Guest Commentary: Industry 4.0 Digitizing factories for the future

Ray Upton, B. Sc., von Texas Instruments.
Ray Upton, B. Sc., Texas Instruments.

Microcontrollers will become communication nodes in factories to network systems and equipment, predicts Ray Upton, vice president and general manager of the Connected Microcontrollers division at Texas Instruments.

Factories are becoming smarter than ever before, and industrial automation is going through significant technological changes. The real-time ability to sense, compute and communicate all at a low power are critical enablers for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), especially in complex Industry 4.0 environments involving both man and machine.

For some, the IIoT invokes uncertainty when it comes to ease of adoption, safety, security, cost effectiveness, power and ultimately the bottom-line. The foundational element of the IIoT is the ability for factory equipment to sense, measure and transport data. This is where the wireless or wired microcontroller (MCU) comes in, as the building block of this capability. MCUs can help add wired or wireless connectivity to existing machinery, overlaying new functionalities to enhance existing systems and equipment.

IoT platforms must offer flexibility

For example, if a manufacturing company made substantial investments in robotic automation over the past decade, they would still be able to leverage that technology and maintain operations while overlaying new connectivity platforms. This can only be achieved by implementing smart and flexible technologies that enable the use of multiple protocols for both wired and wireless connectivity—it also means you don’t have to start from scratch.

The lack of standardization and the very nature of wireless connectivity technology mean that multi-band, multi-protocol and mixed systems covering Sub-1 GHz, 2.4 GHz and Wi-Fi need to coexist. Enabling every protocol and wireless band now becomes both a challenge and an opportunity, and it will require ample investment in each.

Microcontrollers offer long-term feasibility

The IIoT movement will also create new business models as it becomes more sophisticated, and it will be essential for businesses to have a predictable, more secure, high performing and energy efficient platform in order to sustain and grow into the future.

MCU platforms that allow developers the flexibility to scale their product in an industrial setting, and those that support both future and proven wireless industrial standards, like wireless HART and wireless IO-Link, will be competitively positioned options for businesses moving toward digitization.

According to IHS Markit, by 2025 the IoT is projected to be comprised of as many as 75 billion connected things. This is uncharted territory for businesses. As the IIoT continues to evolve, the multimillion dollar question remains: Will businesses evolve with it or be left behind?


Ray Upton, B. Sc.

is vice president and general manager of the Connected Microcontroller business for Texas Instruments. In this role, he leads the development of TI’s wired and wireless low-power, high-performance microcontroller portfolio.

Ray joined TI in 1995 as a Technical Sales associate and has spent his career at TI in a variety of roles in both sales and the businesses. He has held numerous sales and business management roles, including leading the Americas Sales and Applications team, managing TI’s Standard Linear and Logic business and leading the startup of the Catalog Automotive product line.

Throughout his entire career, Ray has had a passion for mentoring and focuses heavily on performance and career development within his organization. Since 2012, he has served as the executive sponsor of TI’s Hispanic and Latin diversity group (Unidos), and he is also involved with his alma mater receiving a Distinguished Alumni award in 2017.