Vention’s CEO Etienne Lacroix on how combining platforming and productization can accelerate industrial automation.

“The problem with industrial automation today is that it’s very costly, said Etienne Lacroix, CEO of Vention, the Canada-based cloud robotics company. “It’s not only the components but we also need to add all the expertise needed to design those systems and integrating all those components is not easy. There are lot of engineering hours needed to integrate those machines,” he added. Lacroix was speaking at the session The Rise of the Advanced Manufacturing Team and DIY Industrial Automation at Automate 2024, held at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago, IL, this year.

For the past 30 years, industrial automation has undergone relatively few changes to the way automation is designed and deployed. Traditional automation technology was developed (and priced) for high-throughput manufacturing, making it most accessible to those who could afford complex, custom integration services. This left small and medium-sized businesses, the ones who would benefit from the democratization of automation, behind.

“How can we make industrial automation accessible to all?” The question was on Lacroix’s mind since 2016. The answer was found in platforming. He compared it to how Apple combined hardware and software on an iPod and iTunes store to make music accessible to everyone. Platforming brings all the pieces together end to end and removes a lot of risk — technology risk and process risk.

“There is also productization,” he said. “It is at two levels. At the component level and at the application level. There is no more time spent on integration. It’s plug and play.”

What happens when you do platforming and productization together? “You don’t need to start from scratch and less time is spent on system integration. That can enable time saving and cost saving,” said Lacroix.

According to Lacroix, more and more manufacturers are empowered by this approach. The knowledge they need to get started has become much lower.

Over the past year, Vention has done extensive research on the impact that recent innovations, specifically the platforming of industrial automation, have had on the industry.

Over the past year, Vention has done extensive research on the impact that recent innovations, specifically the platforming of industrial automation, have had on the industry. The research spans over one year and looks at manufacturers from small to enterprise size, and across 17 different industries to create a holistic view of manufacturer adoption patterns of DIY automation.

“Thousands of manufacturers are now embarking on the journey of automation through platforming,” said Lacroix.

The research found that small and medium-sized businesses that were previously hindered by capital investment barriers are now leading the charge in adopting the Manufacturing Automation Platform (MAP) and do-it-yourself (DIY) automation because of their accessibility and low barrier to entry.

More manufacturers are leveraging their internal resources to create the Advanced Manufacturing Team (AMT). Supported by intuitive and easy-to-use technology, said Lacroix, AMTs are built to drive the industrial automation roadmap across manufacturing plants, regrouping expertise in mechanical design, industrial control, and robotics into one team. Instead of relying on external engineering service firms, these teams embrace DIY industrial automation technologies and resources within MAP, such as user forums and an e-commerce website, alongside easier-to-use industrial automation components, to develop deep process knowledge and deploy self-designed automated solutions themselves.

According to Vention’s report, last year 48 percent of people using platforming were small- and medium manufacturers. The company is now also seeing intake in larger manufacturers.

Lacroix concluded his session by providing five tips for those considering automation on how to create an AMT, including:

Identify a technical champion: Establish one person with deep technical automation knowledge to drive the project forward.

Assemble a diverse, well-rounded team: Build a diverse team with complimentary skill sets and varying perspectives and experiences.

Begin with a low-risk, quick win: A successfully completed first project will encourage the company to drive in an automation direction.

Gain support from the top-down: Receive management buy-in with proof of concept to receive proper funding and support.

Leverage MAP: Leverage an intuitive tool like a cloud-robotic platform to enable DIY automation.

Automate Booth #2813

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