Why do we do technology?
We are trying to solve problems.
Perhaps we limit ourselves on the problems we are solving. For the past several years, the theme at National Instruments’ annual user conference NI Week has focused on solving some of the world’s biggest problems through technology.
Writing in the Daily Stoic Ryan Holiday quotes Confucius, “Virtue is never solitary; it always has neighbors.” What he meant by that was that good behavior and good thinking is contagious.
If politics is a snake pit of corruption and avarice, then good people should enter it and improve it, not simply denounce it. If capitalism is too selfish, then the caring should start businesses with better cultures (which, when successful, will steal market share from the bad actors). If a group has extreme or offensive views, it shouldn’t be cut off and isolated for fear of “normalizing it.” It should be normalized–by encouraging normal people to interact with it, correct it and prod these misguided people towards the right path.
I’d like to start this week off with a challenge. What problems are we solving? Why do we do what we do? What good are we bringing into the world?
This is an age of entrepreneurship. As the big companies gobble up smaller ones, they always leave gaps for engineers who ask why. Go out and work on a bigger problem. Start a company.
This week is another week on the road—five out of the last six—and now I’m in Chicago at Pack Expo. Much like IMTS, Pack Expo fills three halls of McCormick Place with machines. And machine components such as controls, drives, software, instrumentation, and the like.
Two weeks ago was Emerson Global Users Exchange. I wandered into the Emerson Automation Solutions booth not expecting much that was new. OK, got that one wrong.
If you want an indicator that Emerson has seriously expanded beyond oil & gas, keep on reading. It is now a serious player in this space, as well.
I once was an executive with a company that designed and built automated assembly machines. One interesting niche we had was an expert in helium mass spectrometry leak testing. I can give the sales pitch on the value of in-line, 100% testing of products.
Well, not as good as when Emerson explained its new food and beverage leak detection system.
Emerson’s RosemountTM CT4215 uses laser technology to detect leaks, reject defective packages with no production slowdown.
The Rosemount CT4215 is the first quantum cascade laser/tunable diode laser (QCL/TDL) continuous, inline detection system designed to help assure quality and safety, maximize production volume and decrease product waste for food and beverage products. The Rosemount CT4215 tests the seal and integrity of every bottle or package on a production line, detecting leaks at a sensitivity as low as 0.3 mm and automatically rejecting any defective bottle or package without slowing down production. This is in contrast to the traditional practice of testing occasional grab samples, which can leave a manufacturer vulnerable to low quality, unsafe food or beverages, reduced profitability and damaged reputation.
“In an industry being driven by an increasing consumer awareness of freshness and safety, manufacturers need solutions that allow them to assure these qualities while maintaining, or even increasing, efficiency,” said Peter Watmough, global leak detection product manager, Emerson Automation Solutions. “The Rosemount CT4215 provides packagers with an easy-to-install, easy-to-use assurance of freshness and safety. For the first time, food and beverage packagers can measure every package and bottle for leaks without having to compromise their production speed.”
Emerson further unveiled a new line of transmitters designed specifically for hygienic applications in the food and beverage industry with a compact form factor that will enable manufacturers to minimize downtime and lower production costs.
The new line of transmitters—Rosemount 326P Pressure, Rosemount 326T Temperature, Rosemount 327T Temperature and Rosemount 326L Level instruments—are designed to operate in the hygienic environments required by food and beverage manufacturers:
All comply with 3-A and FDA specifications, and are available with nine common industry process connections to ensure the right fit for new tanks and pipe fittings, as well as capability to be retrofitted on legacy systems. The new, small transmitters also can be mounted in tighter locations common on packaging machinery. Conventional 4-20 mA outputs and IO-Link connectivity make the transmitters easy to integrate with automation systems.
To give a sense of the breadth of Emerson Automation Solutions commitment to the space, following are some summaries of products.
Emerson’s ASCO G3 Fieldbus Electronics completely modular system plugs together via mechanical clips that allow easy assembly and field changes without dismantling the entire manifold, and its modules can be used in centralized or distributed applications.
One particular demonstration that will feature G3 Fieldbus Electronics is Emerson’s ASCO Bread Packing Machine. This state-of-the-art system provides full pneumatic automation control to ensure high-speed, repeatable packaging of food products. Its G3 Fieldbus integrates pneumatic control and provides real-time diagnostic data via an integrated webserver. It demonstrates flexible and energy-efficient design through proper sizing of pneumatic systems to fit any food packaging operation.
Emerson’s SolaHD Power Quality solutions remove limitations in the power architecture, allowing machine designers and operators to safely put power where they need it. These power supplies can be mounted directly on a machine, freeing packaging lines from design constraints; eliminating the complexity and cost of unnecessary enclosures and excess wiring; and providing the power for current and future automation capabilities.
Emerson’s Branson Ultrasonic Automated Cutting System provides precise food portioning with an almost frictionless cutting surface resulting in cleaner cuts, faster processing, minimal waste, longer blade life, higher productivity for greater throughput, and reduced downtime for cleaning.
Emerson helps packaging operations reduce process variation and decrease costly losses through technologies that deliver real-time insight into machine and process performance. With the accurate, relevant data in hand, packaging operations can achieve better reliability, reduce losses and contamination as well as ensure long-term performance.
With Emerson’s Micro Motion Filling Mass Transmitter (FMT), high-value packaging lines can accurately fill a wide range of container sizes and products with a single meter, eliminating the cumulative error associated with multiple-device measurement solutions. The Micro Motion FMT reliably measures fluids with entrained solids or gases or with changing viscosities, making it ideal for high-speed filling and dosing applications. Its Coriolis mass-based measurement is immune to variations in process fluid, temperature or pressure, and Automatic Overshoot Compensation (AOC) ensures repeatable fills even under valve performance changes. In addition, the Micro Motion FMT enables operators to track quality control and filling valve-performance data in real time to reduce filler maintenance and cost.
In addition, Emerson’s Micro Motion Multiphase Flow Meter technology can help complex process operations reliably log Gas Void Fraction and liquid density and concentration measurements. Utilizing Micro Motion Advanced Phase Measurement software, these meters also tolerate “real life” conditions of foaming, end-of-batch cavitation or slug flows to enable consistent measurements in challenging multiphase conditions. In addition, Smart Meter Verification delivers detection of coating or fouling within the meter for added clean-in-place efficiency and insight.
An interactive display illustrating pneumatics and IIoT features Emerson’s AVENTICS Smart Pneumatics Monitor, an IIoT hub allowing local data collection and analysis independent of the controller. The pick-and-place display illustrates “predictive maintenance” by showing the health and performance of valves, cylinders and shocks, which can minimize the risk of unplanned machine downtime to increase ROI.
To demonstrate how operators can protect personnel and reduce risk without impacting productivity. the Emerson booth will feature the Emerson ASCO 503 Series Zoned Safety Manifold (with G3 fieldbus electronics). It simplifies the design of a redundant pneumatic safety circuit with a manifold system that can be configured to shut down air and power only to the group of valves that controls the machine’s motion in the operator’s vicinity while the rest of the machine remains in operation. Multiple independent safety circuits can easily and cost-effectively be designed into a single pneumatic valve manifold, reducing the number of safety system components by up to 35 percent, requiring less plumbing, and shrinking the size of a safety system so that valuable real estate within the machine and manifold can be used for other purposes while still providing enhanced operator safety.
Last week was where industrial automation and information technology met along with my vice–soccer.
Emerson Automation Solutions–Digital Transformation, IT/OT collaboration, corporate acquisitions (GE Intelligent Platforms, once known as GE Fanuc, joins the fold), WirelessHART applications expand, flow control data becomes an integral part of digital transformation.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE)–Refinery of the Future tour of the Texmark refinery that I’ve written about before and CenterPoint Energy where digital boosts the electrical utility industry.
Marketers may still talk of IT/OT convergence as something coming. In many forward thinking plants it is here. Texmark CEO Doug Smith talks freely about the kick in the pants delivered by his insurance carrier that propelled him and his team toward finding innovative solutions to operations challenges.
I sometimes joke that “I’m the point of convergence of IT and OT”, or at least my blog and writing are.
Don’t believe hype or nay-sayers. The collaboration is real–among suppliers, partner ecosystems, managers, engineers. And real benefits are accruing.
Have you joined the 21st Century?
Once upon a time, people made useful things in the shop under their apartment or in the shed out back.
The product of their labor was very much a piece of themselves. A little bit of their soul went into their creation.
This was a podcast originally scripted for Labor Day, but it morphed into a discussion of labor, automation, and how automation is / can be an assistant to humans.
Here’s a shout out to my sponsors: Ignition from Inductive Automation and Manufacturing Day.
By 2025, the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte project that manufacturers must fill 3.5 million skilled jobs. The workforce skills gap is very real.
On October 5th, Manufacturing Day, thousands of manufacturers will do something about this by opening their doors to those interested in manufacturing careers.
Give students and educators in your area a chance to discover modern manufacturing.
Two Polish software developers engage in conversation weekly on The Podcast. One wrote the original version of Nozbe the Getting Things Done app I use. Michael Sliwinski talked of using open source software to help him write his app and start his company. His Apple developer Radek Pietruszewski in episode 157 discussed how they wrote a piece of database code they dubbed WatermelonDB and released it into open source on GitHub.
I talk about the benefits of open source as an introduction to things I gleaned from last week’s annual trip to the Sacramento, CA area and the Inductive Automation Ignition Community Conference. Community was the operative word as the gathering of several hundred (I never heard an exact count, but the rumor was there were more than 600) integrators and users crowded into the Harris Center in Folsom for conversation, training, and updates.
On a side note, I’ve been unusually swamped with my annual project of assigning referees to high school and US Soccer youth contests. It seems as if half of the preliminary work I put in assigning before the season were washed away in an unusually wet late summer. Rescheduling is hell. Referees are tired of hearing from me. But I have only 2.5 weeks left in the high school season and two weeks beyond that will close the club season. Then I take a six-month break. Therefore, my energy level for writing has been sapped and the frequency here and on my podcast have suffered.
Founder and CEO Steve Hechtman betrayed his usual laid back demeanor talking about company growth and especially the latest release—Ignition 8—to be released in a few months. I have few details, but developers solved many platform problems caused by integrators pushing the envelop of HMI SCADA software.
Chief Strategy Officer Don Pearson told how the company has always embodied the OT/IT convergence meme with Hechtman coming from an OT background as an integrator and co-developers and now co-directors of software engineering Carl Gould and Colby Clegg were trained in IT technologies.
Pearson began the discussion of open source that continued throughout the conference. While Inductive Automation has always been a proponent of open standards—it still fully supports OPC UA, for example—it is also an open source user and contributor. The technologies strongly promoted at the conference were MQTT (a transport protocol) and Sparkplug (an information carrier in this case used to communicate Ignition tag information from source to consumer). Developer Cirrus Link has placed Sparkplug in the open source Eclipse Foundation.
Speakers talked with assurance about open source, but there was a thread of defensiveness in the discussion, too. Pearson quoted Maeterlinck, “At every crossroad on the way that leads to the future, each progressive spirit is opposed by a thousand men appointed to guard the past.” Eclipse Foundation Executive Director Mike Milinkovich proclaimed, “Software is eating the world, and open source is eating software.”
I like both open source and open standards. They both have propelled industry enabling innovation and limiting lock-in. I remember downloading the first Java JDK in the 90s and trying out the eclipse platform in early 2002. All pretty cool stuff. The Inductive Automation adoption of open source is refreshing in the industry.
Here are a few bullet points from the Carl-Colby show introducing Ignition 8:
- Building on the past, but with a new beginning
- New platform:
- Revamped tag system to reduce memory overload
- New scripting app
- Subscription and data model
- Dynamic writable UDT parameters
- Deployment architecture, true project inheritance
- Project resource management
- Ignition perspective, new mobile module, built up from ground new
I really should add that while Ignition is very good software, most of the people at the conference told me that they were enticed into the system by the pricing. From the beginning, Inductive Automation decided to upset the software pricing model prevalent in the industry. It is a growing company…
Inductive had acquired an MES company, integrated with Ignition, and has now spun it off into a separate company run by Tom Hechtman, brother to Steve. Its modular software includes many typical MES applications such as track and trace, workflow, OEE, recipe management, and more. Hechtman discussed a Lean Six Sigma tool kit. He noted the staff has doubled in the nine years since acquisition. It is an ISA 95 and B2MML solution. And also now a MESA International member.
Other notes from the conference
Table top exhibits from the conference sponsors were always packed with curious engineers seeking solutions.
Opto 22’s VP Marketing Benson Hougland told me they can’t build the Groov EPIC PLC fast enough for demand. That product combined with Ignition is a powerful control and SCADA platform—as sales attest.
Albert Rooyakkers, founder/CEO of Bedrock Automation told me that his sub-$1000 controller is selling well. Bedrock specializes in secure and hardened controllers—ideal for power, pipeline, and other such applications. He told me, “Secure SCADA with Ignition is coming.” His key word is secure.
IMTS has been a huge show for many years. As you might expect from a trade show, the theme is broad. Exhibitors are a diverse lot. Things I saw indicating a new wave of technologies including machines designed to work with humans (so-called “cobots”) and various aspects of Industrial Internet of Things. Following are a few specifics.
Formerly the International Machine Tool Show and now the International Manufacturing Technology Show, the South Hall of Chicago’s McCormick Place is still filled with huge machining centers. The North Hall was packed with robotics, components, and other automation products. Much of this flows over to the East Hall where several aisles were devoted to Hannover Messe automation companies—my sweet spot. Even the West Hall was packed.
Beckhoff proclaimed, “Solve the IoT hardware, software and networking puzzle.”
The company introduced ultra-compact Industrial PCs (IPCs). These IPCs are Microsoft Azure Certified and can work just as easily with other major cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and SAP HANA.
Significant updates will span three key areas of the TwinCAT software suite: new HTML5-enabled TwinCAT HMI for industrial displays and mobile devices, important data processing expansions in the TwinCAT Analytics offering, and TwinCAT 3 Motion Designer, which adds a deep set of valuable tools to commission entire motor, drive and mechanical systems in software. Motion Designer can be integrated into the standard TwinCAT 3 software platform or it can be used as a stand-alone motion system engineering tool.
EK1000 EtherCAT TSN Coupler expands the industrial Ethernet capabilities of the EtherCAT I/O system to utilize TSN (Time-Sensitive Networking) technology. The EK1000 enables communication among high-performance EtherCAT segments with remote EtherCAT controllers via heterogeneous Ethernet networks.
Ideagen plc, the UK-based software firm, announced the acquisition of American quality inspection software provider, InspectionXpert. Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, InspectionXpert currently generates $2.8 million in revenue and will bring more than 1,000 clients including Boeing, Kohler and Pratt & Whitney to Ideagen’s existing customer base.
Speaking at IMTS, Chicago, Ideagen CEO, Ben Dorks, said: “As well as significantly enhancing our manufacturing supply chain product suite, the acquisition of InspectionXpert provides Ideagen with a fantastic opportunity for growth by broadening upsell and cross-selling opportunities, increasing our customer footprint and expanding our geographical reach.”
InspectionXpert’s products, InspectionXpert and QualityXpert, enable organizations in the precision manufacturing industry and associated supply chains to simplify inspection planning, execution and reporting and general quality through digitalization of paper-based processes.
InspectionXpert and QualityXpert will be integrated into Ideagen’s existing software suite, which will enhance Software as a Service (SaaS) revenues and provide excellent opportunities for future growth.
Energid released Actin 5, an update to its robot software development kit (SDK). Called the industry’s only real-time adaptive motion control software, it allows robotic system developers to focus on the robot’s task rather than joint movement and paths. It responds in real time to sensory input and directs the robot on the most efficient path while avoiding collisions. The robot motion is updated dynamically without requiring reprogramming, even in dynamic, mission-critical environments.
Forcam develops software solutions in the area of MES, IIoT, and OEE. It leans into the trend of developing platforms. Its platform is built with open APIs with the latest programming languages and tools. It supports Microsoft Azure Cloud, SAP ERP, Maximo maintenance/asset applications, and Apple iPads for input. The platform helps reduce integration time and expense.
I came across the Dell Technologies booth in the automation hall. The big news was a collaboration with Tridium and Intel for IIoT solutions.
The IIoT solution is built on the Niagara Framework, Tridium’s open technology platform, and combines software and consulting services to help customers begin the digital transformation of their businesses.
The Niagara-based IIoT solution built with Dell and Intel technology will comprise a complete hardware and software stack delivered as a finished solution for ease of adoption, and will encompass consulting services from subject matter experts to support implementation. The application layer of the IIoT solution is being developed and supported by Tridium and will expand over time with solutions designed for the telecom and energy sectors.