Mark further pointed out that if high-efficiency motors were implemented globally, the energy saved would be enough to power the city of Los Angeles for two years, or run one of Germany’s ICE trains at 186.4 mph for a millennium and a half.

So, how can machine designers build for this trend? Most obviously, designers can build their machines with designs and dimensions that allow for easier retrofits. Secondly, they can design new machines that specify high efficiency motors. Still, achieving a global conversion to high-efficiency motors will take decades. The cost of retrofitting plants is simply too high in the short term, so it’s going to take legislative incentives to build momentum.


A New View on Machining

The second major trend for machine designers is towards visualization of the machine, often in situ, before it is built.  Many machine designers, like the team led by Richard Watts of Reading Bakery Systems, design machines that are built to order for their customers.  Richard pointed out the value of having advanced design visualization tools to aid in the understanding of complex systems.

But while engineers and designers may be familiar with CAD and machine visualization, the same cannot be said for clients and marketers. “By using the JT format within Siemens PLM, anyone inside our company and our customers can view our machines in 3D and understand our designs.”

Not only is this collaboration helpful during the design process, it can also be helpful when it comes to ordering spare parts. With machines operating around the globe, sending a technician out to a facility just isn’t possible sometimes. However, armed with a simplified model of a machine from Reading, customers can screenshare and show Reading’s techs exactly what parts need to be ordered.  In a short amount of time, the correct parts can be shipped and users can get back to production.


Image of JT format file within Siemens Solid Edge courtesy of Reading Bakery Systems


Another outcome of the visualization trend concerns the level of visualization expected by today’s factory operators and technicians. Over the past decade every machine operator has learned to intuitively operate a touch screen, if only on their smart phones.  Many designers are extending the use of touch screens in machine design, allowing operators to monitor anything from jobs in the queue to hydraulic fluid levels.  The value of this impact to factory owners comes from easier monitoring and higher machine uptime.

As a result, machine designers are being called upon to consider new ways that users will interact with the system. That can includes providing touchscreen interfaces along with wireless connectivity to critical systems and other ports for digital monitoring. 


Drive for safer machines

Safety continues to be an ever important aspect of industry’s drive towards further automation. No matter how automated a factory system is, all production grinds to a halt when injuries occur on the plant floor. 

Richard Watts commented on Reading Bakery Systems’ evolution in thinking towards safety, “At first our approach was to simply guard everything. If you can prevent people from getting into a machine, you can prevent them from getting hurt.”

While that thinking did Make Reading’s machines safe, it also made them more difficult to clean and maintain. What was needed at Reading was a change in the way they envisioned safety. The first step Reading took was to adopt the EU safety standards, the most rigid in the world.

This change altered the way Reading’s engineers designed, leading them to use, for example, RFID tags to control access to interlock switches to make the machines safer. To help designers incorporate safety, Reading engineers received training in risk assessment. Engineers at Reading began to , “mitigate hazard rather than just cover it up” with a metal plate, according to Watts.

For machine there’s also a bigger issue, factory scale safety.

With CAD systems now capable of making simplified versions of even the most complex machines, designers have the ability to show their clients how a new system can be safely integrated into their factory setting. By using facility setup as an additional safety measure, machine manufactures can leverage a local environment to make their product even more attractive.  

While these technologies and trends are slowly making their mark in factories across the globe, their uptake is still in its early days.

As more factories incorporate greater levels of automation, production efficiency is sure to rise. For those on the leading edge of this trend, competitive advantages from cost savings, minimized down time, and faster production are sure to follow.

To get the details directly from Mark Watson and Richard Watts, watch Current and Future Trends in Industrial Machine Design.


Note: Siemens has sponsored promotion of their design software solutions on They have no editorial input to this post – all opinions are mine.

Kyle Maxey