Technology That’s Easy To Support and Implement

I can still remember the meeting to discuss technology, although I’m hazy on the exact date now but sometime in 2003. We had a new magazine. This was when ISA still had relatively large trade shows. My publisher called me. Seems there was a guy in our booth looking for the editor. He had some kind of revolutionary new software built on Java and was IT friendly.

OK, many CEOs had talked to me even in my brief career as an editor with something revolutionary. They are mostly long since exited from the market.

Steve Hechtman was different, but it took a bit of time for me to be certain. He told me about his new company Inductive Automation. It was SCADA/HMI software. I put it in a mental bin along with Wonderware and Intellution at the time. He talked about using standards that were friendly with the IT people and pricing models that would blow away the competition.

And all these years later, Inductive Automation is still thriving. They’ve built quite an ecosystem. (Yes, they are a long-time sponsor, but this is not an advertisement essay. I just happened to see this summary.)

The event that prodded me to write this brief essay was a conversation with a start-up CEO (more news coming next week about that) who had identified an underserved market niche that could be filled quite nicely. I thought about the market I principally write about and how Ignition fit. I wonder, given the maturity of the large automation companies and stagnant market, if perhaps there are other niches opening for enterprising visionaries?

This information came to me. Since I’ve often written about building products on open standards, I thought a little story of how it actually works would be instructional.

  • Ignition is a practical and affordable industrial automation platform based on open technology standards that are safe to trust and easy to support.
  • Based on IT standards — like SQL, Python, MQTT, and OPC UA — and works with practically anything.
  • Based on the open source Java platform and modern technology languages like HTML5 and CSS to keep implementation dependencies to a minimum.
  • Ignition is a system in which your equipment all plays well together and you can implement processes freely without extra fees or royalties. 

Nokia Survey Reveals Enterprises Are Scaling Private Wireless Networks

It always appeared to me that 5G and other private wireless networks held promise for many applications within industry. This report from Nokia reveals enterprises are scaling private wireless for additional uses cases and industrial sites.

  • 45% of the organizations are leveraging private wireless to support more use cases than planned when first deployed.
  • 100% of enterprises expanded private wireless networks use or deployed them within another location and 78% reported positive ROI in six months.
  • 65% of respondents stated over 10% improvement in worker safety and 79% reported 10% or more reduction in their emissions.
  • 39% of enterprises with a private wireless have since deployed on-premise edge technology, with 52% planning to do so.

This 2024 Industrial Digitalization Report highlights that all 100 interviewed early adopters are using private wireless networks in additional locations or have expanded their use by launching more use cases in existing locations.

The Nokia report and related survey was conducted by GlobalData to gauge industry progress and return on investment (ROI) among private wireless early adopters in the manufacturing, transportation, and energy industries in countries including Australia, France, Japan, UK, and US.

The Report revealed that the top benefits for enterprises deploying private wireless networks include:

  • Increase in private wireless uses and locations: In 2022, many enterprises who had deployed private wireless technology were still at the proof of concept (PoC) or pilot stage, usually in a single location or single use case. In 2024, almost half of the enterprises interviewed (45%) are already taking advantage of private wireless networks with plans to do more than initially expected. 100% of the 100 enterprises interviewed have started to roll out private wireless networks to more locations or expanded their use at the original locations for driving wider industrial transformation.
  • Quickly achieving ROI: 93% of the respondents achieved ROI within 12 months. In fact, 78% reported that they achieved a positive outcome within six months, and 23% hit their ROI target in just one month. Private wireless solutions have helped businesses achieve such returns by fixing broken processes and reducing the overall cost of doing business.
  • Improved worker safety and sustainability: The research found that worker safety is a common challenge private wireless technology is helping to overcome, with 65% stating they realized more than 10% improvement in top use cases to improve worker safety, such as implementing geofencing technology, connected worker and robotics to carry out dangerous work.
  • Furthermore, 79% of organizations experienced a significant improvement in their sustainability efforts reporting a 10%, or more, reduction in their emissions after deploying private wireless networks. The enhanced connectivity increased the ability of those surveyed to connect industrial IoT devices and sensors to better track and monitor their carbon emissions. The use of drone technology reduced the number of truck rolls. This shows how private wireless technology is leading organizational transformation, not simply digital transformation, enabling tracking and analytics to meet global sustainability objectives.
  • Edge technology underpinning advance use cases: Edge technology is playing a foundational role in enabling new and more advanced low latency use cases that stretch beyond connectivity. 39% of the enterprises that deployed private wireless have since implemented an on-premise edge technology or a new selection of industrial devices to power digitalization and support complimentary technologies such as AI and analytics, with a further 52% planning to do so.

Orbbec Cameras Integrated with NVIDIA Isaac Robotics Platform        

One place where technology and integration and partners advances lies in the vision and robotics area. This news concerns Orbbec 3D vision systems integrating with NVIDIA Isaac Perceptor robotics platforms.

In brief: Gemini 330 cameras with built-in depth processing deliver high-precision Depth+RGB vision for NVIDIA  Isaac Perceptor AI-based perception workflow for autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) in indoor and outdoor environments.

Orbbec, an industry leader dedicated to 3D vision systems, announced its Gemini 330 series Stereo Vision 3D cameras are now integrated with NVIDIA Isaac Perceptor, a reference workflow for autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) built on GPU-accelerated Isaac ROS.

These cameras enhance depth quality and provide longer-range sensing in varied lighting conditions, which lets Isaac Perceptor – whose general availability was announced by NVIDIA today at COMPUTEX – output 3D reconstruction and obstacle cost maps of any unstructured environment.

The Gemini 335/335L/336/336L cameras operate in both passive and active laser-illuminated modes to ensure high-quality depth and RGB data output even in challenging lighting conditions. The depth algorithms are processed in the camera by Orbbec’s latest depth engine ASIC and thus eliminates the burden on the NVIDIA Jetson Orin module-based compute for such operations. The cameras include internal IMU and temperature sensors and have a working range of 0.2-10 meters, global shutter image sensors, wide field-of-view lenses, high frame rates, low latency and precise multi-camera synchronization.

Orbbec also announces the Gemini 336/336L variants for improved performance in indoor environments by adding NIR bandpass filters. This reduces the potential of “holes” in a depth map due to glare from shiny floors and other reflective surfaces and “ghost” images from repetitive patterns in the environment.

In addition to AMRs, the Gemini 330 series cameras are well suited for robot arm applications that utilize AI vision for bin-picking, palletization, scanning and sorting applications, especially where reduction in glare and resulting holes from glossy surfaces are important.

Companies in Maturity

My old friend Jim Pinto wrote a regular column for me at Automation World magazine. He was fond of predicting that Rockwell Automation had to be acquired because it had grown too large to grow at a respectable rate.

He based that on two articles from the Harvard Business Review.

He was partly right and partly not. Rockwell, along with all the other major industrial automation suppliers, have grown and matured. They can no longer maintain large rates of growth. The market has long since matured. But they are too large and have too fixed of a corporate culture to be acquired. All they can do is continue to look for smaller companies to acquire and build their service organizations.

They should not feel lonely. Here is one of my favorite writers, Om Malik, on the latest status of the large technology companies. Same song, different verse.

Whether it’s Apple, Google, or Amazon, most of these companies are facing the tyranny of large numbers. But if you are a regular reader, you already knew that. Apple is looking at “services” to boost its revenues. “Apple is reporting revenue of $90.8 billion for the March quarter, including an all-time revenue record in Services,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, when announcing the company’s quarterly earnings. Services grew 8% on an annual basis, while hardware sales were down. The good news is that Apple continues to push and innovate on the core technology front — the latest M4 chip being a good example.

Mega-Growth for Apple and others is now in the rearview mirror. “If you’re making hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue, you can’t really double it every year,” I said on the podcast. This is a natural evolution for the industry, as companies reach a point where their sheer size makes it difficult to maintain the rapid growth rates that investors have come to expect.

This new reality for technology giants such as Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft involves grappling with the challenges of being mature companies that have massive existing revenue streams. There are no more markets to conquer — these companies are the market. AI will definitely make these companies more profitable by enhancing efficiency and reinforcing their advantages. However, it is not quite clear how the market will eventually evolve.

That’s why in the industrial technology niche, there is only me as an independent (well, my colleague Walt Boyes has restarted his Insider newsletter). The magazines all still exist, but at reduced size. Most of the ads are purchased by master distributors. That tells me there’s not a lot of growth anticipated in automation, and that engineers reading those magazines mostly are buying parts. That also means not a lot of new products requiring new production lines—whether in factories or processing.

It is the same in the IT market. I dabbled working with units of Dell Technologies and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Their interest in the manufacturing sector waned. They are trying to push the envelope with faster, more powerful compute. Oh, and also services.

Looks like we are in an era of stability and maturity until the next big thing—which will come from the next big need. This may be robotics, software, and medicines to help an aging population.

Mitsubishi Electric Corporation Leads Series B Investment in Realtime Robotics

Investments seldom interest me. This one in the robotics area should be noticed when we consider the usual lifecycle path of a start up technology company.

Realtime Robotics, the leader in collision-free autonomous motion planning for industrial robots, today announced that it has secured a strategic investment from Mitsubishi Electric Corporation. This is the lead investment in Realtime Robotics’ recently opened Series B round. Mitsubishi Electric was also a participant in the Series A round, and will be adding a senior representative to Realtime’s Board of Directors.

Realtime Robotics’ unique and innovative collision-free path planning technology provides solutions across the lifecycle of robotic workcells. In iterative design stages, the award-winning multirobot optimization software rapidly generates and evaluates hundreds of thousands of possible solutions to identify the shortest cycle time. Deployment and production are further simplified by runtime control, enabling multiple robots to work closer together, while simultaneously reacting to dynamic changes. Finally, when the workcell needs to be retooled, the complex robot control is effortlessly reprogrammed for optimal cycle time from the first iteration. 

Why is Mitsubishi interested?

By increasing its stake, Mitsubishi Electric plans to further integrate Realtime’s motion planning technology into 3D simulators and other software to optimize manufacturing through the power of digital twins. Later, Mitsubishi Electric expects to incorporate Realtime’s technology into factory automation (FA) control system devices, such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs), servo motors and computer numerical controllers (CNCs), to ensure uninterrupted plant operations by responding to needs for expanded automation capabilities, streamlined plant operations for improved efficiency, and fast responses to unexpected events.

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