I currently work for a SI who mainly use Allen Bradley and Wonderware Archestra/Intouch for most of their projects. I am also a recent graduate with less than one years experience in this industry since my degree was in a different engineering field.
My question to everyone here is, what do you think will be the future of this sector? I have had some exposure to the logix 5/500/5000 and currently am working towards learning Wonderware. Any advice on how to make the right choices early on in my career would be appreciated in terms of learning.
Ideally, I am looking to end up in some lucrative sector such as Oil and Gas. Also, any links to tutorials on Wonderware would be much appreciated.
I think you pose a very interesting question as I am convinced that we are at a time that industrial automation is about to change significantly. Why a significant change you might ask? I recently attended a conference where the speaker shared that the number one concern of factories is attracting and retaining skilled engineers and technicians. Pre Covid this concern was expressed by 63%, when the same survey was done recently, this concern was expressed by more than 72% of the surveyed participants.
There is an urgent need for change not only to address the skills gap but also to emancipate the operator from a remote controller to a manager of a process. This need will drive higher levels of automation which will be supported by predictive analytics (i4.0). This higher level of automation will ultimately lead to the 5th industrial revolution.
PLC-SCADA and Distributed Control Systems can be considered 20th century automation, 21st century automation is currently characterized by predictive analytics (predicting results based on relations/correlations between specific circumstances and outcomes). Buzz words such as “the fourth industrial revolution (i4.0), “big data”, “internet of things (IOT)”, “digital twin”, “artificial intelligence” are often used in conjunction with predictive analytic solutions. These predictive analytic solutions will greatly reduce human error, increase reliability, reduce energy consumption and waste and ultimately will facilitate a higher level of automation and quality in the operation of industrial processes
It will be difficult to lift the level of automation with most of the current PLC platforms and the conventional way of creating control solutions (predominately S88 based) as it will not facilitate the integration of predictive analytics with PLC/DCS control functionality. The use of predictive analytics will change the way we create/do process control so it might be beneficial to see/plan your career through that lens.
The Modicon M580 and M340 EPACs (PLCs) have been specifically designed to integrate process control capability with IOT edge services (facilitating the integration of field data for predictive analytics purposes). Simplicity, reliability, and cyber security are some of the core attributes of this PLC and this is one of the reasons that many utility, mining, oil and gas etc. companies throughout the world have starting to use this platform.
I think that this type of platform is the jumping board to truly distributed controls provided by intelligent field devices (sensors and actuators) that are capable of performing both control functionality and predictive analytics. In short, smart autonomous and interconnecting devices that provide predictive control functionality will reduce the role of the PLC and emancipate the operator. This can be considered the fifth industrial revolution.
You can see this approach/architecture in the new IEC61499 based EcoStruxure Expert platform from Schneider.
The part that is still missing is how to make devices truly autonomous and how would this be programmed? (significantly less PLC programming or no programming at all).
The Modicon-Wonderware based PLC-Easy solution can facilitate the migration of PLC based control to distributed smart device control. It utilizes an innovative software architecture that is much simpler than conventional architectures and reduces the amount of code in an application significantly. The software in a PLC-Easy based application consists predominately of standard software modules (more than 80%). The standard software modules that are used in a PLC-Easy application are very "light" and can potentially be executed in field devices, this will make distributed controls provided by autonomous devices possible with very little programming efforts.
So back you your question, what skills to adopt/learn are in my opinion data analytics, ethernet communication, as much exposure to industrial processes to be able to convert these into functionality (less programming skills required).