Industrial Automation: Key Hardware Factors to Reflect On

Industrial automation hardware is the foundation of modern automation solutions, making Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), Industrial Personal Computers (IPCs), and Human-Machine Interfaces (HMIs) the bedrock of every factory where automation is being used. This Research Highlight provides future market forecasts for these technologies and advises manufacturers adopting these technologies and vendors offering solutions.

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Market Overview

  • Manufacturing companies are forecast by ABI Research to increase their spending on industrial automation hardware by a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 5.14% from 2023 to 2033, increasing from US$38.7 billion to US$64 billion, as companies progressively deploy automation solutions (e.g., Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning (ML)) to increase data acquisition and drive improvements in efficiency.
  • While the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) market is the largest in the overall size of the three automation hardware types, it ranks second in growth rate, with a CAGR of 5.7% from 2023 to 2033, as spending will increase from US$17.3 billion to US$30.2 billion.
  • The Industrial Personal Computer (IPC) market sees the highest growth rate of the three hardware types, with spending increasing by a CAGR of 6% from 2023 to 2033, increasing from US$11 billion to US$19.7 billion.
  • The Human-Machine Interface (HMI) market has the smallest growth forecast, with a CAGR of 3.1% from 2023 to 2033, with spending growing from US$10.4 billion to US$14.1 billion.

The automation hardware market is currently undergoing a period of change as it adapts to the increasing presence of digital transformation in manufacturing markets. While many manufacturers traditionally chose to standardize on a single hardware portfolio for ease of purchase, part acquisition for maintenance, and consistent user experiences, the market is seeing a significant trend toward customers attempting to identify best-of-breed offerings, and through leveraging increasing openness of products, integrate these different assets together into a comprehensive overarching solution. – James Prestwood, Industry Analyst at ABI Research


Key Decision Items

The following sections provide strategic recommendations for manufacturers adopting industrial automation hardware and technology vendors providing automated hardware solutions. While the first three sections are aimed at manufacturers regarding IPC, PLC, and HMI, the succeeding three sections target technology vendors.

Diversify Your PLC Supply Chain

Many PLC vendors continue to face significant supply chain issues regarding processing chips for their hardware, which can present difficulties for manufacturers to consistently acquire new PLCs. While in the past, the question of interoperability would have been brought into question, automation hardware vendors are moving toward open design solutions that give manufacturers the freedom to mix and match their hardware options.

Identify How Changes in Solution Architecture Will Affect IPC Security

Prior to technology vendors’ introduction of increasingly connected hardware with Internet-based applications, Operational Technology (OT) environments in which IPCs have sat have been connected to proprietary field buses, which are difficult attack vectors for malicious actors. With an increased number of standardized connections directly to the cloud and localized assets, it is now critical that manufacturers ensure that they are running up-to-date and comprehensive cybersecurity solutions when deploying new automation hardware.

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Implement Remote and Mobile HMIs to Minimize Worker Movement

Manufacturers that deploy mobile HMIs with HTML5 designs will see the greatest gains in operational efficiency because operators can manage an increased number of machines more effectively. That’s because mobile HMIs can identify which assets need attention and control them remotely, rather than having to walk across the factory to a given machine, leading to significant time savings.

The next three sections provide guidance for industrial automation hardware vendors.

Ensure Openness of PLC Offerings

Manufacturers want to be able to select best-of-breed solutions and implement PLC hardware alongside both legacy equipment and third-party offerings. Technology vendors that prioritize hardware designs that allow for connection to all major communication protocols and support a wide range of programming languages (including higher levels, such as C and C++) enable manufacturers to implement PLC hardware in any given solution architecture. While larger end-to-end automation providers will still see interest from customers looking to implement a single vendor’s portfolio for ease of plant-wide deployment, companies that are leaders in building openness into their hardware will see the most significant increases in market share.

Use GPUs in More IPC Portfolio Builds

Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) are essential to the future of the IPC market, as AI is increasingly being integrated into manufacturers’ digital transformation agendas. GPUs provide the computational power boost required to deliver AI solutions, as the chips have a greater number of cores for simultaneous computations than Central Processing Units (CPUs). While vendors like Advantech and Siemens have already added GPUs into their high-end IPC products, GPU inclusion in builds is not fully mainstream. Vendors that are first movers in comprehensively implementing GPUs into the bulk of their IPC offerings, bringing down the cost and providing a wider range of build options, will significantly grow market share by capitalizing on the growing use of AI in manufacturing environments.

Increase Innovation around Different Form Factors of HMI, Particularly Augmented Reality

To see strong growth in the HMI market, technology vendors must innovate beyond traditional HMI screen designs on machine assets, taking advantage of different form factors in the market. With the recent announcement of Apple’s Vision Pro, Augmented Reality (AR) has been catapulted back into the industry zeitgeist. The introduction of commercial tablets has somewhat eroded the industrial HMI market, so technology vendors should explore the opportunities associated with AR-based HMIs to remain at the forefront of innovation in design.

Key Market Players to Watch

Dig Deeper for the Full Picture

Learn more about the competitive landscape and future outlook of the industrial automation hardware market, as well as the top development and go-to-market strategies, by downloading ABI Research’s Industrial Automation Hardware Innovation: PLCs, IPCs, and HMIs report.

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This content is part of our Industrial & Manufacturing Technologies Research Service and Industrial Automation Hardware Research Spotlight.