history of automation/instrumentation

this is an excerpt from one of the sites wherein it emphasizes about the depth and usage of instrumentation in the industrial field...

...Trace the roots of all significant automation business segments and you’ll find key people and innovations. Industrial instrumentation and controls has always been a hotbed of new products – improved sensors, amplifiers, displays, recorders, control elements, valves, actuators and other widgets and gismos. But the markets are relatively small, specialized and fragmented, and it’s rare that any significant volume results directly from individual products.
Many automation companies were founded with innovative developments for niche applications. The target customers were usually local end-users who provided the opportunity to test new ideas, usually because of specific unmet needs. The successful startups expanded their products and markets beyond initially narrow applications and geographies, depending on the real value of the innovation, and also whether or not the founder was able to hire suitable management, sales & marketing leaders to grow the company beyond the initial entrepreneurial stages.
Since automation is such a fragmented business, all the larger (multi-billion $) companies are mostly a conglomeration of products and services; each product segment generates relatively small volume, but lumped together they form sizeable businesses.
Companies such as Ametek and Spectris have grown primarily through acquisition of small, innovative, niche product companies where growth is self-limited either through lack of capital for new products and or global sales & market expansion. Indeed, these industrial mini-conglomerates thrive through astute and shrewd accumulation of innovative niche players. But few acquirers can come up with follow-through developments that match the original founder’s innovations. And so the larger companies are usually satisfied with managed product extensions and expansions – with few, really innovative breakthroughs.
Major automation segments

Perhaps the exception to the small-company innovation rule was the distributed control system (DCS), a well-managed mix of several innovations developed in the 1970’s by a team of engineers within Honeywell. This major industrial automation innovation achieved $100m sales in process control markets within just a couple of years. The segment has expanded to several billions of dollars, and has morphed into a variety of different shapes, sizes and form-factors for process, discrete and batch systems.
The other major automation product segment to achieve significance, also in the 1970’s, was the programmable logic controller (PLC). This breakthrough innovation was the brainchild of the prolific and perennial inventor Dick Morley, who worked for a small development company, Bedford Associates, associated with Modicon (now part of Schneider). Also involved was Odo Struger of Allen-Bradley, now Rockwell Automation. Rockwell became the PLC leader in the US through good marketing and development of strong distribution channels – their Application Engineering Distributors (AED).
The first PLCs were developed for specific applications – reprogrammable test installations in the automobile manufacturing business, replacing hard-wired relay-logic which was hard to modify. The PLC market expanded rapidly in this key market to the extent that one Rockwell Distributor, McNaughton-McKay Electric, grew to well beyond $ 100 million through serving the automobile production business in just the Detroit area. Over the past 3 decades, PLCs have spread throughout industry and the PLC market segment that has grown to several billions of dollars worldwide.
For a couple of decades PLC applications remained focused around discrete automation markets, while DCS expanded primarily in process control systems. Then PLC’s expanded into control of remote I/O (input/output) systems with control and I/O clusters that could be easily connected as industrial networks. Soon personal computers became the easiest way to connect DCS, PLCs and remote I/O into the rapidly expanding hierarchy of factory and plant networks, fieldbus and the Internet.
Another major industrial automation segment is loosely termed “Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition” (SCADA). This loose conglomeration of products and innovations from several different sources remained fragmented between several markets and applications till networked PCs and Windows-based HMI software arrived in the late ‘80s and 90s.
Several innovative startups grew fairly rapidly, providing human-machine interface (HMI) software with connections to remote PLCs and indusrial I/O. Wonderware (started by engineer Dennis Morin) was paced by Intellution (started by ex-Foxboro engineer Steve Rubin). There were several other startups in the same timeframe, but few achieved significance. It’s interesting to note that the larger automation vendors did not take the lead in this new category; all significant growth came from innovative startups.
Although utilized across a broad array of market segments, the total available market for independent packaged software developments was limited, and the large process controls suppliers inevitably acquired the leaders. Wonderware was acquired by Invensys, which owned Foxboro; Emerson acquired Intellution as a key part of its DCS strategy, which developed into Delta V. Schneider recently acquired Citect, an innovative Australian company that had already branched out into broader software and systems arenas. Iconics, another innovative software startup founded by another ex-Foxboro engineer Russ Agrusa, remains independent and hasn’t grown on a broad front, remaining focused on targeted markets and customers. It will inevitably be acquired by one of the majors.
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