Rockwell Automation’s recent huge investment in PTC for only 8% of the company has sparked a number of thoughts on strategies not only of Rockwell Automation, but also other companies in the market. We’re looking not only at Rockwell Automation in this brief analysis, but also Siemens, Schneider Electric, and ABB.

I’ve left out Emerson, Honeywell, and Yokogawa. The only interesting thing in that part of the market is Emerson’s abortive run at acquiring Rockwell. That was strange. I don’t think that Emerson could have digested such a meal.

The analysis is not to knock anyone but to look for trends and strategies of some of our major suppliers.

I think it begins with Siemens. An executive explained the company’s digital factory strategy and vision many years ago. Then the company acquired UGS and added PLM, CAD, and other digital technologies. There followed other similar acquisitions. I’m thinking mainly of the COMOS product, here.

If you are looking for an articulation of the strategy, I suggest looking no further than Industrie 4.0 and cyber-physical systems.

Sticking with Europe and the competition over there, let’s consider Schneider Electric. This company has been building the “electrification” side of the business which also brought industrial control products and some automation–think Modicon. While it lost considerable market share in PLCs, it did remain in the market. Then it acquired Invensys adding a lot of software (something it never really was good at) but especially process control (Foxboro, etc.). This latter helps it in the power market segment and positions it well against ABB. Siemens of course is the main competitive target. Then is a strange move, Schneider used its software businesses (Wonderware, etc.) as an investment in AVEVA grabbing 51% of the company. Now it, too, has a digital factory strategy in place.

ABB, a strong competitor in the power side of the business and also in process control, acquired B+R Automation. That company was a strong second-tier machine automation supplier fleshing out ABB’s portfolio in the discrete, or machine, automation market. Then it acquired GE’s industrial business strengthening ABB in the “electrification” market. Sounding familiar.

Now look at Rockwell’s investment. That company has flirted with Dassault Systemes over many years for a PLM-to-Control strategy. But nothing ever came of it.

A couple of years ago it acquired thin-client manufacturer ACP and systems integrator Maverick Technologies and MagneMotion a supplier of motion control and conveyor technologies. Then came a large investment in PTC for a small percentage of the company. I speculated that this could be a Digital Factory play along with the respected analyst Joe Barkai, but my friend Keith Larson writing for Putman Publishing (and someone I trust to accurately report on what suppliers are saying) reported that the sought-after prize was a closer integration with ThingWorx. This would be a piece of the Rockwell strategy of “Connected Enterprise” and Larson reported that the target RA product is its MES offering.

In other words, Rockwell Automation seems focused not on the current buzz of Industry 4.0/Industrial Internet of Things/Cyberphysical systems/Digital Factory, but on “making our customers more productive.” Its roots are plant floor and it remains a plant floor supplier.

I am NOT predicting any acquisition of Rockwell Automation, but I do believe that the market needs some continued consolidation. The next five years will be interesting in this market.

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