Acquisitions in the automation space have hit early and often so far this year. ABB is continuing to fill out its portfolio in power distribution and smart grid areas. It’s made so many moves in the past month, I can barely keep up. Adept Robotics surprisingly has entered the acquisition game expanding its food automation portfolio. The third acquisition bolsters a company in training for process operators. Then GE Intelligent Platforms acquired SmartSignal in what I regard as a surprise. GE investments that touch on my coverage area have been part of GE Energy. This is the first GE IP investment in quite some time.

I’m not surprised at all by the ABB acquisitions. They fill out a strategic direction that has been publicized. Adept has had corporate financial problems for quite some time. It’s good to see that evidently the financial situation has stabilized and that it has money for an acquisition. It’s also heartening to see GE invest in the automation arm.

In the first *ABB* acquisition, it announced it has agreed to acquire the business of Insert Key Solutions (IKS), a privately owned specialist software provider, adding IKS’ solutions to its recently acquired Ventyx software portfolio. The move is said to create a comprehensive solution set for asset and work management, maintenance optimization, and equipment reliability.

Based in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, in the United States, IKS specializes in delivering software solutions for process improvement, increased equipment reliability and operational performance in power generation plants, and transmission and distribution networks. The company has an extensive customer base in the thermal and nuclear power sectors, and a staff of 50 people.

ABB plans to retain the IKS team and will place IKS executives in key roles within the Ventyx team responsible for Asset Suite, eSOMS (asset and operations management software), and IKS solutions.

The second acquisition is Obvient Strategies Inc., a privately owned specialist software provider, also adding Obvient’s solutions to the Ventyx software portfolio. Obvient has offices near Atlanta, Georgia, in the US. The transaction is said to further enhance ABB’s software offering for asset management, power distribution automation and smart grid applications.

Obvient offers software and services for industries and utilities with geographically dispersed assets. The company’s business intelligence software collects, analyzes and reports critical real-time as well as periodic information. This supports decision making and helps users to optimize operations. As well as helping to manage complex operations, the solutions also reduce operating costs and improve asset reliability. Obvient’s products compile the power transmission and distribution sector’s best business practices into prepackaged solutions. This enables companies to monitor and manage their distributed assets more effectively, on a real-time and event-driven basis.

ABB plans to retain the Obvient team and place its executives in key roles within the Ventyx product management organization. The company has offices near Atlanta, Georgia, and a staff of 40.

Before I could post this, ABB announced another financial move, this time an investment.

It has invested $10 million in San Francisco-based ECOtality, a clean electric transportation and storage technologies company, to enter North America’s electric vehicle (EV) charging market and provide ECOtality with a strong global ally in power delivery systems.

ECOtality will use the investment to foster its expansion and finance initial requirements of the EV Project, a program to develop electric vehicle infrastructures in 16 major US cities funded by a $115 million grant from the US Department of Energy (DOE). The project involves installation of more than 15,000 chargers to support the deployment of 8,300 electric vehicles.

In addition, the companies have signed an agreement establishing ABB as the preferred supplier for ECOtality’s power electronics and component parts in North America. The companies will work together to develop charging technologies for electric vehicles that incorporate the advanced consumer interface and billing functionalities of ECOtality’s Blink EV charging stations. Through its smart grids industry segment initiative, ABB will contribute its expertise from several projects in Europe involving integration of EV charging solutions.

*GE Intelligent Platforms* has completed the acquisition of SmartSignal, a privately-held, analytics software company based in Lisle, Illinois. SmartSignal specializes in providing Remote Monitoring & Diagnostics solutions to the Power Generation, Oil & Gas and other industrial sectors. SmartSignal is a leading provider of predictive diagnostic software and monitoring services used to anticipate, prevent, and avoid equipment failure. The company has more than 40 product and technology patents, and has won more than 25 awards for product excellence.

SmartSignal detects and identifies abnormal equipment behavior and provides exception-based notifications of developing problems along with diagnoses and prioritizations. Its solutions are device-agnostic and are found on equipment from GE, Siemens, Rolls Royce, Alstom, Flowserve, Waukesha, Byron Jackson, Cooper-Bessemer, and others.

*GSE Systems Inc.*, a global provider of real-time simulation and training solutions to the power, process, manufacturing and government sectors, announced the acquisition of EnVision Systems Inc., which provides interactive multi-media tutorials and simulation models, primarily to the petrochemical and oil & gas refining industries.

At closing, GSE paid $1.2 million in cash to the shareholders of EnVision. In addition, if EnVision attains certain revenue targets for the four-year period ending December 31, 2014, the shareholders of EnVision could receive up to an additional $3.05 million.

EnVision, with headquarters in Madison, NJ and an office in Chennai, India, was founded in 1991. EnVision’s tutorials and simulation models serve the rapidly growing entry-level training market for the oil & gas refining and specialty chemicals industries. EnVision’s products provide a foundation in process fundamentals and plant operations and interaction. With this knowledge base, users may then graduate to the full-scope, high-fidelity, real-time simulators provided by GSE. EnVision has completed more than 750 installations in over 28 countries and its approximately 130 clients include Shell Oil Company, BP, Total and Chevron. EnVision will operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of GSE and be re-named GSE EnVision, Inc.

*Adept Technology Inc.*, a provider of intelligent vision-guided robotics and autonomous mobile solutions, announced that it has entered into an agreement to acquire privately held InMoTx, a provider of industry leading technology for the global food processing market. With operations based in Denmark, InMoTx is said to enhance Adept’s position in the food packaging industry through a broad portfolio of intellectual property dedicated to inspecting, sorting, grading, and hygienically packaging unwrapped, natural products improving food safety by eliminating the risk of contamination introduced by manual handling.

Under the terms of the agreement, Adept will acquire InMotx in a cash and stock transaction valued at up to $4.3 million, which includes $1.5 million in cash, subject to adjustment, 200,000 shares of Adept common stock and earnout provisions based upon the revenues of the acquired business and related products over the three years following the acquisition. InMotx’ founder and chief technology officer will be granted up to 100,000 shares of Adept common stock contingent on his continued employment with Adept for three years following the acquisition. The acquisition is subject to customary closing conditions and is expected to be completed by mid-January, 2011. The transaction is expected to be accretive in Adept’s fiscal 2012 year.

And in other good news in the industry:

*Advantech*, an international supplier of industrial PCs and automation, adopted a board resolution to acquire 10,427 pings of Linkou Industrial Park at NT$145,000 per ping, or approximately NT$1.512 billion in total. The new park will be a fully functional campus and the second R&D and manufacturing headquarters of Advantech in Taiwan.

In light of the healthy growth and promising prospects for the IPC industry, Advantech is growing rapidly and doubling its revenues every five years. At the same time, production and warehousing facilities in Taiwan have faced space shortages and it is anticipated that the R&D office will also be out of space within the next five years. Therefore, Advantech plans to set up this second headquarters in Linkou. The new campus will become an important base for Advantech manufacturing and R&D over the next ten years and the location of the new park is expected to attract talent from Hsinchu and Taoyuan.

The campus park will be constructed systematically and in stages and include a factory, an R&D center, and an office building. The new campus will also provide a venue for an exchange of global talent and a training center. The long-term development plan includes four major elements, including a manufacturing and warehouse distribution center, an R&D building, stationed staff quarters / training center / convention center, and new business incubation centers.

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