The Quiet Revolution in Automation…

There’s an old saying that goes, “Predicting the future is easy … getting it right is the hard part.”  It’s so easy to be wrong about the direction of technology. Bill Gates is famous for saying that 64K ought to be enough for everybody. And my personal favorite is from Steve Ballmer when CEO of Microsoft, “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.”

It’s easy to make technology predictions and to look foolish doing so. Many of us who grew up coding for a living have been quick to dismiss the Open Source movement. After all, who would put some free code you got off the internet into an important product? But now, automation devices are more complex than the code that we used to send men to the moon. They have much more connectivity and must meet vastly increased user requirements. And they exist in an environment where quality products that meet all sorts of certifications need to be delivered more quickly than ever before.

Open source is a mechanism where automation devices can be delivered faster, often with better architected and higher quality code, without spending a fortune. There are still support issues – it can be problematic to deliver a product without a real understanding of the underlying core software, but there are ways around that.

Today, open source in automation is not only growing but becoming key to delivering IoT and Edge devices. An example of how you can speed delivery of sophisticated, connected automation devices is The EdgeX Foundry™ platform.

The EdgeX Foundry is an open source project hosted by The Linux Foundation that is built for IoT and Edge computing applications. It is completely vendor neutral and hardware and OS agnostic. It is designed to enable an ecosystem of players contributing plug-and-play components that can accelerate the development of IoT and Edge computing devices.

Open source projects like The EdgeX Foundry provide developers with everything they need to build automation devices, including Monitoring and Alarming, a Rules Engine, Notifications, a data store and connectivity like BACnet, Modbus TCP, OPC UA and more.

Another advantage is distribution and remote management of Edge devices. With small, remote Edge devices, managing their operation becomes difficult as the number of devices grows. Many of these platforms are built to use tools like Docker to create, deploy, and run applications.

Connectivity is also maximized with open source projects like The EdgeX Foundry.  Connectivity for factory floor networks like Modbus, OPC UA, BACnet and more are part of the standard project. User interface solutions – or at least prototypes – are often included. Developers can use the built-in tools or add their own.

The world has indeed changed. Gone are the days of a single programmer being responsible for automation device development. Today, hugely increased requirements, extensive connectivity, and sophisticated applications mean that devices require vastly more development resources. Building that kind of device is a development task that only the largest of teams can do within a reasonable time. For the rest of us, open source software is our only choice for producing the kinds of devices we need in a reasonable time and within our limited budgets.

I shy away from making predictions, but I’m pretty confident in saying that open source is not only here to stay – it’s going to grow in manufacturing automation devices.