The automation obituaries

What will humans soon have in common with horses? Obsoletion in the work place, if a video on YouTube by CGP Grey is anything to believe.The fifteen minute video, entitled Humans need not apply has received 3.5 million views since August 2014 and puts forward the case that advances in technology are inevitably going to make people in all runs of working life - unskilled, skilled, professional and creative - obsolete.

This is a pretty damming vision of a dystopian future that even H. G. Wells would be proud of. It's also incredibly unlikely to happen in the mass way the video suggests. Although there is no factual evidence for technological unemployment, CGP Grey is correct in the statement that we are living in a period of rapid technological advancements. This also brings with it the frustrating situation where a lot of perfectly functional products become obsolete relatively quickly.

In the world of industrial automation, one reason for products becoming obsolete is changing legislation. A recent example is the Ecodesign Directive, which sets mandatory efficiency requirements for electrical products. This way, industrial automation parts that fail to meet environmental standards are gradually phased out.    

From January 1st, 2015, in accordance with the second phase of the Ecodesign Directive, motors rated from 7.5 to 375kW will either have to be replaced with IE3 efficiency level models, or meet the previous IE2 level and be fitted with a variable speed drive (VSD). This means that motors that fail to meet IE3 standards at this moment in time must be retrofitted with an appropriate VSD or face the bin of obsoletion.

Another reason why products become obsolete is functionality. More universally (pun to follow), the common USB (universal serial bus) cable will soon become obsolete with the introduction of the Type-C connector. This new connector will negate the infamous three turn technique many of us have become so accustomed to when trying to plug in the cable. The new Type-C is reversible and equipped with USB 3.1 specifications, which means a more powerful and faster delivery system.

More common in businesses with embedded systems is the use of specific industrial portable memory. As well as being safer than USBs, which are the most common way of transferring viruses, specific industrial memory is bespoke and so will never become obsolete.

Finally, another scenario in which industrial automation parts go out of date is when the original equipment manufacturer stops producing them for one reason or another. In 1986, GE Fanuc Automation was jointly established in the US by the two giants - General Electric and FANUC. This company was successful in supplying automation solutions until 2009 when the two firms agreed to dissolve the joint venture.

Needless to say, since this split, GE Fanuc products such as HMIs, displays, pendants and controllers have become obsolete. That's not to say that you can't still buy their branded automation products – no, no.

Whilst GE Fanuc parts are no longer being manufactured, some of their products out there in the manufacturing ether are in perfect condition. At European Automation, we specialise in tracking down parts like these and supplying them to our customers. Obsolete doesn't have to mean useless, often it just means no longer in production.

With this is mind I'll return to the video cited in the opening of this article. Granted, horses did pretty much lose their jobs with the evolution of machines. However, when some automation products become obsolete, there is often still a great demand for them. Sometimes these parts become our best sellers, which proves companies still use them for years after production is halted.

By replacing an older motor or PLC when it breaks down, companies can reduce purchasing time and costs, not to mention minimise expensive downtime. If you’re still using obsolete automation parts on your production line – and we bet you are - it might be worth giving us a call before you decide to swap to a shiny and costly new one.

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