AI, ChatGPT and Manufacturing

I write a column for an Italian magazine called Automazione Oggi. The column is called News from America. The editor and I met in Shanghai at a computer supplier user conference when I was editor at Automation World. We traded columns. I left AW behind 10 years ago. She’s still there. I’m still writing.

This month as I looked for what was happening around the country, I couldn’t escape the conversations around AI and ChatGPT. Most of these thoughts are from the column for AO. 

The Deep Question I pose for you today—Have you played with ChatGPT, yet? Do you even know what it is? Have you tried puzzling out all the conflicting conjectures from mainstream media that confuse what AI is (versus machine learning) versus what Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) is? This AI is not even close to the evil overlords found in The Terminator.

Today’s podcast subject from Seth Godin concerns ChatGPT and AI, it’s written by AI, and it’s read by AI. Something to ponder.

But we wonder:

Will anyone human ever write anything anymore? What will become of education? Will humans become slaves? Will this replace all our jobs? I think it is more than an American strategy of news writers and speakers to try to instill as much fear of the future as possible in their audience.

There is little new in these musings that couldn’t have been found in the Terminator movie series beginning in 1984. The theme of humans rebelling against the technological overlords is older than that.

I’ve covered technology advances for industrial and manufacturing applications for 25 years. I’ve observed, learned, used, contemplated technology for much longer than that. We have all seen this theme repeated to ad nauseam. The new technologies never turn out to be as apocryphal as worriers feared. Humans learned how to use each new technology for our benefit. Some have replaced jobs. Most have added other jobs. Yes, some technologies have been used against us (think the aggressive misinformation on social media). On the whole, technology has been our friend.

We have been living with a form of these chat machine learning devices for about 10 years. I’m at my sister-in-law’s winter house in Florida where they ask Alexa such important queries as “what is the temperature outside” or “what is the humidity” or “turn on the living room lights”. Apple brought us Siri.

The difference is that Alexa and Siri will perform certain control tasks. ChatGPT uses statistics. You cannot ask it questions of logic. It is not a decision-making device. You ask it a search question and it is just as likely to return as much wrong information as correct. Google, Bing, and the like return a list of links. You can click each link and decide if that is the information you were looking for. ChatGPT will return a narrative it has gleaned from its machine learning. You don’t know the source. You don’t know if it is correct. If you ask it to write a memo or essay, it will look at a word, then using statistics it will predict the most likely next word, and so on.

Only yesterday media was filled with stories about how we will live in the “metaverse” using virtual reality headsets and augmented reality glasses. I have worn headsets and glasses at many trade fairs including Hanover Messe in Germany for many years. We still have not devised useful applications for them. We have had ML embedded in our software and neural networks in our motion control for many years. Those are forms of AI. Can we use a chat function in industrial applications? I think we are many years away from an answer.

Go make a difference.

Why Do Open Systems Work in IT but Have Not Made It in OT?

This is from my last newsletter which you can find at I continue to spin a few of my brain cycles around the concept of open systems. Automation suppliers continue to pay a little lip service to open but also continue to try to keep as much proprietary as possible in order to make switching suppliers difficult for customers. Until customers push back even more, little will change. Will the Open Process Automation initiative change things?

Curiosity of the week—why have open systems worked so well in the IT market but failed to gain traction in the “OT” market? Thoughts? Send me a message at [email protected].

One of the meetings I look forward to these days at the ARC Forum in Orlando concerns updates from The Open Process Automation Forum, a working group of The Open Group.

This year I met with OPAF leaders Mohan Kalyanaraman and Ryan Smeltzer for a private briefing and then attended one of the OPAF sessions in the general forum. Widespread interest in their work was evidenced by the turnout of more than 200 people.

The OPAS 2.1 version of the standard is considered to be stable and suppliers can build products to it. Conformance requirements and testing are in process and due this year. Security guidelines and adoption guides are due to be completed this year.

Test beds and a pilot project have been completed. A few companies have scheduled test beds to their requirements. ExxonMobil is proceeding with a field trial that includes DCS/PLC that are commercially available compliant with OPAS 2.1. The project includes a single operator, single console, 2,500 I/O, and 100 control loops.

Further, OPAF is working with OPC Foundation for joint standard for Field Exchange and is also working with NAMUR ZVEI in Europe.

A little history and context

This work was instigated by ExxonMobil made public in 2016. That company faced upgrading its automation platforms at considerable expense. Other end user companies faced the same challenge. Schneider Electric, Yokogawa, and ABB were early boosters from the technology provider side of the equation.

I have followed a few of these initiatives. I can see the value of open systems. They have worked well in the IT market. However, gaining adoption is exceedingly difficult. Many suppliers may talk open systems, but in the end they want to keep everything tied together in house. To the outside world, they’ll say that they can assure all the parts will work together better because they are all designed by the same company. On the other hand, they really want to establish a long-term relationship with a large customer that is difficult to break. Lots of conflicting desires and business needs.

This project is gaining traction. It will only work in the end if enough end users specify the products and enforce procurement and application. Another project I once followed stumbled at this stage. One corporate engineering staff approved the open standard, but they could not enforce procurement at the plant level. We’ll see where this one goes.


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Environmental Sensors Increase Supply Chain Visibility

Innovation has not died even at the sensor level of automation. This news from Zebra Technologies features a new line of environmental sensors including the new ZS300 sensor, ZB200 Bridge and Android Sensor Discovery app.

Using these sensors, manufacturers, wholesalers, transportation and logistics operators in the food, pharmaceutical and healthcare industries now have cloud-based visibility into a range of environmental factors, including temperature monitoring and moisture detection. This will enable them to know if products have been maintained within appropriate conditions across the supply chain. The sensors help improve profitability by allowing users to take corrective action in real time and maximize their productivity with a more efficient data logger.

The new ZS300 electronic sensor addresses the current challenges faced with heightened consumer concerns about medications or food being compromised in transit with a secure cloud platform that makes it easy to integrate temperature logging into a wide variety of applications and systems of record. They are available in multipacks and include minimal biodegradable packaging and a no-cost recycling program to help reduce the impact on the environment.

Branch Motor Control Updated from Allen-Bradley

Here is my second piece of news from the foundation level of the enterprise pyramid. I lien’t think I’d write about motor control again. This news from Rockwell Automation announces a complete revision to its Allen-Bradley Branch Motor Control & Protection Solutions.

The recent overhaul of its motor control components within its Branch Motor Control & Protection Solution was brought on by the need for updating full systems where components are used to turn on and off motors of all sizes while helping protect the motors from overloading during operation. Basic across-the-line motor starters remain ubiquitous in industrial applications despite the proliferation of solid-state motor starting technologies. These components comprise motor starting contactors, motor-specific circuit breakers and motor-overload relays, where depending on the application, the motor overload functionality can be incorporated in the circuit breaker or applied as a separate component.

One of the significant advantages of the system is the availability of the wide-range, energy-saving coils for Bulletin 100-E architecture-class contactors. These coils use much less energy in operation, and cover AC and DC control circuits from 24 to 240 volts, making selection much easier. Safety versions of the contactors are available, as well as NEMA-rated options. Bulletin E100 Electronic Overload Relays are now also compatible with Bulletin 100-E and 100-C Contactors to enhance systems.

The recently launched Bulletin 140MT line of Motor Protection Circuit Breakers and Motor Circuit Protectors provides higher short-circuit ratings than the products they replace. And the range of E100/200/300 electronic overload relays includes options for EtherNet/IP integration that enables comprehensive diagnostics and Logix integration.

Honeywell Introduces New Transmitters for Condition-based Monitoring of Rotating Equipment

A couple of news items recently pushed my way from the foundation layer of the famous Purdue Pyramid. This one comes from Honeywell, a company that usually talks to me about software and sustainability. This release concerns transmitters for condition-based monitoring of rotating equipment. This is an important layer of data generation for the famous Industrial Internet of Things.

Honeywell March 8, 2023 introduced Versatilis Transmitters for condition-based monitoring of rotating equipment such as pumps, motors, compressors, fans, blowers, and gearboxes that provide relevant measurements of rotating equipment, delivering intelligence that can improve safety, availability, and reliability across industries.

These are a multi-variant instrument based on the low power, long range LoRaWAN protocol known for low power consumption and easy installation. Easy configuration is achieved through a mobile application over Bluetooth.

They can seamlessly integrate with Honeywell’s Experion HS and other SCADA or asset management platforms. When used with Honeywell’s analytics software, this technology can predict equipment failures such as asset imbalance, misalignment, and bearing-related issues before they happen, helping to reduce unplanned downtime.

Rockwell Invests in Ready Robotics

Rockwell Automation invests strategically in a number of ways. It made an investment in PTC mostly to have access to ThingWorx and input into other technologies. It also acquired outright Plex and FiiX that gave it inhouse cloud capabilities. This investment is in READY Robotics in order to better integrate the various control technologies—something ongoing for many years that still requires development.

This investment and technology development should help machine builders and users if all that integration lives up to the promise (as a former machine builder and user, I can’t help the mild skepticism, we always hoped it would work).

Rockwell Automation Announces Strategic Investment in READY Robotics and Collaboration to Streamline Robot Implementation

Rockwell Automation announced March 2, 2023 a strategic investment in READY Robotics, a pioneering company in software-defined automation and a Rockwell Technology Partner.

READY Robotics’ ForgeOS platform enables operators to control and program the most popular brands of robots from a single user-friendly interface with minimal training. Using Task Canvas, one of many useful ForgeOS Productivity Apps included with the platform, operators can quickly create new automation tasks with a powerful, no-code, flowchart-based interface.

Rockwell and READY Robotics have collaborated to integrate ForgeOS with Rockwell’s line of Logix controllers and design and simulation software. The combination will simplify robot integration and accelerate time-to-market of industrial automation deployments. Rockwell’s investment will foster continued development of the ForgeOS platform, support its integration with Logix, and accelerate adoption across the Rockwell ecosystem of system integrators and technology and channel partners.

“We are excited to work with READY Robotics to help further simplify the use of diverse robotic systems in automation solutions for our customers. Linking the intuitive ForgeOS software suite with Logix control, design, and emulation capabilities allows a broader range of businesses to implement these powerful tools and spend less time getting their systems up and running,” said Matheus Bulho, vice president and general manager, Production Automation at Rockwell.

“Historically, automation has been hampered by software silos between robot vendors,” said Ben Gibbs, CEO and co-founder of READY Robotics. “READY’s interface alleviates this issue, eases deployment, and enables automation where it might have been prohibitive before, especially in high-mix operations. Our platform enables programming and control of over 3 million compatible robots deployed today.”

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