Automation Fair Attracts Large Crowd, Exhibits New Technology

There was Automation Fair and then meetings and then Thanksgiving. Plenty of time to digest everything I learned and experienced at Rockwell Automation’s event. They skipped 2020, of course. The 2021 event in Houston was abbreviated. This one held at Chicago’s McCormick Place resembled all the pre-Covid events. More than 15,000 attendees, lots of presentations and learning opportunities, and many Rockwell and partner exhibits.

I wrote a quick update with the themes I picked up. Here is a recap.

Themes

  • Emphasis on partners working together—specifically Festo, Zededa, Stratus
  • Connected Enterprise is still central, connectivity is everywhere
  • Cloud is everywhere
  • Use technology the right way
  • Enable humans to make better decisions

The big three things Rockwell spokespeople referenced were FactoryTalk Design Hub, FactoryTalk Edge, and cloud. The cloud discussion involved Design Hub, Plex, and Fiix. Plex, the cloud-based MES software replaced PTC as the focus of software discussion. PTC’s stand, though, with ThingWorx and Vuforia, was constantly busy—so much so that I never squeezed in for a talk. Fiix is the cloud-based CMMS package. I think these were meaningful acquisitions that will add value now and in the future.

Specifics — Rockwell Automation Products

FactoryTalk Design Hub

Transform automation design capabilities with a more simplified, productive way to work powered by the cloud. There are five core applications.

  • FactoryTalk Design Studio—cloud-native software product built from the ground up to improve system design efficiency. Teams can collaborate with automated tools to share and merge changes, and project sizes can scale dynamically with support for multiple controllers in a single project.
  • FactoryTalk Optix—addition to the visualization portfolio, the first cloud-enabled HMI product to be launched within FactoryTalk Design Hub. 
  • FactoryTalk Twin Studio—end-to-end automation design solution where users can design, program, simulate, emulate, and virtually commission in one cloud environment.
  • FactoryTalk Vault—secure, cloud-native centralized storage for manufacturing design teams. 
  • FactoryTalk Remote Access—enables secure connections to equipment. 

FactoryTalk Edge

An intelligent edge management and orchestration SaaS platform with an edge application ecosystem – based on zero trust security and open industry standards – accelerating digital transformation for industrial customers.

FactoryTalk Edge Gateway (FTEG)

Connects operational technology to informational technology. FTEG tools scan the EtherNet/IP network to discover devices. 

FactoryTalk Smart Object (FTSO)

A simplified way to organize data for easy collection by the controller and subsequent transfer to IIoT systems. The FTSO Config Tool creates the base code for the tags the user selects to be included in data models.

On Machine Products

  • ArmorKinetix distributed servo drives provide the Kinetix 5700 platform in a compact, On-Machine form factor.
  • ArmorBlock 5000 I/O—Distributed I/O blocks with IO-Link technology
  • Armor PowerFlex—A new generation of On-Machine VFD motor control solutions that provide an integrated, near-motor solution where reducing installation time and cost are most critical.

Specifics — Partners

Festo

  • With the Festo CPX-FB36 bus node now recognized by FTEG, basic diagnostic information from smart pneumatic devices such as Festo valve terminals and energy saving pneumatic devices are easily accessible.
  • Add-on instructions can be used by FTSO that access timestamp values for the extension and retraction of pneumatic cylinders. This information is accessible to FTEG.
  • Data collected by FTEG can be shared with Festo AX software, the new AI solution from Festo that can improve machine utilization and quality, lower waste, and ensure energy optimization. Festo AX provides a bridge between advanced analytics arising from operational technology, such as that collected by FTEG, and IT-based business intelligence. Festo AX can run directly on the system (on-edge), on servers (on-premises), or in the cloud.

Zededa

Zededa announced a supply agreement with Rockwell Automation to provide distributed edge management and orchestration capabilities—incorporated as part of FactoryTalk edge management offering.

PTC Acquires ServiceMax

PTC to Acquire SaaS Field Service Management Provider ServiceMax

PTC continually enlarges its footprint in the digital enterprise domain. There was its expansion a few years ago into Internet of Things with acquisition of ThingWorx and Kepware. Those brought a relationship with Rockwell Automation—and I noticed its stand at Automation Fair this month was continually busy. Now an extension into field service management related to its product lifecycle management (PLM) portfolio. 

This is an interesting acquisition. Management believes it can bring all these acquisitions together to get the jigsaw puzzle pieces to interlock.

  • Acquisition expected to strengthen service capabilities of PTC’s closed-loop PLM portfolio
  • PTC’s manufacturing customers rely on field service management for product performance, customer satisfaction, and profitability expansion
  • Strong synergies between PTC and ServiceMax’s manufacturing customers and product portfolios
  • Transaction expected to be accretive to PTC’s SaaS ARR and cash flow in FY’23

 PTC announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire ServiceMax for approximately $1.46 billion in cash on a debt-free, cash-free basis from an entity majority owned by Silver Lake. ServiceMax is a recognized leader in cloud-native, product-centric field service management (FSM) software. The acquisition is expected to strengthen PTC’s closed-loop product lifecycle management (PLM) offerings by extending the digital thread of product information into downstream enterprise asset management (EAM) and FSM capabilities. Subject to the satisfaction of regulatory approval and other applicable closing conditions, the transaction is expected to close in early January 2023.

Partners since 2015, PTC and ServiceMax both support manufacturers of complex, highly configured products for the medical device, industrial products, aerospace, and related verticals. These manufacturers view field service as a strategic part of their businesses to maintain product performance, extend their products’ lifecycles, increase customer satisfaction, drive revenue growth, and expand profitability.

Details:

  • The purchase price will be funded in two stages, with $808 million paid at closing and $650 million paid in October 2023. The transaction will be funded with cash on hand, borrowings under PTC’s existing credit facility, and a new $500 million committed term loan.
  • ServiceMax is expected to contribute approximately $160 million in ARR for PTC’s Q2’23.
  • The transaction is expected to be accretive to PTC’s FY’23 cash flow from operations, free cash flow, and adjusted free cash flow targets.

A Few Thoughts On Instrumentation Networking

Tilo Merlin holds the role of instrumentation platform manager at ABB in Frankfurt, Germany. We connected on Microsoft Teams because I was curious about the latest ABB take on what’s happening on the foundation side of the Industrial Internet of Things—networks and instrumentation.

Coming from the instrumentation world, he often referred to RS-485, that ubiquitous serial networking standard. He told me that Modbus and Modbus TCP remain popular for instrumentation networks. As is the HART serial protocol. It takes a long time to make changes in the process world, I guess.

Speaking of HART, I’ve been curious about the growth of use of the digital side of the protocol. Engineers can use just the analog side as a serial network. I’ve often heard that the digital side is seldom used. Merlin noted the digital side of HART is used mostly for commissioning and diagnostics.

Ethernet Advanced Physical Layer (APL) has gathered much publicity lately. I just wrote about ODVA releasing a conformance test meaning that developers must be getting close to releasing product.

Merlin pointed to the beauty of Ethernet that you can just add protocols to the physical layer. APL bests Ethernet POE (power over Ethernet) by requiring just two wires for power to the device as well as signal. Often the two wires already exist in the plant. This little factor reduces labor to install the new network. The network is low power, therefore intrinsically safe. ABB makes a couple of instruments that utilize power from the network. I foresee a growth in that area.

ABB finds customers wishing to separate asset management from the control system. Energy management is currently the important function of asset management. Companies don’t wish to pay for extensive engineering hours to do the programming through the control system. 

I walked into a marketing topic mentioning I had talked with a customer engineering manager who pleaded with technology providers to simplify their systems. They don’t have people with time or often skills to deal with network complexity.

ABB has a marketing slogan, Measurement Made Easy. True to his engineering heritage, Merlin said at first he thought it was just marketing (don’t we all sometimes think that?). He has come to experience the truth of the vision. They are working to make things simple as the app on your smart phone.

Industrial Metaverse—Dream or Real?

Just over a year ago, Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook) CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined a vision for the future of the social media giant—the metaverse. “We believe the metaverse will be the successor to the mobile internet, we’ll be able to feel present – like we’re right there with people no matter how far apart we actually are,” he said. He bet a huge amount of money. In November, he laid off thousands of employees working on the project.

I recently moderated a panel discussion on the Web discussing the Industrial Metaverse. I wanted to establish a definition. I failed. Perhaps the best short description of the Metaverse is that point where the physical and digital worlds come together.

English technology analyst Benedict Evans wrote, “Sometimes it seems like every big company CEO has read the same article about the same tech trend, and sent the same email to their team, asking “What’s our strategy for this?!” A couple of years ago there were a lot of emails asking for a 5G strategy, and now there are a lot of emails asking about metaverse.”

Yes, it seems like only yesterday I was swamped with press releases and requests for interviews about 5G. But that was yesterday, and yesterday’s gone (to quote singers Chad and Jeremy). Evans continues.

Evans continued, “Answering the 5G email was actually pretty easy, partly because almost no-one needs a 5G strategy at all, but also because we knew what 5G meant. We probably don’t know what ‘metaverse’ means. More precisely, we don’t know what someone else means. This word has become so vague and broad that you cannot really know for sure what the speaker has in mind when they say it, since they might be thinking of a lot of different things.”

The metaverse needs a digital twin. This is the digital representation of physical reality. It also needs sensory input. There must be visualization of the digital output—perhaps AR glasses or VR headsets. Oh, and application sense must form part of the mix or else why do it. 

The word metaverse occurred first during the recent Rockwell Automation event Automation Fair on my third day. Even then, it was stated ironically. Rockwell did have an exhibit with a virtual reality headset. The application about to be released, however, was on flat screens accessible by all.

The metaverse experience that Siemens showcased at its Web Summit builds on the company’s digital twin technology—physics-based, real-time and photorealistic digital twins. By offering a completely digital model of the underwater farm, this technology enables the Nemo’s Garden team to develop, adapt, and control its underwater biospheres at scale. The photo-realistic metaverse experience at Web Summit is implemented with Unity, a cross-platform game engine.

With VR glasses on, visitors experience underwater farming with four senses: They can see and smell the vegetables and fruits, they can hear the sound of the underwater environment, and they can even feel the vegetables and fruits through full-feedback gloves. Visitors not wearing VR glasses can follow the action on a big screen and influence what is seen in the metaverse. 

Molex and Arrow Electronics conducted market research and returned an optimistic look at the value of the metaverse in industrial applications. They see manufacturers among first to benefit from convergence of physical and virtual processes to improve product-design cycles and factory of the future initiatives.

Some of the technologies commonly thought of as part of the metaverse include AR/VR, digital twins, robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics.

Deterministic Ethernet Solutions for Industrial and Critical Infrastructure Applications

Reza Eltejaein from Marvell Technology explained how deterministic Ethernet is displacing special purpose networks in several applications also describing the company’s new Ethernet switches for harsh environments and PHYs targeted to the industrial and critical infrastructure markets. This solution finally brings Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) to reality.

Ethernet is still too expensive for the sensor and other physical device layer. Achieving deterministic Ethernet for critical applications above that layer has been a target for engineering for years. Marvell Technology now offers a solution. 

Marvell’s Secure Deterministic Ethernet solution, comprised of Prestera switches and Alaska PHYs, is designed for switch appliances used in often-harsh environments. By enabling the more widespread use of Ethernet in the OT environment, the new solution facilitates the adoption of modern IT tools and security methods in OT networks, enabling a common management and automation approach from the cloud to the OT network edge.

The new solution addresses deterministic networking requirements with a set of Ethernet standards known as time-sensitive networking (TSN). With TSN, virtually any kind of Ethernet traffic can share a network, allowing siloed IT and OT networks to converge, thus reducing costs and facilitating in OT networks the analytics, automation and intelligence that are transforming IT networks.  

To better protect these networks, the new Prestera industrial-grade switches with TSN offer industry-first device- and link-level security, in the form of Secure Boot and MACsec. 

  • Integrated switching, CPU and Ethernet PHY—reduces power and footprint versus separate components. 
  • Time-Sensitive Networking: 802.1AS, 802.1CB, 802.1Qav, 802.1Qbv, 802.1Qbu, 802.1Qci, 802.1Qat—supports reliable, low-latency Ethernet performance.  
  • IEC/IEEE 60802 TSN profile for Industrial Automation—enables real-time end-to-end communications with guaranteed reliable performance and data delivery. 
  • 802.1AE MACsec—provides Layer-2 security for data integrity and confidentiality. 
  • Secure Boot—allows only trusted software to execute on the system. 
  • Parallel Redundancy Protocol (PRP) and Highly-available Seamless Redundancy (HSR)—provide no-loss failover in case of failure of any single network element. 
  • TrackIQ—provides rich telemetry data for use in network analytics and observability tools. 
  • Ruggedized -40°C to +85°C system operation—enables reliable operation in harsh environments and an expected lifetime of at least 10 years. 

Availability 

The Prestera DX1500 and Alaska E1781 product families are sampling now.