Remember how I used to do Live Meetings all the time? It was very fun. As part of one of the campaigns I work on these days, we’re hosting a Live Meeting about embedded systems in manufacturing operations. If you’re interested in what’s new in manufacturing technologies and where Windows Embedded is involved, you should come.
Manufacturing and industrial solutions are what I’ve been learning about for the last few months. I have learned a lot, but it is a miniscule amount of what is to be known, so I rarely say a peep. But maybe you know even less than I do, so here are some interesting things I now know.*
- In the area of industrial solutions, there’s building automation (like HVAC, security, safety systems), energy and power (windmills, nuclear, distribution systems), and industrial automation (breweries and foods, robots and assembly lines).
- An HMI is a human-machine interface: usually input panels that let people talk to big factory floor machines. These are getting fancier and fancier with better UIs all the time. Sometimes they’re little panels attached to the side of a conveyor belt, for example, or sometimes it might be a huge screen hanging down from the ceiling.
- A key part of factory automation is the PLC – programmable logic controller. It’s kind of the input/output center for running a machine, telling it what to do based on inputs it’s getting from the HMI and data reporting back from the machine. Something that’s happening, though, is that people are wanting these to be more like a PC, with ability to connect to other BI systems, do fancier on-the-spot analysis, post cute photos on facebook, use the Snipping Tool, etc. In the past they’d just scrap the needed things together on the PLC, or get an industrial PC and try to make it do the critical things only a PLC can do (like control something where lives are in the balance). But now there’s a trend to making a PAC – programmable automation controller – that is kind of a PLC with PC-like powers, all in one place.
- The manufacturing equipment industry is really conservative, for the most part. These people wear ties. No, really, a lot of manufacturing equipment is really expensive, and stays in use for years and years and years – so they take their time to get it right and innovation doesn’t happen overnight; the development cycle is a lot longer for manufacturing systems than it is for a music player or something. And they do wear ties.
- In the past, a factory’s IT was mostly managed separately from the rest of the company. They could do whatever they wanted with their technology over there. Like a little plant-floor version of Vegas. But it sounds like more and more a company’s (picture Nabisco or Volkswagen or Sony) CIO or IT org is taking on responsibility for manufacturing technologies as part of the whole enterprise IT, as plant floor technologies get more powerful and smart and connected, and need to integrate with other BI and systems across the co. This little video is kind of a cool vision of the future, per MSFT: Microsoft and Manufacturing.
- OMAC** is the Organization for Machine Automation and Control, the “global organization for automation and manufacturing professionals that is dedicated to supporting the machine automation and operational needs of manufacturing.”
- Our team went to exhibit at this huge show callled Hannover Messe, an industrial technology trade show that’s held every year in Germany. I was kind of blown away by how big it is; more than 200,000 people are ambling around there for about a week. I think Teched is about 10,000 people, right? They hold Hannover Messe in these huge airplane-sized hangars that sit empty the rest of the year. Vow.
I think it’s interesting, anyway.
* I’m pretty sure I know them, anyway.
**I nearly sent out a promotional e-mail that referenced OMAP.org instead of OMAC.org, as intended. Fortuitous that a copyeditor caught that before I announced to 20,000+ device manufacturers the connection between Windows Embedded and the Golden Path to Unlocking the Genetic Potential of Wild Rice Species.