Emerson didn’t let Rockwell Automation’s spurning of its acquisition offer stop it from joining a select few of its peers in expanding its comprehensive control offerings. It went shopping again and found a bargain from the GE garage sale acquiring GE Intelligent Platforms. Now we are seeing the fruits of the combination.
With the addition of the new PLCs, part of Emerson’s acquisition of General Electric Co.’s Intelligent Platforms group, Emerson is bringing more end-to-end automation solutions to its existing process control market. The addition also expands its production optimization and control capabilities in the rapidly growing hybrid and discrete markets, and in industries where PLCs are sometimes preferred or required for faster response and machine control.
The new portfolio of cloud-connected controllers, industrial PCs, and devices for smart plants complements Emerson’s Plantweb digital ecosystem, adding another layer to Emerson’s focus on helping customers leverage automation technologies to pursue digital transformation. The automation and control portfolio will enable more operational performance and efficiency for customers in life sciences, metals and mining, power and water, food and beverage, and packaging, which often blend process and discrete machine control to manufacture and deliver finished products.
“We’ve re-invested heavily in the ability of our control systems to bring new capabilities to help organizations optimize their capital project and operations performance,” said Jim Nyquist, group president of Emerson’s Systems and Solutions business. “With this new portfolio, we’re expanding our automation expertise and bringing new digital solutions to market that will integrate plants seamlessly and accelerate improvements in operational performance, safety and reliability.”
Future interfacing with Emerson’s DeltaV and Ovation process control systems is also planned to help process industries eliminate many of the islands of automation within plants that create data silos in organizations and limit their ability to cost-effectively execute digital transformation initiatives and IIoT-driven capital improvements.
The new portfolio includes a comprehensive offering for machine control and discrete applications with products such as PACSystems, PACMotion, VersaMax IO, and QuickPanel+, which will remain powerful standalone technologies for original equipment manufacturer (OEM) machinery and edge applications.
There are few things I find as exciting as exploring revitalizing manufacturing or production facility. When people and technology come together to make useful products in a clean and safe manner is art to me.
Therefore, I was happy that my Siemens contacts talked me into driving up to Detroit earlier than I planned to tour the Ford Livonia Transmission plant on March 19. I planned to come up for the noon tour at FlexNGate, but the changed plans worked wonderfully.
Ford Powertrain was a customer of mine in the 80s when I worked for a company that designed and built automated machines and then through the 90s when I was a sales engineer solving problems and selling automation and electrical equipment. So, I witnessed the beginnings of the evolution of these manufacturing plants from dark, dirty, smelly, oily, dangerous, loud environments to today’s clean, efficient, professional facilities.
Mike Bastian, Advanced Engineering Manager Ford Powertrain, explained Ford’s journey from 2000 to present to increase use of digital in manufacturing—The Digital Manufacturing Strategy. He told me that since beginning the present system journey in 2008, they were doing IIoT before there was an IIoT.
Bob Groden, plant manager, described the journey that began with removing several obsolete lines, gutting the facility, painting and cleaning, and preparing for additional transmission assembly lines. This plant is huge. And he walks it three times a day greeting people and asking how things are going. As he told me, “I get my steps in.”
The three themes include people working together, safety, and quality. An important note: The plant continuously added people over the rebuild time all the while increasing automation. three themes; added people continuously all the while automating the plant. Groden and UAW Local President Keith Miller talk to every new employee class and then follow up with each later on the line.
Jon Guske, manufacturing engineering manager-feasibility, described a system the team built beyond the computer-aided engineering system—discrete event throughput simulation. It can connect to VR to help OEMs understand the process and product before beginning machine design. It even models chip removal in machining processes to improve manufacturing process.
Following are pieces of the Digital Manufacturing Strategy as bullet points:
Standard Hardware Architecture
IP65–removed all the large enclosures in the plant (aside, using Siemens because it could do it; one company went to management and flat out told them that Bastian was wrong, management said don’t ever say he’s wrong; another company gets to the spec via a work-around he didn’t like)
Common configuration and programming software
Obsolescence management (upgrade path)
Ethernet, specifically Profinet—called Control Production Network
I had an opportunity during the tour to talk with Scott King, IT Lead, Advanced Manufacturing Powertrain, Solutions Development. I asked about the mythic IT/OT split and convergence. He basically said, “What split?” He sits with engineering advanced manufacturing lead and they discuss projects and problems daily. Plant projects teams include these roles—IT Solutions, Engineering, Product Lead, Operations. They’ve been working together for six years.
FlexNGate is a Tier One supplier of stamped metal and injection molded plastic parts. The company has $6.5 B sales, 70 plants, and presence in many countries. It just built a 454,000 sq. ft. plant in burned-out Detroit neighborhood manufacturing parts for Ford Ranger. It is the largest investment in the city of Detroit in 20 years.
There were a couple of determining factors in the plant location. Ford wanted supplier to be local. The city wanted plants to locate in distressed areas that would also hire locally to provide jobs and hope to the area. They pledged 250 jobs, have 350 full time and 250 temporary and the plant is just a year old and still stabilizing processes after the significant production ramp up.
They run the new hires through training from such things as showing up on time every day, following work instructions, safety, and quality.
Two impressive facilities in one day. That’s a pretty good day.
The trade shows are piling up one atop the other, and I’ve decided that I can’t possibly make them all. So, I’m going on vacation for the first time in a while. I missed ATX in February (same time as ARC). I will miss Hannover next week and Automate the week after.
However, Universal Robots has supplied me with news from ATX and then in two weeks at Automate. The collaborative robot, or cobot, is cool. The genre is dinged for being slow, but many other capabilities and features make up for that. Check out these news items.
Universal Robots and VersaBuilt to launch new direct interface for cobots and CNC machines
Manufacturers struggling to get CNC machines to communicate directly with their collaborative robot now have a solution: VersaBuilt’s CNC Communication URCap is a simple yet powerful interface for machine tending applications with Universal Robots. URCap allows a UR cobot to easily execute any machining program stored on the CNC directly through the cobot’s own teach pendant. Initially launching for Haas CNC machines, VersaBuilt will develop UR interfaces for other popular CNC makes later this year.
The Haas CNC Communication URCap will soon be available through the UR+ platform, a showroom of products all certified to integrate seamlessly with UR cobots. The URCap maintains all Haas safety interlock features and works with Haas, VersaBuilt, and other third-party automatic door openers.
“VersaBuilt is excited to partner with Universal Robots to provide machine shops with automation solutions designed for high mix CNC manufacturers,” says Albert Youngwerth, CEO of VersaBuilt Robotics, a company helping machine shops automate thousands of part numbers of all shapes and sizes in turning and milling applications.
VersaBuilt’s patented MultiGrip workholding system will soon be available through the UR+ platform. MultiGrip includes an automatic vise, machinable jaws and an end-of-arm tool for the UR robot. MultiGrip was developed to address the frustration experienced when working with traditional robot grippers and CNC vises.
Regional Sales Director for Universal Robots’ Americas Division, Stuart Shepherd, emphasizes the importance of better integration tools for cobots and CNCs. “CNC machine tending is one of the most popular tasks to automate with collaborative robots,” he says. “But there’s still hurdles to overcome in achieving seamless integration. VersaBuilt’s two new products are important tools in addressing this. We’re excited to welcome them to the UR ecosystem and share their solutions with the ATX audience.”
Joining VersaBuilt in the UR+ pipeline is Visumatic’s VCM-3X.2 Collaborative Screw Driving Package delivering repeatable joining operations handled directly through the UR cobot’s teach pendant. The system communicates to a screw driver control that handles a wide range of different screw driving feeds and routines. The VCM is bundled with pre-programmed fault recovery logic and Visumatic’s field-proven power bit advance, bit position sensors and fastener delivery confirmation.
XPAK ROBOX – first solution for random case erecting
The XPAK ROBOX box erector, powered by a UR10e cobot arm allows packagers to randomly erect any box in their suite on-demand without changeover. The collaborative design not only enables the operator to safely and intuitively interface with the machine, ROBOX also realizes approximately 60% reduction in terms of the footprint required for a similar machine using more conventional robotic technology requiring fencing.
Solutions for Fast-Growing Applications in Industries Facing Labor Shortages
When U.S. manufacturers were asked to describe their primary business challenge, it wasn’t the increase of raw materials cost, trade uncertainties, or rising health insurance expenses that topped their lists. Close to 70 percent of manufacturers in the National Association of Manufacturers’ 2018 fourth-quarter outlook survey responded that attracting and retaining a quality workforce was their number one concern while the Society of Manufacturing Engineers reported that 89 percent of manufacturers have difficulty finding workers.
The labor shortage is especially prevalent in jobs with many repetitive and ergonomically unfavorable tasks. “These are jobs that we like to refer to as the ‘3D jobs’ – the Dirty, the Dull and the Dangerous,” says Stuart Shepherd, Regional Sales Director of Universal Robots’ Americas Region. “Collaborative robots are now increasingly handling these types of tasks in manufacturing settings. Our booth at Automate will showcase how we work with our rapidly expanding partner network to develop solutions tailored to address the industries and applications hardest hit by labor shortages.”
Universal Robots’ booth #7154 at Automate 2019, the largest automation solutions event in North America held in Chicago April 8-11, features four different application clusters for machine tending, packaging, assembly and processing.
UR+ is a platform that connects UR cobot users to an ecosystem of partners providing UR-certified, ready-to-use cobot accessories such as grippers, vision systems and software. Debuting in the packaging application area as UR+ products are Dorner’s 2200 Series Conveyor and SKF Motion Technologies’ LIFTKIT.
The Dorner conveyors are designed to be the infeed and discharge to Universal Robots and feature the first plug-and-play conveyor-tracking solution for collaborative robots.
The LIFTKIT is a vertical positioning system, adding a 7th axis to the UR10e cobot that will be palletizing with the Schmalz FXB vacuum gripper. The liftkit comes ready to install including a telescopic pillar, controller, and UR+ software plugin.
Dispelling cobot myths The screw-driving applications cover the full range of UR cobot capabilities, from the UR3e table-top cobot assembling PCB boards, UR5e cobots equipped with Robotiq’s 2F-140 grippers performing screw insertion in electrical cabinets, to the UR10e utilizing an Atlas Copco Nutrunner to install bolts into a six-cylinder engine block provided by an active UR customer.
Another myth UR is seeking to dispel is the notion that cobots are not suited for processing applications such as spraying, polishing, dispensing, and sanding. A recent example is Dynabrade’s robotic sanders that come in a UR+ kit including vacuum-ready pneumatic sanders, robot mount, and a solenoid enabling robotic operation.
Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is quite the buzz word. Mention in general conversation, say if you are Axios or The New York Times, and public response is that it is something evil that will take all our jobs away.
Of course, like all technology from the beginning of human history AI can be good or bad depending upon who uses it for what reason.
Now, let me add a second stream to this brief essay. Advanced Process Control, or APC. There are some excellent APC products on the market that I’ve written about over the years. The problem I’ve heard about over those same years relates to keeping the model updated. Too many people (read managers) seem to think you set it up once and then it lasts forever. That could not be further from reality.
Yesterday I had a conversation with Pervez Choudhry, Vice President for Business at Petuum. This is a company started through AI research at Carnegie Mellon University by Eric Xing. He hired a number of Ph.D.s and post-doctoral researchers in AI along with domain experts in industries he targeted for markets and went to work.
My BS antennae always activate at the sound of AI in a press release. So, I asked Choudhry what Petuum meant by the term. That’s when he told me about the research and researchers. AI relates to machine learning. Getting a data set from a process and self-learning from new data feedback from the process.
I’m more impressed by the business model than the technology. The company hosts the application in the cloud deployed as “AI as a Service”. This system addresses the problem so many have run into about maintaining the model as the process morphs over time. A company worth watching. They could well disrupt (in a good way) this particular market.
The press release that provoked my curiosity promoted a new use case—supervised autonomous cement plant operations for CEMEX—a global building materials company.
The two companies entered into a global agreement where CEMEX can implement Petuum “Industrial AI Autopilot” with “autosteer” in all cement plants worldwide for autonomous cement plant operations. The Petuum Industrial AI Autopilot product for cement plant operations are being deployed at select CEMEX USA and Mexico plants, and will continue to be rolled out globally in 2019.
The Petuum Industrial AI Autopilot suite of products deliver real-time precise forecasts for key process variables, prescriptions for critical control variables and supervised autosteer aligned with business objectives for all cement plant operations including clinker cooler, preheater, rotary kiln, pyro process, ball mill and vertical mill processes to achieve lowered energy consumption, optimized fuel mix and increased throughput while maintaining stable operation and high product quality. Additionally, the fuel mix optimization Autopilot enables alignment of global operational excellence initiatives with local site priorities.
The joint CEMEX and Petuum teams achieved a cruise-control-like supervised “autosteer mode,” where the AI Autopilot could run operations with full engage/disengage control available to the operator.
“Petuum Industrial AI Autopilot helped us achieve something we didn’t think was possible at this time,” said Rodrigo Quintero, operations digital technologies manager at CEMEX. “We expect our yield improvements and energy savings to be up to seven percent, from the connected AI-based autopilots, which is game changing for our industry. Additionally, this is a giant step in digital transformation towards safe, highly standardized operations, that will help us strengthen our high-quality products portfolio while also ensuring we meet our operational and sustainability goals, and to minimize costs.”
The Autopilot products deployed at CEMEX for the rotary kiln and clinker cooler systems are integrated with plant control systems and OSIsoft PI data infrastructure for scalable, standardized and rapid deployments across multiple lines and plants globally.
The Autopilot products, developed and operationalized on the Petuum AI platform, can ingest data from a variety of sources including unstructured, images, structured, time series, CRM, ERP and others. The Petuum platform provides sophisticated data processing, cleansing and machine/deep learning pipelines used to implement advanced AI that is sensitive to linear, temporal, long range and non-linear data patterns in a range of industrial use cases.
“Our collaboration with CEMEX has allowed us to demonstrate that resource and skill-intensive advanced AI technologies, previously used to address complex problems only in limited settings, can now achieve tangible business impact in a wide range of real-world industrial environments,” said Dr. Eric Xing, CEO of Petuum. “We are able to achieve new levels of automation, accelerating the journey to Industry 4.0. Our vision is to bring AI benefits to a wide range of businesses in a highly cost-effective and fast manner, solving challenges that can’t be addressed by traditional techniques.”
CEMEX and Petuum will continue close collaboration to deploy additional Autopilot use-cases such as emissions reduction, fuel-mix (alternative fuel) optimization, kiln refractory, preventive maintenance, etc. for global cement plants and expand Petuum Industrial AI Autpilot to other operations worldwide.
It starts with digital then moving toward autonomous processes. I’ve written about the strategy ABB has followed for the past four years since Ulrich Spiesshofer assumed the CEO post. We can summarize much of the strategy and also technology roadmap from those two words.
Spiesshofer brought in Guido Jouret in 2017 from Cisco for the role of Chief Digital Officer with the task of bringing digital to all business units. He has made a lot of progress in this short period of time.
Jouret elaborated, “We aren’t trying to be a software company, but hardware requires software.”
Kevin Kosisko, business unit managing director power generation & water, industrial automation and my interview about all things digital at the ABB Customer World conference. We talked about what autonomous meant. “Things we can do without sending people,” he told me. “For example, consider an oil platform taking the first step toward autonomous. Say they must take down a well for routine inspections and then bring it back up. It’s a difficult task, not to mention danger of flying crew to platform and being in the environment. So a combination of digital + autonomous to remove as much human intervention as possible. They took 2 days out of the entire process. That’s 2 additional days of production.”
Two things he told me that highlighted themes I would hear later. The first as “autonomous” being toward the end of a continuum going beyond preventive and predictive. Second, to use the digital twin model to help operators and engineers remove manual steps from a process.
Later I found a spot at the back of a full house for a panel on autonomous—The Journey Towards Autonomy in Industrial Operations Panelists were:
Dr. Zied Ouertani, Global Digital Lead, Chemicals, ABB
David Funderberg, Technology Manager, Chemical and Refining, ABB
Businesses in the industrial space have undergone a paradigm shift to move from isolated operations to collaborative and ultimately more autonomous operations. By 2025 we will witness humans working with systems in a collaborative way, leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) seamlessly. Disruptive technologies like AI, machine learning and augmented reality (AR) have all changed the way we do everyday tasks and in some cases made them autonomous. Hands-free collaboration can help repair remote issues or predict plant incidents.
The goal does not include taking humans out of the loop. I’m afraid I instigated a post-panel discussion where an editor argued that very definition of autonomous is “without humans”. So, he was asking the usual question you get from newspaper reporters and politicians—are they doing away with humans in production and manufacturing. Rebuttal came from one of the panelists who suggested he look at autonomous as part of a continuum, e.g., preventive->predictive->prescriptive->self-healing->operates with minimal supervision. This is applicable probably not to an entire plant, but to certain processes.
Guido Jouret spoke later on the status of digital at ABB following two years into his digital transformation leadership. He said the digital emphasis has led to more interactions with customers. And there are 185% 18.5% more customers year over year. ABB gets invited at earlier stages of the project process allowing it more input and influence. The company also has better C-level conversations with customers. ABB Ability should be considered a new technology platform.
I meant to post this Friday on the actual International Women’s Day, but since it is not an actual anniversary day, I guess missing by the weekend is OK.
Back in the 60s in my freshman engineering class, there were 700 total students. Seven were women. Plus, almost all the faces were white.
Today when I go to a technical conference the proportion of women is large. Perhaps 40% or so. And the cultural mix is similarly large. In many ways we have progressed. In other ways, there are still people, processes, and systems that prevent many people, especially women, from pursuing a technical career.
Several media relations people reached out to propose interviews with women in technology in order to tease out their career path as an example to others. Now, the junior and senior high girls who would be the target do not read this blog. I know, that is shocking! However, you are reading, and you could be encouraged to pass the thoughts along to those who might benefit from encouragement.
One such interview was with Isabel Yang, CTO at Advanced Energy Industries She is both (as described by the PR person) woman and minority, an MIT PhD in engineering, who now holds a C-suite position at a publicly traded manufacturing company. We actually recorded the conversation which will appear as Episode 186 on my long-running podcast series Gary on Manufacturing.
She told me, “I believe women need to shape their own destiny in their careers and lives. Now more than ever, we must work to establish a set of core skills early in our careers and gradually grow ourselves into experts, then progressively branch out to learn about adjacent areas or new areas to acquire new skills.” She lived this out as an engineer honing one expertise, then as a business strategy analyst, then finally putting it all together as chief technology officer.
Last week I attended the ABB Customer World conference in Houston. Here, my media contact set up an interview with Susan Peterson Sturm, Digital Lead for Oil & Gas at ABB, and a cybersecurity expert.
She told me that people may not get a degree in cyber security. What happens is perhaps a woman earns a technical degree. As she becomes involved on an engineering team, she sees problems involving cyber security. Perhaps she becomes curious and dives deeper into the field. She reads articles and books, goes to conferences, makes contacts in the field. Then she becomes recognized in the field and earns an assignment. At this point (if not before), she learns that just being technical isn’t enough. She must learn how to influence people. Her effectiveness rises. It’s a virtuous cycle.