It’s always an interesting experience to go to events in the field and have the opportunity to talk directly to customers and partners. Recently, I had the chance to participate in an “Automation Modernization” event organized by the Tulsa office of our partner, Rexel. With over 180 attendees, it was a great platform to hear the challenges that end customers face and what kinds of automation modernization projects are on the horizon. While the media, including Stratus, is focused on “what’s next” and how to implement new concepts and technologies— such as Industrie 4.0, IIoT and smart factories— events such as this one in Tulsa bring home the reality of what most automation engineers and operational technologists are faced with. In the technical education sessions, there were great presentations on a wide range of topics. One of our automation (OEM) partners, Rockwell, used the general sessions to show how analytics can improve operational equipment effectiveness (OEE) and streamline operations in general.

In the Stratus booth, we had a wide range of literature available, but as I talked to people and watched what collateral they picked up, I noticed something. It really struck me that while IIoT, machine learning and analytics might be great, it’s not where much of the industrial automation industry is focused today.

Our most popular piece of literature at this event was “Virtualization for Dummies”, a book in the “Dummies” series that was sponsored by Stratus. If you are interested, you can download a copy here. In some respects, I was quite surprised, as I have spent a lot of my time in that “forward looking” world.

On reflection, I think this continued interest in virtualization has positive and negative connotations. On the one hand, automation vendors would like everyone to be focused on moving to analytics platforms, but in reality, most of the industry is just not there yet. Virtualization of control systems is a key pre-requisite to making this happen. On the other hand, its good because there is a definite recognition that virtualization is a technology enabler for smoother operation of existing applications and a springboard to implement the next wave of applications that are coming along. The transition is accelerating and at Stratus we are enabling our customers to make that transition as smooth as possible while taking the complexity out of availability. Our standards-based platform that is simple to implement, easy to manage and requires no IT expertize to service is key to providing peace of mind when all your applications are running on a single machine.

And the cloud, how to use it, and moving control applications away from the plant; not a subject that even came up once. It’s just not what the engineers tasked with maintaining and upgrading automation systems who attended this event are currently looking for.

I look forward to attending more of these events. It’s a good way to come down to earth and understand the practicalities that face many in industrial automation. For me, it’s an opportunity to learn about a whole variety of industries and their challenges around automation, and to meet customers and partners. It also gives me the opportunity to help people understand how Stratus may be able to help them with a current or future project.