The virtual aspect of manufacturing continues to grow in importance. Manufacturers of both hardware and software are pushing this technology forward, giving developers more efficient ways to test out their latest plans for automating factories.
Lean manufacturing and just in time inventories are among the many factors prompting a push for faster changeover times. When managers are responding to small batch orders, they don't have time to walk through every setup. At the same time, global pressures don't permit leisurely upgrades to new equipment.
The need for better virtual prototyping tools is a common refrain in discussions of factory automation. Suppliers from all aspects of the industrial control market are responding with new developments, giving engineers all kinds of tools.