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.

Survey Finds Manufacturers are Leading the Charge in AI Adoption

61% Predicting to Achieve AI Goals in Just 11 months, Fluke Reliability Survey Finds

Everyone is in the survey business these days. Fluke Reliability conducted this one and of course capitalized on the Artificial Intelligence (AI) meme. The focus was on our traditional understanding of AI in manufacturing, not on Generative AI that is capturing headlines but not use cases.

Why are business leaders (over 600 senior decision-makers and maintenance professionals in this survey) considering AI? Business growth, addressing the skills gap and need for greater efficiency are driving plans for AI, machine learning, cloud computing and other digital technology adoption.

Censuswide conducted the research, which surveyed over 600 senior decision-makers and maintenance professionals in the U.S., the UK, and Germany. The findings confirm that manufacturers are at the forefront of implementing AI technologies into day-to-day operations.

AI will be a high business priority for companies over the next 12 months according to 93% of survey respondents. This sentiment is echoed at an organizational level, with 9 in 10 senior decision makers agreeing AI is the priority and over 4 in 5 maintenance managers saying the same.

Regarding the role of AI in predictive maintenance, only 8% of those surveyed are currently operating a predictive maintenance strategy. However, a massive 76.5% want to shift to predictive/proactive maintenance in the future, and AI implementation is viewed as a tool to achieve that goal.

Manufacturers are already turning their intentions into action, on average respondents said they intend to invest 44% of their technology budgets on AI in 2024 alone. In fact, (30%) of those surveyed plan to invest 51-75% of their technology budget on AI this year.

While only 9% of manufacturers agree that they have completed their Industry 5.0 goals to date, the majority (61%) expect to achieve their AI goals in just 11 months.

Anticipated benefits include:

  • the ability to develop new products and services (35%)
  • provide a new way to address data processing and analysis requirements (35%)
  • a means to address the call for improvements to customer service (35%)
  • the demand for improved efficiency and productivity (34%)
  • ways to compensate for the skilled labor shortage (31%).

Predictive Maintenance and Inventory Optimization

Fluke Reliability partners with Verusen to Drive Predictive Maintenance and Inventory Optimization

The new trend for 2024 involves spreading applications from the factory floor specifically to maintenance and repair and parts. Here is a partnership designed to enhance spare parts inventory plus predictive maintenance. It does make sense to bring those two together. I sold a program once a long time ago that would have been a first step along this journey.

  • Verusen enables visibility into customers’ spare parts and inventory data across the enterprise
  • This complements Fluke Reliability’s commitment to providing enhanced visibility into enterprise asset management operations 
  • The two companies provide customers with an expansive toolset to shift from reactive to predictive maintenance utilizing AI functionality 

Fluke Reliability has entered into a formal partnership agreement with Verusen. The agreement combines Verusen’s AI-driven visibility of MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Operations) spare parts inventory and back-office functions with Fluke Reliability’s AI-powered enterprise asset management solutions to increase uptime, enhance maintenance and reliability operations efficiency, and drive customer productivity.

Verusen has been added to Fluke Reliability’s Industry and Technology partner program which is designed to enable customers to better integrate and automate connected reliability workflows for improved operations. This move underpins both companies’ commitment to helping customers shift to more proactive maintenance and reliability operations, maximizing uptime and accelerating efficiency worldwide.

FieldComm Group Acquires FDT/DTM Technology

Ah, so go markets. Bitter enemies at the start many years ago. A gradual coming together. And now one big happy organization. FieldComm Group completes acquisition of FDT Group technologies. It all had to happen. I’m sure the member companies did not want to continue paying dues to multiple organizations. It’s a win all the way around. As well, they kept Steve Biegacki on to head up Strategic Integration—something for which he should be good.

From the press release. FieldComm Group, a leading figure in global industrial automation standards, today (June 10, 2024) announces that is has completed the acquisition of FDT Group’s assets including the FDT/DTM technology standards. This significant transaction underscores FieldComm Group’s dedication to addressing industrial device management challenges across the entire industrial automation market, ultimately enhancing operational efficiency for vendors and end users.

With a comprehensive suite of technologies including Information Models, the Field Device Integration (FDI) standard, and well-established communication protocols like HART, HART-IP, WirelessHART, and Foundation Fieldbus, FieldComm Group’s market offerings serve the entire process automation sector. The addition of FDT/DTM technology, a widely deployed device integration standard across process and factory automation markets, adds new technologies to the portfolio, completely addressing the industrial automation hierarchy.

The obligatory comment by the CEO:

“As digitalization transforms the automation industry by breaking down barriers between operation technology and information technology, the integration of factory and process automation devices becomes both more important and more difficult. Our aim as a standards organization is to add intelligence to the device integration process, with an ultimate goal of making it simpler,” stated Ted Masters, President and CEO of FIeldComm Group. “Ends users and suppliers will benefit greatly from this acquisition by having a single standards development organization responsible for the full spectrum of device integration from the simplest sensor to the most complex field instrument.”

Strategic Integration:

As part of the acquisition, FieldComm Group announces the formation of a Strategic Integration Committee (SIC), under the leadership of industry expert Steve Biegacki, former Managing Director of the FDT Group. The SIC will drive advancement of integration standards, including FDT/DTM and FDI, ensuring proactive management and maintenance of these technologies. The committee will initially be composed of FieldComm Group Board-level company representatives, with planned expansion to include representatives from other Standards Development Organizations (SDOs). The SIC aims to collaboratively work to preserve the existing installed base and chart a standardization roadmap for a unified device management platform, ensuring interoperability across existing protocols as well as future technology evolution, including OPC UA FX.

Our focus is on unified device configuration and a migration path to the future,” said Steve Biegacki. “At FieldComm Group, we are committed to seamless integration and enhanced operational efficiency for the entire automation industry.”

Integrated Robot Control

Once motion control systems, robot systems, and logic control systems existed as if on two different planets. Technology developers slowly began integrating motion control into their PLC platforms until today no one would acquire a PLC that cannot integrate motion.

Several years ago Rockwell Automation announced a robot control platform integrated into its control platform. And ABB/B+R and several others. Many robot applications readily lend themselves to integration into overall machine control.

Samantha Mou writes for Interact Analysis, one of the few analyst firms I find interesting. Based in China, she has written a good piece about Siemens’ announcements around Hannover Messe.

Just before Hanover Messe, Siemens announced its cooperation with two collaborative robot vendors, UR and JAKA. This will enable Siemens PLCs to control robots from UR and JAKA through the TIA Portal using the ‘Standard Robot Command Interface (SRCI)’ function. Prior to this, Siemens was already working in cooperation with Comau, Stäubli, Kawasaki and Yaskawa in integrated robot control via SRCI. A series of other leading robot brands, such as ABB, KUKA, FANUC, Epson and Techman, are also scheduled to come on board, and some other well-known Japanese and Chinese suppliers are pending, including Yamaha and Estun.

This will mean that the most influential industrial robot and collaborative robot brands on the market will support integrated robot control, allowing their robots to be controlled by automation systems.

Currently, the integration of industrial or collaborative robots and machines generally uses communication networks. The robot and the machine utilize independent control platforms, and robot controllers are connected to the machine PLC via communication protocols to facilitate machine-robot coordination.

So, how do companies integrate the two?

The concept of machine-integrated robot control emerged in a bid to unify control of machines and robots. There are two main ways of doing this. One is to retain the robot-specific controller hardware. For example, Siemens’ method employs a PLC that supports SRCI functions to translate and merge the robots’ control instructions into the TIA Portal. This enables engineers to use Siemens’ development environment to control robots without using robot programming languages.

Another integration method is to eliminate the robot controller hardware and use an automation controller with motion control functions instead. Robot axes are regarded as components of the machine and can be controlled directly by the machine controller. Notable solutions using this method include Rockwell’s Unified Robot Control, B&R’s Machine-Centric Robotics, Schneider’s PacDrive, and Omron’s NJ501-R controller. In addition to robot mechanics coming from robot manufacturers, there are also many cases where machine builders or integrators build robot mechanics themselves.

Another example of labor shortage.

With the increasing adoption of robots and the continued shortage of experienced engineers, there is strong growth in the market’s interest in integrated robot control. Different types of relevant market players are trying to seize the opportunities and benefits offered by this technology.

You can read her complete analysis here.

ZEDEDA Joins the Linux Foundation’s Margo Project

ZEDEDA works at the Edge—they call it Edge Orchestration–and is joining a standards body. I am not sanguine about these interoperability organizations. Perhaps those of you who use these tools in manufacturing or production could send a note about if (or how) you use these industry standards. I know that the IT industry makes great use of them. I am not so sure about the OT side.

At any rate, there is a new initiative underway that appears to duplicate the work of EdgeX Foundry that was begun several years ago. This one sponsored by the Linux Foundation is called Margo.

This news from ZEDEDA announces that it has joined the Linux Foundation’s Margo project as a steering committee member. Margo is a new open-source project focused on creating open standards for interoperability at the edge for industrial automation environments.

ZEDEDA joins founding members ABB, Capgemini, Microsoft, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric and Siemens in the Margo project. Darren Kimura, ZEDEDA’s president and COO, will be the company’s representative on the steering committee, which also includes a representative from Intel. ZEDEDA co-founder and CTO Erik Nordmark will be part of the technical working group, while senior director of marketing communications and partner marketing Sarah Beaudoin will be part of the marketing working group.

The Margo project represents a significant industry collaboration to define mechanisms for interoperable orchestration of edge applications, workloads and devices. It will deliver the promise of interoperability through an open standard, reference implementation, and comprehensive compliance testing toolkit.

Generative AI for Project Estimation and Digital Engineering

My last post concerned using new technologies for specification development. Extending use cases of technology into other realms of administrative work, this release from Galorath announces their new product, SEERai, an advanced chat-based generative artificial intelligence (AI) built specifically to assist digital engineers and engineering professionals plan and estimate projects. (Something else I could have gladly used in my earlier career.)

Use cases for this GenerativeAI technology include information technology (IT), software, hardware, manufacturing, aerospace, military, space, and more.

SEER enables businesses to streamline cost and cost estimation and project planning with real-time insights into cost drivers, risk factors, and the potential impact of hundreds of project variables. With SEER, digital engineers are empowered with industry-leading methodologies in digital engineering and keen, unprecedented insight into actionable data. With the availability of SEERai, cost estimation professionals have easy, generative access to Galorath’s proprietary knowledge base assembled and validated over its forty-year legacy, allowing users to engage in chat-based strategic conversations with SEERai and gain action-oriented insights for their projects and initiatives.

SEERai is built upon the existing industry-leading capabilities of the SEER Cost Estimation Platform. 

SEER’s features include:

  • Predictive Analytics: Accurately forecast project costs, schedules, and potential risks.
  • Machine Learning Algorithms: Improves predictions over time as project data is shared and easily adapts to new information and changing conditions.
  • Data-Driven Decision Making: Provides insights into cost drivers, risk factors, and the impact of different variables on project outcomes to make informed decisions.
  • Risk Analysis and Mitigation: Evaluates the probability/impact of various risk factors on a project, identifying potential issues before they occur and developing mitigation strategies, and planning for program uncertainty.
  • Customization and Scalability: Adapts to projects of different sizes and complexities across various industries with a high degree of AI algorithm customization and scalability.
  • Integration with Existing Systems: Integrates seamlessly with other project management and engineering software tools to facilitate the exchange of data and enhance analysis.

Platform Streamlining Specification Development Process

There exist many varieties of software platforms. Schneider Electric has introduced a new one on me—a “Specification Development Process” platform. I can think of many times in my career I could have used a tool such as this.

In brief:

  • Industry’s first platform for Specifiers that provides complete, up-to-date information to increase accuracy for architectural, engineering, and construction specifications
  • Developed in partnership with RIB Software, next-generation platform provides new levels of simplicity, transparency, and version control for modern design and engineering firms
  • Intuitive, cloud-based workspace to easily manage project specifications, track progress, and seamlessly download data
  • SpecLive Collaborate platform provides real time collaboration with Schneider Electric Experts and access to up-to-date specification content to increase accuracy and manage version control.

Schneider Electric launched SpecLive Collaborate May 22, 2024, a first-of-its-kind platform, to modernize and streamline product specification and content integration for professionals. SpecLive Collaborate provides specifiers and engineers with a simple, streamlined experience for evaluating Schneider Electric’s cutting-edge solutions. This platform keeps essential technical product data intact by providing real time access to cloud-hosted specification content, reducing coordination gaps for the duration of the specification process. By improving upon static document-based processes, SpecLive Collaborate empowers teams with a shared, cloud-based workspace to develop more accurate specifications more collaboratively and more efficiently.

SpecLive Collaborate is part of Schneider Electric’s Specifier toolkit, made available via the MySchneider portal and your local consulting application engineers to provide users with the information to easily generate accurate and comprehensive specifications. SpecLive Collaborate does not require new workflows, and if the specifier has questions about a product or other information in the tool, they can request help directly through the platform.

A Different Look at Gray Work

Gray work is all that administrative busy work that we become entwined within. Tasks such as updating Excel spreadsheets or finding data somewhere.

This LinkedIn page as a bit of parody has fun with a company enamored with this gray work. It would be enough to make Cal Newport run for cover. (Author of Slow Productivity)

A New “Ops” Simulation Operations Automation Hits the Market

The IT world has many technologies called “ops” today. Simr, formerly called UberCloud, unveils “SimOps” hoping to “revolutionize product development by accelerating computer-based simulations. It also announced $20M in Series A funding from BMW i Ventures, Uncorrelated Ventures and Earlybird Venture Capital.

Simr gives engineers a single platform for using any compute resources with any leading simulation tool. The company is closely partnered with leading simulation platform providers including Ansys, Siemens, and Dassault Systèmes.

With the close of the new funding, Salil Deshpande, General Partner at Uncorrelated Ventures, and Baris Guzel, Partner at BMW i Ventures, join Ali Kutay, CEO and Chairman of Striim, and Roland Manger, Co-founder and Partner at Earlybird Venture Capital, on the Simr board of directors.

Benefits: 

  • Increased Product Innovation and Reduced Time-to-Market: Utilizing cloud HPC enables engineers to work with large models and detailed simulations that would be too complex and time-consuming for standard workstations. This leads to the rapid development of more accurate and effective designs, increasing innovation and helping speed the delivery of products to market. 
  • Uninterrupted Productivity: Simr ensures a no-compromise user experience by enabling engineers to use any and all of their existing simulation platforms and workflows – including those from Ansys, Dassault, and Siemens – without any additional onboarding or configuration. This eliminates reskilling and ensures that productivity is not only uninterrupted but accelerated. 
  • Unmatched Security: The Simr platform’s implementation in the customer’s own cloud account enables IT teams to keep all proprietary data behind their corporate firewall – under their complete and exclusive control – while maintaining direct access to their cloud provider’s full range of security and compliance mechanisms. 
  • Increased Cost-Efficiency: Unlike consumption-based pricing models, Simr’s fixed, per-user pricing promotes simulation use by enabling customers to maintain direct relationships with the engineering software vendors and cloud providers of their choice. This enables them to leverage their own negotiated pricing and enables these resources to be accessed on an as-needed basis. 

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