The end game of the automation pyramid

March 19, 2019 //By Stefan Reuther
The end game of the automation pyramid
With structures of over four thousand years old, Egypt boasts some the oldest pyramids in existence. The history of automation’s pyramid however, a diagram representing the integration of technologies in industry, dwarfs in comparison. Could this engineering concept be coming to an end? IT/OT convergence will lead to the collapse of the automation pyramid.

As a pictorial example of the different levels of automation in a factory, the automation pyramid has long been used as a visual aid to understand how layers of technology communicate.

Starting from process and field levels, working up to the corporate level of manufacturing processes, the traditional pyramid illustrates how devices, actuators and sensors on the factory floor are distinctly separate from other areas, such as process control, supervisory networks and enterprise systems.

The automation pyramid was theorized in the 1980’s, when comprehensive control software was practically unheard of. Today however, this software is becoming ubiquitous to the operation of manufacturing facilities. So, where does this leave the automation pyramid?

Put simply, the traditional concept is collapsing.

 

Traditional practices

Comprehensive control software is a relatively new addition to manufacturing plants, but that is not to say software was completely absent from historical factories.

Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs) were the first example of using software to visualize data on a factory floor. However, because each piece of equipment and relative HMI operated a standalone device, the insight was limited.

For an overview of production in its entirety, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems were implemented to collate data from multiple HMIs. Usually, these systems generated a graphical interface to help operators understand and control multiple systems.

However, this still leaves a space between the SCADA level and enterprise systems, the final level of the automation pyramid. As a result, Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) were deployed to bridge the gap.

 

The automation pyramid was born

The automation pyramid is a widely understood manufacturing concept. However, it would be absurd to suggest this 30-year-old approach to managing automation levels fits today’s manufacturing climate. Today, managing these processes in a single, comprehensive software platform is not unrealistic. In fact, Copa-Data’s zenon, a software which enables data exchange between all layers of automation, has been demonstrating this ability since the software’s inception.

The traditional automation pyramid is no longer necessary. However, many manufacturers are reluctant to abandon the traditional concept. Technically speaking, manufacturers can still choose to manage their levels of automation using this traditional pyramid method. However, there are scenarios where it makes no sense to stick to this model.


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