Universal Platform For The Edge

When there is a message for me on LinkedIn, it’s almost always a recruiter or SEO marketer trying to sell me something. So, there was a pleasant surprise the other day when it was a marketing person for a software company with a new take on the Edge, datacenters, and software. That company is NodeWeaver.

Here is a statement of the problem. Most of the software in the world runs outside of clouds or datacenters—it runs at the edge. But the edge is made of small systems deployed in tens of thousands of locations, in stores, inside industrial systems, on top of telecom towers. Places that may have limited connectivity, or be difficult to reach, all sharing the fact that they run critical systems, and if something stops, your users are not getting services, or production lines grind to a halt. What happens if something fails?

Existing solutions require manual interventions by skilled technicians to resolve problems. They are complex and difficult to manage. They are difficult to scale to thousands of locations. What is needed has the flexibility of the cloud, but the ability to run everywhere, even on the smallest devices, and run without requiring user intervention. 

That’s the idea behind NodeWeaver—a platform that runs any application and manages the distribution, control, and operation thanks to its intelligent autonomous system. Each system learns from what happens on all the others. It becomes smarter the more it expands and able to do more on its own.

NodeWeaver is a software defined operating platform that installs on the bare metal of nearly any x86 hardware and enables the deployment of highly resilient, agile and scalable compute clusters capable of running multiple virtual machines and container-based workloads, optimized for running workloads at the edge fully autonomously, integrating self-management, self-optimizing, self-healing features that dramatically reduces cost of ownership.

NodeWeaver nano clouds consist of 1 to 25 x86 compatible servers of any manufacturer/configuration, from very small to quite large. Connecting a new server to the nano cloud layer 2 switch automatically adds the server components to the virtual resource pool and relevels all applications across the updated server pool. 

NodeWeaver delivers full datacenter infrastructure/functionality, optimized for running workloads at the edge, taking less than 1.3GB of RAM to provide all services, leaving the maximum amount of system resources available for actual workloads. NodeWeaver integrates orchestration, software-defined storage, software-defined networking, multiple hypervisors all managed by the intelligent autonomous system. 

Customers who need to manage a large fleet of deployments already have their own monitoring framework in place. NodeWeaver has a full API that allows them to monitor (and manage) their edge systems using their existing monitoring framework. Tools like Ansible, Puppet, Chef, Terraform, and OneFlow Services are for operating system and application automation and management. NodeWeaver fully supports those as well, via a combination of pre-built Marketplace VMs (in the case of Terraform) or built-in services (OneFlow), or simply via API and network connection. 

The NodeWeaver marketplace enables users to quickly download complete, pre-configured application stacks [including operating system] and service templates, using any of the software products in the catalog, and deploy them with minimal effort; automatically load balanced across nodes in a highly resilient, agile and scalable compute cluster capable of running multiple virtual machines and container-based workloads.

Industrial control systems used to drive production equipment in factories and plants were installed more than 20 years ago and are now becoming outdated, presenting major business challenges. While this infrastructure has provided a stable platform for control systems for many years, it lacks flexibility, requires costly manual maintenance, and does not easily allow process information to be exported and analyzed. Virtualization overcomes the limitations of legacy control systems infrastructure and provides the foundation for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Control functions that were previously deployed across the network as dedicated hardware appliances can be virtualized and consolidated onto commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) servers, which not only leverages the most advanced silicon technology but also reduces capital expenditure, lowers operating costs, reduces risk, and improves ability to manage change and implement continuous improvement.

One of the leading providers of solutions for large-scale industrial laundry systems has been a NodeWeaver customer for over 2 years. They control and monitor all processes, provide predictive analytics, as well as automated deployment and management of all systems.

With no IT staff at these locations, system resiliency and the ability to autonomically address failures and maintain uptime is crucial. Additionally, the environments in these locations are characterized by high temperatures and humidity, thus requiring fanless, ruggedized hardware that can withstand these conditions.

NodeWeaver’s software-only approach provided the flexibility to choose the hardware necessary for the application, and its lightweight codebase enables it to run on smaller devices that competing solutions simply can’t support, equating to an unmatched combination of reliability, flexibility, and time to value.

Universal OS Transforms Robots into Intelligent Collaborators

  • Qobotix coordinates automation between manufacturers’ existing robots to boost productivity, lower costs; 
  • Enables flexibility to quickly adapt manufacturing processes while allowing for social distancing to keep workers safe

During the week of RIA’s Robotic Week festivities comes word of this innovative approach toward making collaborative robots (cobots) even more collaborative (collaborative2?). Unfortunately, they found it necessary to work in the buzzword of the month—AI—but still a move toward inching the industry forward.

Qobotix has introduced its universal AI operating system to transform cobots into intelligent coworkers on the manufacturing floor following two years of R&D, including active installations at major auto manufacturers. The idea is to make existing robots smarter and self-learning. 

The Qobotix OS platform coordinates industrial automation between manufacturers’ robotic capabilities. Powered by proprietary AI, machine vision, and kinematics, the Qobotix OS’s agnostic plug and play technology enables intelligent factory applications to perform complex tasks that were considered only possible by humans. The company also offers complete robot stations, which are ready for immediate deployment on manufacturing lines with the flexibility to be deployed rapidly for different tasks. 

Qobotix Cloud provides a factory management platform with a centralized repository of work intelligence that can be shared between machines.

One of Qobotix’s central innovations is that it enables robots to learn independently – humans can train robots by interacting with them and robots can learn from other robots. This capacity enables robots to be programmed in hours or days rather than weeks. Companies can deploy their robots faster with greater flexibility to perform functions with accelerated human-machine collaboration, enabling humans to take on other roles.

Qobotix’s introduction comes right as the Covid-19 pandemic causes companies to re-examine their reliance on offshore production seeking more flexible, localized manufacturing options. Factories can now use cobots to more easily switch between projects quickly, produce at a high volume for a shorter time, while keeping workers safe through social distancing. 

Qobotix is the brainchild of Avi Reichental, a 3D printing pioneer and long-time industry veteran, Egor Korneev, a serial entrepreneur and a pioneer in the field of machine learning and vision systems, and George Votis, the Chairman, CEO and founder of Galt Industries, Inc.

“During our many years involved in industrial manufacturing, we experienced robots that were meant to be collaborative and quickly concluded they were not like that at all – they couldn’t see or hear, and they were very inflexible,” said Reichental. 

The team recognized a gap in the market and decided to develop their own technology with the aim of bringing vision and intelligence to collaborative robots. 

“Our aim is to take robotics out of the late 1990s,” said Qobotix Co-founder and CEO Egor Korneev.


Reichental added, “Qobotix changes the game for manufacturing and services by eliminating time-consuming processes such as programming to significantly lower costs and increase output. This presents a huge opportunity for all manufacturers in their everyday operations.”

“Qobotix offers a strong return on investment by freeing up people for higher level tasks,” said Votis. “With Qobotix, robots can more easily collaborate with each other, and allow manufacturers to deploy production stations within different production lines each day, saving time and costs while boosting productivity.”

OMAC Remote Access Working Group

The first end-user driven industry-standards working group I ran into as a new editor at Control Engineering magazine several (22) years ago was the Open Modular Architecture Controller (OMAC) group spearheaded primarily by the major automotive players plus Boeing and then some CPG firms such as P&G and Unilever. The first attempt was a less expensive and more easily updatable machine controller. If it sounds much like today’s Open Process Automation Forum, it should.

Later packaging companies and their suppliers became dominant within OMAC as the organization changed its name a couple of times and eventually found a home with PMMI. I really haven’t heard much about the organization for a few years. Then Mark Fondl, with whom I had many discussions about standards in automation—primarily Ethernet—got involved and started pinging me.

Here is news about a new working group striving for a best-practices handbook for remote monitoring services.

The rationale:

The Covid-19 crisis has pushed manufacturers to actively develop plans for “lights out” factories and supply chains. A recent survey conducted by PMMI shows that 92% of respondents working at CPGs cannot use their existing remote access capabilities due to cybersecurity concerns. The study further noted that 36% of respondents listed that there is no practical guide to help start as their top barrier to adding new remote access service.

The desired result:

OMAC (The Organization for Machine Automation and Control) believes a collaborative review is needed to create a comprehensive best-practices handbook for remote monitoring services that will help manufacturing companies allow secure remote access to machines and automation systems on the plant floor.

Focus:

This Workgroup focuses on timing, safety, and security procedures when allowing inbound connections that link to specific machines and automation systems. This work is essential because inbound connections are more complex and hold more risk than the more common outbound connections.

More than 20 companies are now involved:

  • End-Users: Cargill, Nestle, P&G, Sonoco
  • OEMs: Nordson, Mettler Toledo, Milacron, ProMach, Bobst
  • SIs & Vendors: Siemens, EtherCAT Technology Group, Beckhoff, SICK, Martin CSI, Trola Industries, Omnicon

Timeline:

9 SepIntroduction, Agenda Review
23 SepCurrent State and Stakeholders of Remote Access
7 OctCollaboration with IT
21 OctClassification of Activities
4 NovValidation of Assets being Connected
18 NovMethodologies to engage beyond one-to-one
2 DecSecurity and Safety, Documentation and Change Management
16 DecReview of Draft Report
13 JanFinal Report Approval

You can help, but you must be a member. Find out more here.

Harting Technology Celebrates 75 Years

Whenever I begin to feel down about humans and the human condition, whenever politics and social media crap get to be too much, then a story about the human spirit comes my way.

I met a couple of members of the Harting family at a tech event several years ago. The company exemplifies the “connection” part of The Manufacturing Connection even though I seldom acknowledge them 

But to think, there the family was in the peace following the devastation of the Second World War starting a company that has grown and thrived for 75 years. 

In this hall in Minden, a few months after the end of the war, the Harting company was launched under the name of “Wilhelm Harting Mechanische Werkstätten”.

For 75 years now, the HARTING Technology Group has been driving technological change and providing decisive impetus for the future. The vision formulated in 1996 by the owner family “We want to shape the future with technologies for people” remains the guiding star of our entrepreneurial activities. September 1 marks the 75th anniversary of the founding day of the family company. The manufacturer of everyday products such as waffle irons and irons has evolved into a worldwide leading supplier of industrial connection technology for the three lifelines of data, signal and power, a global player fielding innovative products and solutions focusing on Industry 4.0 and digitization.

Wilhelm and Marie Harting opened the “Wilhelm Harting Mechanical Workshops” on September 1, 1945, in a repair workshop covering about 100 square meters in Minden, Westphalia. Wilhelm Harting initially concentrated on everyday consumer goods, which were in short supply after the war: Immersion heaters, hotplates, energy-saving lamps and electric firelighters that sold like hot cakes. His wife delivered the goods by bicycle in the surroundings of Minden and was paid with bread, bacon, eggs, and legumes. For copper and other raw materials, the company’s first buyer had set off to Cologne and Wuppertal with his rucksack. The return trip was on a coal freight wagon.

The nascent company had a stand at the first HANNOVER MESSE in 1947 and received numerous orders for alternators, starters, regulators, fuel pumps and ignition distributors.

The company grew rapidly and needed more space. From 1950 onwards, the company gradually moved to the neighbouring refugee settlement of Espelkamp. By 1955, the company already had 500 employees and was able to double its turnover to 8.6 million D-Mark within a year. 

The Han (HARTING standard), patented in 1956 and a registered trademark since 1957, became the standard, the epitome of the industrial connector and laid the foundation for the ascent of the medium-sized company from East Westphalia. Thanks to the Han-Modular series, customers are able to achieve optimal design solutions for the supply of machines, systems and plants. Today, the Han-Modular represents the market standard for modular industrial connectors.

Like the company founders, Dietmar and Margrit Harting are also committed to the region. They support projects, initiatives and associations in the fields of culture, sports, education and science. Margrit Harting, until 2018 also Vice President of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of East Westphalia in Bielefeld, has received several awards for these activities. She is Honorary Chairwoman of the Philharmonic Society of Eastern Westphalia-Lippe, Honorary Chairwoman of association for the promotion of the Minden-Lübbecke district, Honorary Chairwoman of the Local Cultural Agency Espelkamp, and honorary citizen of Leibniz University Hanover. In 2002 she received the Espelkamp Medal.

For many years, Dietmar Harting was active as a leading luminary in national and international associations and committees, including as President of the German Institute for Standardization (DIN), President of the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association (ZVEI), member of the Presidium of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), President of CENELEC (European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization) and Chairman of the German Commission for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies in DIN and VDE (DKE). From 1995 to 1998, Dietmar Harting was a member of the “Council for Research, Technology and Innovation” under Chancellor Helmut Kohl and from 2004 to 2006, he was also active as a member of the “Partners for Innovation” initiative of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Chancellor Angela Merkel respectively. Several organisations honoured his high level of commitment with honorary membership or honorary presidency. In 2013, the Erich Gutenberg working group bestowed its “Praktikerpreis” (Practitioner Award) on Dietmar Harting.    

In 1998, the entrepreneurial couple received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and in 2009 the Federal Cross of Merit First Class. In the same year, the city of Espelkamp acknowledged the Hartings by bestowing honorary citizenship. Dietmar Harting was also honoured with the Lower Saxony Cross of Merit 1st Class in 2004 and has been an honorary doctor of Leibniz Universität Hannover since 2010.

Dietmar Harting was Chairman of the HANNOVER MESSE Exhibitors’ Advisory Board for many years and also a member of the Supervisory Board and Executive Committee of Deutsche Messe AG. In 2008 he was awarded the Golden Trade Fair Medal. To this day, the technology group ranks as one of the very few companies to have been present at the trade fair every year without interruption.

In October 2015, after almost 50 years in the management of the Technology Group, Dietmar Harting handed over the reins as Chairman of the Board to his son Philip (46). Today, Philip Harting and his sister Maresa Harting-Hertz (Member of the Board for Finance, Global Purchasing and Facility Management) work closely with their parents Margrit and Dietmar Harting on the Board.

The HARTING Automotive subsidiary develops and produces charging equipment for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. HARTING is also making its key contributions to sustainability in the generation of regenerative energy and has long featured as an experienced and reliable partner to the wind turbine industry.

In recent years, HARTING has been increasingly relying on cooperation activities, networks and partnerships such as the MICAnetwork and the Future Alliance for Mechanical Engineering, with which Industry 4.0 and digitization are being driven forward, while shaping and co-determining the networking of processes and objects. The Technology Group regards partner networks as an ideal platform for the further development of Integrated Industry. In this way, the future can be shaped and designed with technologies for people and values created. 

Low Voltage Drives Market Expected to Recover Slowly From the Covid 19 Slowdown

Blake Griffin, an analyst with Interact Analysis which is one market research firm whose methodology I like, has published a blog post reporting on his latest research into the low voltage drives market. Following a sales slow down this year, different regions of the world will see recovery at differing paces.

He also includes an analysis of the role of LV drives in applications such as predictive maintenance. I’ve been long impressed by the amount of motor, and even machine, performance data that may be gleaned from the sensors built into the typical drive. 

Coronavirus

As a company, Interact Analysis is positioned to model the impact of COVID 19. This is because of the MIO Tracker, which tracks and forecasts manufacturing output levels by country at the industry level. We also have a historical dataset to fall back on which reaches back to the 2009 financial crisis – an event that is comparable to Coronavirus in some key ways, and which has helped us to draw some conclusions about the short, medium and long-term effects of COVID 19 on the drives market.

For 2020, the report shows that a combination of COVID-related factors – such as stay at home orders causing a reduction in manufacturing output and demand, as well as factory closures and furloughed workers – will come together to cause a drop in the drives market of over 10%. However, the drop is not as severe as it was in 2009, and there is light at the end of the tunnel. There are strong prospects for a return to growth in 2021 and drives manufacturers and vendors should make their plans with this in mind.

Growth in the LV drives market sits just above that for the output of the manufacturing industry as a whole. This is a long-term trend and it helps lead to some key future conclusions about the drives market in the post-Corona world. Between 2007 and 2019, the underlying growth rate for LV drives was 3.8%; for the period 2020-2024, the forecast CAGR is significantly higher – at 5.3%. The implication is that the market will recover in a similar manner to how it did during the 2010-2014 period.

In terms of recovery to actual 2019 market levels, this is highly variable according to region. The earliest regions to recover to 2019 levels will be China, South Korea, and India – all of which will do so by 2021, and indeed China has already returned largely to normality. Meanwhile, France, Germany and Italy will not recover until 2024. In the case of Germany, this seems counterintuitive given how widely reported it has been that the country has managed the virus itself very well. The problem for Germany is that it is crippled by its heavy reliance on exports, many of which are to far more badly impacted countries. Of the top ten drives regions covered in the report, the UK stands alone as being the single worst impacted region and, even by 2024, will not have recovered to 2019 levels of drives sales.

The Trend for Low Cost Drives

The research shows that the trend for low cost, reduced functionality drives is becoming an ever more important segment of the market. Such drives tended to be cabinet mounted, to be rated at IP20 or lower, and to offer power ratings of 0.1-3.7 kW. Price points can be exceptionally low, with the most keenly priced products – generally 0.4 kW in Asia – coming in at around the $100 mark. The presence of higher regulations and, increasingly, tariffs, in the EMEA and the Americas is not stopping the growth in the low cost drives segment in these regions.

Hitting such a low price point requires advanced functionality such as encoder support, to be stripped out, although some still have additional plug-in options (e.g. for digital communications). ABB and Yaskawa have had low cost products since the mid-2000s, but the trend is being turbocharged by the rapid emergence of Chinese drives vendors onto the global stage, such as INVT and Inovance. While the high-end OEMs may have little use for low cost LV drives, many others report that they are very keen on such products because they can be bulk bought and easily stored to replace faltering drives as needed – helping to minimize production or machine downtime. Observing the behaviour of established vendors is key to determining just how marked the low cost drives trend will be, and seeing leading companies enter the low cost market such as Siemens (with the V20) or Yaskawa (with the GA500) is instructive.

Other Important Trends – Product Substitution and Predictive Maintenance

Other important trends include an increasing move for product substitutes actually displacing LV drives in certain areas. One of these is electronically commutated motors – or ECMs. ECMs are IP55+ rated brushless DC permanent magnet motors – similar to stepper motors. They are increasingly helping companies achieve energy efficiency objectives in high energy usage applications that do not require the computation capabilities an AC drive offers. Some can now achieve IE5 levels of efficiency, leading to dramatic cost savings. Uptake will be most notable in Europe where energy efficiency regulation is the most stringent.

Finally, a word on predictive maintenance… Drive manufacturers should move away from seeing predictive maintenance as a means of extending the life of only the drive itself. Though this is important, a larger consideration is about how to use the drive as a sensor to harvest useful data on motor health, preventing motor breakdowns on fast-moving production lines. A drive can produce data on motor behavior which cannot be produced by the majority of smart sensors. Namely, drives can produce a profile of the electrical behavior of the motor it is controlling. For example, if a motor is under undue stress, its electrical demands will increase.  If this data is used in conjunction with smart sensors, it allows an additional source of data for triangulation which can improve the accuracy of machine learning algorithms. Predictive maintenance is one of the most important up-and-coming industrial trends. Forward-thinking LV drives manufacturers should act now to ensure they capitalise on this.

Smart App Embedded with Artificial Intelligence Improves Operations in Real-time

The popular press dithers over Artificial Intelligence and the “young ladies” Siri and Alexa spy on your every word. However, there are real, practical applications of AI that can help us operate and maintain our manufacturing and industrial operations. Here is one from AVEVA, a company that seems to have dominated my news this summer.

It has launched AVEVA Insight OMI app infusing real-time artificial intelligence into an operator’s decision-making. This app presents real-time anomaly detection in a context-aware OMI visualization display.

The AVEVA Insight OMI app introduces AI capabilities into the AVEVA System Platform, formerly Wonderware, and leverages predictive early warning and automatic detection of unusual operational behavior. This provides users with early notification so they can quickly resolve issues before they become critical business problems such as unplanned downtime and production losses.

A simple management interface enables operations, maintenance and production teams to quickly train the AI engine to adapt to the enterprise’s specific implementation. An intuitive thumbs-up or thumbs-down confirmation ensures AI-driven notifications are relevant to the needs of the user and support overall enterprise objectives, with no programming or data science knowledge required. This closed-loop feedback improves the accuracy of the AI prediction engine over time and enables users to see what matters. As anomalous patterns are identified, they can be captured and presented by the app within an organization’s on-premise HMI/SCADA solution, delivering insights directly where operators need it.

“IIoT applications have driven a massive increase in the collection of real-time operations and manufacturing data. As a result, operators face alarm overload and often cannot effectively react to or distinguish between process-critical situations and false positive alarm conditions, resulting in the loss of operational time and resources. By harnessing the power of AI and advanced cloud analytics, AVEVA is enabling operators to take proactive action, before process and maintenance problems occur,” commented Rashesh Mody, Vice President, Monitoring and Control, AVEVA.

“In today’s climate of increased demand for innovative technology solutions, the launch of our new AVEVA Insight OMI app is a significant development because it serves as a single interface into operations by bridging the information technology and operational technology divide for increased agility and situational awareness. We are very excited to introduce a solution that will help our customers manage critical operations and improve decision support for maximum profitability in these fast-changing times,” Mody concludes.