Can IT Do Automation?

I wrote about FoxConn building a plant (maybe) in Wisconsin.

“Retired” Rockwell Automation Communications Director John Bernaden commented on my LinkedIn post of the article:

Good perspective Gary Mintchell. FoxConn’s been trying to replace its Chinese workers with automation and robotics for several years now with limited success. They’re realizing what’s no surprise to you — advanced systems integration of complex connected enterprises is extremely difficult. But FoxConn like too many at traditional IT companies underestimate these challenges and difficulties. In a related example, top Apple execs invited Rockwell’s CTO to a meeting in Cupertino a few years ago where they informed him that Apple planned to develop its own factory automation systems. Rockwell’s CTO literally laughed at their naïveté and politely left. Similarly Google acquired seven industrial robotics companies bragging in big New York Times articles about their X Division plan to produce armies of industrial robots. However they’ve quietly now sold or spun off most those industrial Robotics companies. The bottom line is that IT giants like Apple, Google, and FoxConn need traditional discrete automation companies like Rockwell, Siemens, GE and others to be successful.

John raises interesting points. IT programming often has some similar terminology to industrial automation—control loops, input/output, timers, and so forth. But the specific underlying technologies of industrial sensors and transmitters, industrial controllers, deterministic messaging, and the like make things much different.

I have been getting many behind the scenes looks at what Dell Technologies has been doing with Internet of Things in an industrial setting with its gateways and partnerships. Monday will find me in Houston, Texas, at a Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) event looking at what HPE is doing in the same arena.

These IT companies have formulated a strategy of working from IT (CIO) down to the factory floor, whereas Rockwell Automation and Siemens are pursuing a similar end game with a strategy beginning in the plant and working up to enterprise.

This middle ground is the new battlefield.

Connecting the enterprise is where the action exists at this time. That’s why I named my blog The Manufacturing Connection.

Watch next week as I update what HPE is up to and catch up with someone I had several great conversations with while he was at National Instruments discussing Big Analog Data—Dr. Tom Bradicich.

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