[Industrial] “Software’s Where It’s At.” The blog title was intriguing. It was implied that industrial software was increasingly more important than hardware. Then I began to look at my accumulating queue of news. There is a bunch. Here is a sampling. It appears that more innovation time and investment is going into software than hardware. What do you think? Software is now where it’s at?
Cloud and Analytics
GE and Microsoft announced a partnership that will make GE’s Predix platform for the Industrial Internet available on the Microsoft Azure cloud for industrial businesses. The move marks the first step in a broad strategic collaboration between the two companies. This continues a trend I’ve noticed recently of a newly resurgent Microsoft adding clients to Azure cloud.
“Connecting industrial machines to the internet through the cloud is a huge step toward simplifying business processes and reimagining how work gets done,” said Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE. “GE is helping its customers extract value from the vast quantities of data coming out of those machines and is building an ecosystem of industry-leading partners like Microsoft that will allow the Industrial Internet to thrive on a global scale.”
Bringing Predix to Azure, according to GE, means industrial customers will now have access to additional capabilities such as natural language technology, artificial intelligence, advanced data visualization and enterprise application integration.
Microsoft predicts Azure will support the growth of the entire industrial IoT ecosystem by offering Predix customers access to “the largest cloud footprint available today”, along with data sovereignty, hybrid capabilities, and advanced developer and data services. In addition, GE and Microsoft plan to integrate Predix with Azure IoT Suite and Cortana Intelligence Suite along with Microsoft business applications, such as Office 365, Dynamics 365 and Power BI, in order to connect industrial data with business processes and analytics.
“Every industry and every company around the world is being transformed by digital technology,” said Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft. “Working with companies like GE, we can reach a new set of customers to help them accelerate their transformation across every line of business — from the factory floor to smart buildings.”
Software’s Where It’s At
This is the blog that brought my thinking to a focus. ARC analyst Mark Sen Gupta wrote about a recent CEO appointment. Honeywell recently announced that Dave Cote is retiring after 14 years at the helm and will be succeeded by Darius Adamczyk.
In the announcement Mr. Cote states, “Scanning & Mobility and Honeywell Process Solutions are software-based businesses with advanced offerings that blend physical and digital capabilities, and they serve as benchmarks for where the rest of Honeywell is heading. Darius’ deep expertise in software will open new growth paths for all of our businesses, which are blending Honeywell’s advanced software programming capabilities with leading-edge physical products and unparalleled domain expertise in a wide variety of industries.” This is a very interesting statement because it recognizes a crucial shift in automation.
Says Sen Gupta, “When we think of automation we normally think of hardware: DCS, PLC, sensors. However, most of the innovation in the industry is happening in software. This aspect of automation innovation has not escaped the attention of ExxonMobil and has led to culmination of it’s open automation initiative. IIoT, cloud, analytics, edge computing have far more to do with what is provided from a software aspect than from a hardware aspect. This is not to say that hardware has no value. In fact if you were to check the balance sheets, you would find that the large automation companies earn more revenue on what we consider hardware, and something has to host the software.”
Fellow ARC analyst, Dick Slansky recently wrote on how manufacturing and production systems will undergo significant changes. He foresees the eventual realization of the “lights-out” factory with adoption of all the new digital technologies.
“This is a case of leading PLM solutions providers offering advanced analytics solutions applied to the manufacturing processes and to operational optimization. The common objective is to use predictive and prescriptive analytics to improve the overall performance of production operations.”
He continues, “One of the most sought after but elusive goals of product design engineering is to validate that you have achieved all the design criteria in the as-built product. That is, closing the loop between the as-built to the as-designed, and validating that the physical product will meet all design criteria before the product is manufactured. This is where the concept of the digital twin in now being applied to product design criteria, and the goal of ‘closed-loop PLM’.”
“As IIoT, the digital thread and digital twin evolve within the overall ecosystems of product and process, the methodologies, including analytics, for both product development and production processes will converge. The intent and goal of the digital enterprise is to maintain a continuous and real-time digital thread that connects the lifecycle from concept through design, test, and build, to supply chain and products in field.”
There has been little radical innovation within industrial robots for some time. Improvements, yes; Innovation, not so much.
But ABB has been working on the software side. It just announced SafeMove2, the latest generation of its safety certified robot monitoring software.
SafeMove2 includes a host of cutting-edge safety functions, including safe speed limits, safe standstill monitoring, safe axis ranges and position and orientation supervision. The new generation functionality encourages the development of innovative robot applications by integrating safety features directly into the robot controller.
“To be efficient, robots must be able to move at speeds suited to the given application. At high speeds this can present a potential hazard for people working in the immediate vicinity. Historically, fences or cages have been used to separate man from machine in an effort to keep them out of harm’s way,” says Dr. Hui Zhang, Head of Product Management, ABB Robotics. “SafeMove2 allows robots and operators to work more closely together by restricting robot motion to precisely what is needed for a specific application.”
SafeMove2 allows for the creation of more efficient and flexible production scenarios, and provides tools that speed the commissioning workflow for faster setup and validation. It also integrates safety fieldbus connectivity into ABB’s IRC5 robot controller family as well as the IRC5 Single, Compact and Paint controllers.