Automate 2023

The Democratization of Industrial Automation

The Democratization of Industrial Automation

Etienne Lacroix - CEO & Co-Founder, Vention

We’ve never talked about industrial automation as much as we have in 2022. Yet, despite the chatter, most manufacturing plants in North America have little to no automation. There’s a simple reason why the vast majority of manufacturers cannot profitably automate their production—because automation technology was developed (and priced) for high-throughput manufacturing. Most North American manufacturers, with high-mix production and volumes of less than a few thousand units, simply don’t have the scale to earn back the steep investment that traditional automation technologies command. Today’s industrial automation technology is complex to evaluate and integrate. Most manufactured products are unique to the manufacturer and often require production equipment that is unique. In other words, the vast majority of industrial automation is a non-productized market, requiring custom solutions. If access to automation technology is limited only to those who can afford premium engineering services or customized integrations, incumbent component manufacturers aren’t under any pressure to democratize technology.  The result? A status quo that benefits current industry participants, but that leaves most manufacturers—the ones who would actually benefit from technology democratization—behind. All industries go through phases, from complex to democratized and back again. One example is computers. We went from complex mainframes in the 1960s and 70s, to much simpler PCs in the early 2000s. We are now slowly moving toward another complexification phase with quantum computers. At each phase, new giants emerged, and some were left behind. As cloud technology, robotics, and machine vision converge, industrial automation is initiating its phase of democratization and ushering in new players. That’s good news for both the automation industry and high-mix manufacturers.

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