Rockwell Automation Signs Agreement to Acquire Clearpath Robotics.

Autonomous robotics company’s acquisition to accelerate Rockwell’s end-to-end autonomous production logistics solutions

Companies usually add a descriptive phrase following their name in a press release to describe what business they are in. Rockwell Automation has been “the world’s largest company dedicated to industrial automation”, and then “the world’s largest company dedicated to industrial automation and software.” Now it is “the world’s largest company dedicated to industrial automation and digital transformation.” The company has been on quite a journey over the past seven years.

I think there are more sales and profits to be made in these hardware areas than software, but Wall Street analysts like sexy. Software was sexy. Now digital transformation is sexy. But this acquisition will add sales and profits. Just watch. Ash Sharma, senior research director for robotics and warehouse automation at market intelligence firm Interact Analysis, says, “Our research shows that the market for AMRs in manufacturing will grow 30% annually, for the next five years, to hit a market size of $6.2 billion by 2027.”

He goes on to say, and I agree, “Rockwell’s aims for Clearpath, and particularly for OTTO Motors, are more wide-ranging than just warehouses, and they intend to expand deploying on factory floors.”

Here is the marketing part:

Rockwell Automation, Inc. (NYSE: ROK), the world’s largest company dedicated to industrial automation and digital transformation, today announced it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Ontario, Canada-based Clearpath Robotics Inc., a leader in autonomous robotics for industrial applications. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are the next frontier in industrial automation and transformation, and this acquisition will supercharge Rockwell’s lead in bringing the Connected Enterprise to life.

Here is the actual rationale:

Transporting parts and materials to assembly lines and between manufacturing cells is one of the industry’s most complex and inefficient tasks, often resulting in production bottlenecks. Autonomous production logistics will transform the workflow throughout a manufacturing plant, enabling substantial reductions in cost and greater operational efficiency. Clearpath’s OTTO Motors Division offers AMRs and fleet management and navigation software, which dramatically increase throughput and reduce costs by ensuring components and subassemblies are in place when needed and by transporting finished goods to a truck or warehouse upon completion.

And the obligatory CEO statement:

“Rockwell and Clearpath together will simplify the difficult and labor-intensive task of moving materials and product through an orchestrated and safe system to optimize operations throughout the entire manufacturing facility,” said Blake Moret, Chairman and CEO, Rockwell Automation. “The combination of autonomous robots and PLC-based line control has long been a dream of plant managers in industries as diverse as automotive and consumer packaged goods. With Clearpath, Rockwell is uniquely positioned to make that dream a reality across virtually all discrete and hybrid verticals, optimizing planning, operations, and the workforce.”

Rockwell has acquired other assorted material handling companies and technologies. This shows the company is still firmly on the factory floor making things better for operations.

And a most interesting tidbit at the end of the news:

The acquisition will be funded by a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Rockwell’s investment in PTC. It is subject to customary regulatory approval and is expected to close in the first quarter of Rockwell’s fiscal year 2024. At close, Clearpath will report to Rockwell’s Intelligent Devices operating segment.

Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC served as Rockwell’s financial advisor.

Festo Reveals Motion Advancements at Pack Expo 2023

One place I am not this week is Pack Expo. But then, I am also not at FabTech. Too many other things going on. However, I’m keeping up with automation and motion control through communications with interesting companies.

Festo is a company that continues to impress me with its innovation. It both “sticks to its knitting” while also exploiting new technology and improving use cases. Following are three important announcements unveiled this week in Las Vegas.

  • CPX-AP-A distributed I/O
  • Family of Multi-Protocol Servo Drives

CPX-AP-A distributed I/O

Festo adds to its distributed I/O solution CPX-AP-A, along with its established CPX-AP-I decentralized I/O. AP stands for Automation Platform and this backplane-based remote I/O system has been in development for a decade.

“The Festo AP backplane communications platform, that provides a central communication and data transfer I/O interface, is a combination of everything that we’ve learned over the past 25 years of providing electric and pneumatic linear automation solutions,” said Tim Sharkey, Director of Electric Automation, Festo North America. “AP backplane communications brings together enormous functionality and creates a higher level of integration among our devices than we’ve ever had. AP continues the tradition of Festo product development and manufacturing excellence. It leverages our strengths.” 

CPX-AP-A distributed I/O has modules attached within a terminal. CPX-AP-I is Festo’s decentralized I/O where modules are connected via cable at distances of up to 50 meters (164 feet) between modules. AP modules, whether on-terminal or individual, are IP65/67 rated and can be located in cabinets, in clusters around the cell, individually placed, or separated at great distances. Every AP module features a high-performance real-time backplane transmission rate of 200 Mbps full duplex. 

AP gives machine builders the freedom to optimize the machine or cell by adding I/O where they need it, and in ways that will best boost performance and diagnostics capabilities. The AP ecosystem makes it efficient for end-user customers to add functionality as needs arise. 

Whether physically attached on-terminal or connected via cable, all components such as PLCs, valves, motors, drives, and I/O appear to the programmer to be incorporated within one smart terminal under a single IP address. Having the entire distributed and decentralized I/O topology under a single IP address significantly reduces hardware and installation costs while lowering system complexity. Since many PLCs come with a limited number of IP addresses, the Festo solution means more capabilities are possible per PLC. 

Festo’s multi-year product roadmap calls for the continued rollout of AP-based PLCs, valves, linear actuators, motors, and drives. For those OEMs and end-user customers wanting extended AP capabilities today, Festo support teams can make much of that happen. 

“There are many companies with distributed I/O,” observed Eric Rice, Product Market Manager, Festo North America. “On the other side there are suppliers for electric or pneumatic linear motion. Not one North American supplier on either side of that line comes close to offering the same level of performance, capabilities, and support that stems from the integration of the AP platform with the breadth of Festo motion solutions.” 

New Festo Family of Multi-Protocol Servo Drives

Festo introduces the CMMT MP family of multi-protocol servo drives. Every drive in this family is configurable as EtherNet/IP, EtherCAT, PROFINET, and Modbus TCP. 

To choose the protocol for a CMMT multi-protocol servo drive, engineers log into the drive using the free online productivity tool Festo Automation Suite, select the protocol of choice from a drop-down menu, and configure the unit. 

The Festo CMMT family includes CMMT-ST-MP compact DC servo drives. The drives are rated up to 300 W and are popular with builders that require a small, high quality, readily available drive. CMMT-AS-MP compact AC servo drives are rated up to 6 KW. Remarkably small 9- and 12-KW CMMT-AS-MP units are slated for sale later this year. 

With the Festo free online productivity tools, Electric Motion Sizing and Handling Guide Online, machine builders can specify linear and multi-axis systems in minutes not hours. The Festo Automation Suite free online tool significantly shortens commissioning time. It also incorporates the CODESYS integrated development environment (IDE) for programming Festo modular controllers CPX-E-CEC. CMMT MP drives are backwards compatible with Classic CMMT servo drives, including identical cabling and mounting.

AR and VR Potentials Look Exciting

Would you be comfortable wearing a headset that includes a sort-of goggles and speakers for periods of time? They would be a combination of virtual reality where you are immersed in a projected simulation and can be switched to augmented reality where you can see the physical area around you with an overlay of digital information.

The Apple Vision Pro unveiled at the June 2023 Worldwide Developer Conference (reviewed here) revealed Apple’s solutions to the many engineering and design challenges. Rampant speculation about using it and applications followed.

After listening to this conversation between Flexibits co-founder Michael Simmons and John Gruber of Daring Fireball and The Talk Show has broadened my mind. “Michael Simmons returns to the show to talk about his experience at Apple’s developer lab for Vision Pro, and his enthusiasm for the future of spatial computing.”

You need to listen to the conversation. But Simmons discusses his hands on time with the product in a developer lab and his current thinking about developing applications. I’ve now changed my mind about its applicability for general computing. It provides ability to see multiple screens while the user continues to use keyboard and mouse or whatever. He said he did not tire using the headset for an extended period. Nor did he suffer effects such as dizziness.

Certainly you can watch movies and sports and play games. Watch developer activity over the next four or five months. I would not be surprised to see an Emerson or Honeywell adaptation. Perhaps also Rockwell via PTC Vuforia team.

Honeywell To Acquire SCADAfence Strengthening Cybersecurity Portfolio

  • • SCADAfence will integrate into the Honeywell Forge Cybersecurity+ suite providing expanded asset discovery, threat detection, and compliance management capabilities.
  • SCADAfence extends Honeywell’s OT cybersecurity portfolio to build upon its comprehensive professional services, managed security services, and software solutions. 

With the announcement of this major cybersecurity acquisition, Honeywell communications offered me the opportunity to talk with Michael Ruiz, the new VP/GM Cyber Innovation.

He joined in January, tasked with moving cybersecurity from services to a comprehensive product/services offering to offer more complete solutions for customers. Honeywell has had a strong but not necessarily cohesive solution across the various parts of the company—industrial, building, and aerospace. Evaluating companies across the cyber ecosystem and evaluating make vs. buy, the team saw the opportunity to acquire SCADAfence and it looked like a great fit.

I’m sure that history had much to do with the divisional structure within the conglomerate. The development of Honeywell Connect as a concentrated software arm of the company only a few years ago has enabled this sort of cross-industry thinking. Every domain has cyber issues. Gathering these together under one portfolio should provide a comprehensive and collaborative product/service portfolio.

Notes from the news release:

Honeywell announced July 10 it has agreed to acquire SCADAfence, a leading provider of operational technology (OT) and Internet of Things (IoT) cybersecurity solutions for monitoring large-scale networks. SCADAfence brings proven capabilities in asset discovery, threat detection and security governance which are key to industrial and buildings management cybersecurity programs.

The SCADAfence product portfolio will integrate into the Honeywell Forge Cybersecurity+ suite within Honeywell Connected Enterprise, Honeywell’s fast-growing software arm with strategic focus on digitalization, sustainability and OT cybersecurity SaaS offerings and solutions. This integration will enable Honeywell to provide an end-to-end enterprise OT cybersecurity solution to site managers, operations management and CISOs seeking enterprise security management and situational awareness. The acquisition strengthens existing capabilities in cybersecurity and bolsters Honeywell’s high-growth OT cybersecurity portfolio, helping customers operate more securely, reliably and efficiently.

SCADAfence is headquartered in Tel Aviv, Israel and will expand Honeywell’s Cybersecurity Center of Excellence in Tel Aviv. Honeywell has been implementing OT cybersecurity solutions for more than twenty years, delivering thousands of projects in over 130 countries with more than 500 employees worldwide focused specifically on OT cybersecurity.

The transaction is now complete.

Using Remote Experts Becoming Technically and Economically Feasible

Last winter the hype cycle concerned metaverse, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR). I wrote about a conversation with GridRaster Co-Founder Dijam Panigrahi about his company’s take on “immersive mixed reality for enterprises.” That was in January this year. Not long after came ChatGPT and the hype cycle went into overdrive on Artificial Intelligence. Now everything is AI.

This seemed to be a good time to talk with Dijam again following up to see if he wanted to add AI to the AR/VR talk and come full circle beyond the hype cycle. Also he is not the marketing lead. We can skip the buzzwords and hype and focus on why and how rather than stay at a more superficial plane.

GridRaster provides the platform, foundation if you will, for using AR and VR hardware of your choice in order to accomplish real-world tasks. Talking with me, he’ll focus on industrial and manufacturing applications.

The marketing pitch leading to this conversation included sustainability. We broached that topic through the lens of minimalism. The idea of using technology to minimize use of resources.

OK, disclaimer, my son is a commercial airline pilot. I encourage all of you to go out and fly somewhere. However, if you have a problem with an asset, you may not want to wait hours/days for an expert to fly in from somewhere far away only to discover that a critical tool was located elsewhere.

How do we get these tools that may include AR or VR and/or AI to the front line worker in order to accomplish the task quickly and efficiently. For example, he told me, imagine a worker facing an aircraft grounded somewhere. It never requires maintenance where there is a maintenance hub. Now, the company must fly in an expert.

Now, what if we give that front-line worker something like a Microsoft HoloLens backed up with the GridRaster platform? Now between the local camera and 3D modeling (digital twin), the expert can see what is happening right at the instant. That expert can now see what’s happening, the worker can see information displayed through the device, and the expert can now guide the worker to complete the repair. Saves time, expense, fuel.

Dijam sees the platform and applicability extended to design engineering. Designers use clay models and iterative detailing to prototype a new car. With 3D modeling and conversations with a variety of design engineers, the team can iterate faster. This same applicability extends even into the manufacturing of the product.

I mentioned that I first wrote about these applications about 23 years ago. But the networks were too slow, the hardware too clunky, and the tools limited. He said, sure, look at how unit prices of many things have decreased, networks moving now even into 5G, data moving from centralized cloud to hybrid and edge. Technology continues to improve speed, ease of use, price for application. Plus GridRaster solving the infrastructure problem.

They have tried their application in manufacturing and have found that an AR solution helps a worker with one year of experience perform as well as one with five years. Given the worker shortage problem all over the world, this alone would justify a purchase.

ABB and Samsung Engineering To Collaborate on Gas Analyzers for Saudi Arabia’s Energy Industries

A little world news for a change.

  • Focus areas of the framework agreement include engineering and  procurement activities in the Kingdom
  • The collaboration will support energy industries in the region with effective measurement of gas quality through the implementation of  integrated analyzer solutions
  • ABB’s integration facility for analytical systems, which the company is building in Dammam, will support the collaboration

ABB has signed a framework agreement with Samsung Engineering in Saudi Arabia to collaborate in engineering and procurement activities in the Kingdom. With this agreement, ABB becomes a single-source vendor for gas analyzer system integration for Samsung in Saudi Arabia.

Together, the two companies plan to explore business opportunities and provide complete analytical solutions to the Saudi oil & gas market. Effective measurement of gas quality is key to safety and reliability, decreasing the environmental footprint and increasing profitability of the production process.

ABB’s analytical systems portfolio includes direct-read continuous gas analyzers, online gas analyzers using laser analytical techniques, rapid response process gas chromatographs and more. In addition to analytical systems, ABB provides gas analyzer system integration with fully customized analytical systems and solutions – from initial engineering through fabrication, testing, field start-up, and support.

ABB’s 10,000 square meter world-class integration facility for analytical systems, which the company is building in Dammam, will support the collaboration. The factory is expected to become a leader in the production of analytical systems in the region.

ABB and Samsung Engineering have worked together on several occasions, including on the Aramco Jafurah phase 1 project. With this agreement, they are ready to serve customers in Saudi Arabia.

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