I devoted Tuesday this week to exploring Automate, the robot/vision/automation trade show produced by A3. Six miles of walking and many conversations later, a sense of the state of the industry and a few of the players visited me.

One thing to note was where consolidation is and has taken place. The cobot revolution has matured with the small innovative companies acquired by large corporations. 

Interesting to delve further into Rockwell Automation’s latest strategy by visiting Otto, the autonomous mobile robot company recently acquired. It is going deeper into discrete manufacturing rather than broader into other technologies—sort of the opposite of Siemens. I wonder if that reflects on the differences of the American and German markets.

Conversations with Beckhoff Automation, Inductive Automation, and Opto 22 revealed how companies can be successful without selling out to a huge corporation. Independents like these still have a place in the market.

Thinking about the market consolidation of the past say five years, I saw this piece from technology writer, thinker, and former VC, Om Malik. I remember reading his columns in Red Herring maybe 20 years ago and have followed his work ever since. Here are some thoughts he had reflecting on Apple’s recent iPad event and the resulting ad. These thoughts are relevant to our market. Think of companies you know who are in the incremental improvement stage.

Apple is no longer making iconic products that are trying to find their place in our lives through clever messaging. The Crush ad is the output of a mega-company that still doesn’t realize that it permeates all aspects of our modern lives, including our retirement plans. When you are as large as Apple (or any other Big Tech giant,) mediocrity of action creeps into every aspect of your business.

Now it is trying to be a company that has to keep selling the newer, more incremental versions of those products to keep growing, so long as it can feed the quarterly earnings monster. It has to keep the stock flying high. Apple is now a $2.75 trillion company — and it has to do everything it can to keep itself there in that elite club. It is getting harder and harder.

Apple is not alone. Its big tech peers Amazon and Google are finding growth much more challenging. They are doing things that make them less likable by the day. And like them, Apple too, is primed to stumble! 

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