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"Automation trends and market structure" - part 1 of the three-part serial

The two main trends in automation technology since 1980

Which main trends does the automation technology show? How do these trends affect the suppliers of the automation technology? Which developments are to be expected in the future? To these questions this article suggests some answers. It concerns a serial of articles in 3 parts.

Serial of articles in 3 parts

Part 1 of the article series

May 14th, 2010 - This article covers the main trends in the automation technology, the second article will deal with the changes in the structure of the suppliers of automation technology and the third article is to investigate the effect of the present economic crisis on the automation technology and its suppliers.

The two main trends in the automation technology

The automation technology, how we know it today, developed in the 1980 and 1990 years. It shows two main trends or phases of its development:

  1. The main trend to replace the electro-mechanics by microelectronics
  2. The main trend of an ever higher degree of integration of microelectronics.

Main trend: microelectronics substitute electro-mechanics

This main trend or phase of the development of the automation technology determined the years 1980 to the end of the 1990 years. We remember.

  • The PLC substitute ever more strongly the contactor-based control technology. Simatic S5 and Step5 from Siemens develop to the control system standard at times used by 70% of the machine-builders.
  • Control panels with text displays substitute ever more strongly electromechanical single switches at the machines, a development, which remains considerably connected with the name of K. Lauer (Elektronik Systeme Lauer) who created the market for this application.
  • Field buses substitute parallel wiring at the machines. Phoenix Contact creates here the market with Interbus S.
  • Frequency converters substitute Dahlander-connection. It starts the triumphant advance of the frequency converter, which is considerably connected with the names of Danfoss and Lenze.
  • Electronically commutated motors substitute electromechanically commutated motors. This development of the servo drive is in particular connected with the name of A. Müller (AMK).


This dynamic technological change from the electro-mechanics to microelectronics had two main effects:

  • it changed sustainably the suppliers’ structure of the automation technology by favouring the medium-size suppliers while hindering the market leading suppliers (part 2 of the article serial).
  • It opened clear competitive advantages to the machine-builders on the world market (part of 3 of the article serial).

Main trend: rising degree of integration

From the beginning microelectronics also indicated integration of previously separated components and functions. However, since the beginning of 2000 a rising degree of integration of the automation technology has been moving into the foreground becoming the main trend.

  • The PC technology integrates control system and operation and/or visualisation in one device. Numerous suppliers pushed this development, among them Beckhoff has a relevant part. The microprocessor-based control system of B&R integrates or permits both control types.
  • Ethernet field buses integrate control system and process data enabling a comprehensive process control. Now the integration of safety functions is ongoing.
  • Electronic drives integrate control systems („drive PLC“), converters are integrated into the motors and drive control devices integrate the control of both asynchronous and synchronous motors.
  • Control system and drive technology integrate to Motion Control.


The automation technology exceeds the scope of the machine and integrates operation, service, maintenance, and process control becoming finally a subsystem of the enterprise control system.


Today an ever higher degree of integration of the automation technology is determining as main trend while the technology change has taken a back seat.

The main trend is differentiating

The degree of integration is differentiating in two directions, i.e.

  • Integration of the total or almost the total automation technology at the machine, often from a single source
  • Integration of limited function areas to a partial integrated solution being implemented as such partial solution.


As secondary or countertrend for rising integration the non-integrated automation component maintains ground. The main trend of the integration changes again the suppliers of the automation technology. It increases the entry barriers for new ones and requires integrated solutions from the existing suppliers. A rising degree of integration means rising capital requirement enforcing larger numbers of items.


These effects affect the suppliers of the automation technology in other way than with the technological change. This will be discussed in part 2 and 3 of this serial of articles.

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