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  September, 2012
Future Trends in Control and Process Automation in the MET Industry
by Anup Varghese
 

The Media, Entertainment and Telecom (MET) industry utilises control and process automation equipment and services mainly at amusement parks and theme parks. Control automation equipment such as motion and ride control systems, emergency shutdown systems, show/audio controls and continuous regulatory control are used in roller coasters, motion theatres, snow worlds etc.

The growth of control and process automation in the MET industry is driven by three main factors which contribute to its future development, on which automation suppliers' mainly focus.



Above: Factors contributing to the future growth of control and process automation in the MET industry

Industry Growth and Impact on Theme Parks:
Since the process automation industry directly caters to the automation used in the MET industry, its growth is of prime importance. This industry has witnessed a global growth of 6.8 CAGR (2008-2012) and the market is expected to reach USD 95 billion by 2013. Increasing focus on emerging markets like Chemical, Oil and Gas and Energy industries have contributed to the overall process automation industry growth. The MET automation industry currently holds less than 2% of the global process automation market share, and is expected to decrease in 2013 as the industry is not growing in proportion to the overall global process automation growth. Thus suppliers are likely to find automation in the MET industry such as theme parks unattractive, and been a proprietary industry, suppliers have to upper hand.

Technological Trends and Upcoming Innovations:
In order to make the riders experience at amusement parks more realistic, technology is being pushed to the next level. Europe's leading manufacturer of industrial robots and motion control systems, KUKA, has started showing interest in manufacturing robots for theme or amusement parks rides. The first robotic arm was introduced in 2010 at the 'Wizarding World of Harry Potter' located in the Islands of Adventure theme park, Orlando. More such rides, where robotic arms are used to carry riders, will be introduced by 2014 by Universal studios in California and Japan.

Use of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV's):
The usage of AGV's instead of coasters is the future of amusement park rides. The AGV would be structured with four traction wheels that would be integrated at the corner of each vehicle and kinematically mapped together, instead of having a single frontal wheel. This would enable the AGV to navigate safely at high speeds, with multi-directional acceleration, simulating a variety of effects such as slides, drifts and skids. Such rides are being developed by companies such as RoboCoaster in the UK.

Realistic Motion Theatres:
Taking the next step in motion theatres, which is found in most amusement parks, would be making the experience as realistic as possible. Using ultra-high-definition projection, 6-D motion rides, CGI animation and 360° view have already been implemented in some amusement parks worldwide.

Online Monitoring:
In order to increase preventive and proactive maintenance of rides and equipment, online wear detection help identify areas that are prone or susceptible to failure. In roller coasters, monitoring the delamination between the inner aluminum wheel and the outer polymer coat of the ride while the vehicle is on a rail, will help identify wear and enable timely repair.

Integrating Ethernet Connection:
Instead of the standard point to point cabling, integrating Ethernet can save a park considerable number of man-hours in cable-laying and cable maintenance. Until recently, wiring of rides could not begin until each section has been individually constructed; modern rides arrive from the manufacturer in pre-wired sections where each section can be wired and connected to the next. Once complete they can be simply plugged to the whole system directly into an Ethernet connection. Using Ethernet is expected to be a common practise at amusement parks.

Introduction of CyberCars:
The new generation of robotized vehicles are CyberCars, that are driverless vehicles which can provide on-demand transportation services to visitors and are less sensitive to human error, which is the cause of most motor vehicle accidents nowadays. They can be used inside amusement parks to transport visitors from one section to another. All of its functions such as breaking, acceleration and steering are computer controlled. They can be installed with several levels of security that are not seen on traditional vehicles, such as, including speed limitations, obstacle detection systems and manual and automatic emergency brakes while also conforming to the EMC regulations of the CE marking system. RobuCAB and RobuRIDE are such vehicles that have been developed by Robosoft.

Focus on Safety Requirements:
Modern theme park rides are more daring, requiring a high adrenalin rush to satisfy riders who are looking for the thrill. This development should be coupled with improved safety features, which are a 100% reliable. This calls for complex automation, robotics and safety to work in harmony. Using a single network and common hardware and software for improved control and safety of rides are being implemented nowadays, instead of two separate control systems, each having discrete hardware and signal loops. Rides such as SAW (Thorpe Park, UK) reach up to 4.7 G force, with beyond vertical drops of 100° from more than 100ft. Such thrill rides give no gap for failure, which drive automation companies like Rockwell Automation to innovate better and more reliable safety systems. Better insight into the future of this industry will aid entertainment parks as to what to benchmark as expectations from automation suppliers and integrator companies.

MET: A Platform for Technological Growth:
Automation in the MET industry adopts the latest technology, whether in robotics, communication systems, software or hardware, making the industry a platform to showcase the latest technological innovations that an organization has developed. This works in the interest of automation suppliers who want to revolutionize the market with their technology and also increases safety and technological expectations of entertainment parks from suppliers. The future of control and process automation in the MET industry looks promising, with increasing technological complexity at theme and amusement parks.


Anup Varghese is a research analyst at Beroe-Inc, a procurement intelligence company. He has been.... See More Details.

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