Hexagon Partners with Microsoft Using Cloud Technology for Team Collaboration

Partnering with Microsoft continues to be an important part of manufacturing software development. This news is from Hexagon partnering with Microsoft to integrate engineering with Microsoft 365 to foster data collaboration among engineers. There’s a lot of marketing overkill in the release, but the essence is they hope to improve innovation through engineers and designers using improved collaboration tools.

  • Hexagon has contributed significantly to the open-source Fluid Framework data architecture that connects any manufacturing system and will integrate with Microsoft 365 creating agile, simplified workflows and productive collaboration using engineering and productivity software
  • Hexagon will roll-out applications that integrate the Microsoft Azure OpenAI Service to empower experienced employees to be more productive and assist less skilled users
  • These innovations form a significant foundation for new real-time co-engineering applications that combine Hexagon’s digital twin technologies with Microsoft Azure

Hexagon and Microsoft have partnered closely on the development and scaling of the open-source Fluid Framework and Azure Fluid Relay service to support the real-time sharing of data across a wide range of manufacturing industry processes and systems, allowing data created in one system to be immediately available to any other person or machine operating in another. Under the new partnership, the Microsoft 365 ecosystem will plug into this data layer, enabling customers to connect their day-to-day office documents and processes with manufacturing tools. This gives teams the freedom to innovate with the tools they already use; for example, tooling cost data from a Microsoft Excel worksheet could be easily shared with a CAM programmer, so simplifying work practices and decision-making between roles.

Microsoft Teams calls can become interactive working sessions, with CAD, simulations or metrology point clouds seamlessly visualised from the source data to allow on-the-spot collaboration and fast, iterative teamwork across disparate engineering and manufacturing functions. Hexagon has already demonstrated this capability in its 3D Whiteboard Nexus tool, which is also now available as an native app in Teams.

Hexagon is working with Microsoft to integrate generative AI models into its manufacturing software, helping users to make better use of their capabilities and analysing existing datasets to learn and suggest the best practices for achieving desired outputs. These AI experiences include contextual advisors, offering expert users productivity-boosting automation while also helping new users to upskill faster and achieve good results with less supervision – a valuable tool as the industry faces a growing skills shortage in many essential roles.

Growing Into Mediocrity

I devoted Tuesday this week to exploring Automate, the robot/vision/automation trade show produced by A3. Six miles of walking and many conversations later, a sense of the state of the industry and a few of the players visited me.

One thing to note was where consolidation is and has taken place. The cobot revolution has matured with the small innovative companies acquired by large corporations. 

Interesting to delve further into Rockwell Automation’s latest strategy by visiting Otto, the autonomous mobile robot company recently acquired. It is going deeper into discrete manufacturing rather than broader into other technologies—sort of the opposite of Siemens. I wonder if that reflects on the differences of the American and German markets.

Conversations with Beckhoff Automation, Inductive Automation, and Opto 22 revealed how companies can be successful without selling out to a huge corporation. Independents like these still have a place in the market.

Thinking about the market consolidation of the past say five years, I saw this piece from technology writer, thinker, and former VC, Om Malik. I remember reading his columns in Red Herring maybe 20 years ago and have followed his work ever since. Here are some thoughts he had reflecting on Apple’s recent iPad event and the resulting ad. These thoughts are relevant to our market. Think of companies you know who are in the incremental improvement stage.

Apple is no longer making iconic products that are trying to find their place in our lives through clever messaging. The Crush ad is the output of a mega-company that still doesn’t realize that it permeates all aspects of our modern lives, including our retirement plans. When you are as large as Apple (or any other Big Tech giant,) mediocrity of action creeps into every aspect of your business.

Now it is trying to be a company that has to keep selling the newer, more incremental versions of those products to keep growing, so long as it can feed the quarterly earnings monster. It has to keep the stock flying high. Apple is now a $2.75 trillion company — and it has to do everything it can to keep itself there in that elite club. It is getting harder and harder.

Apple is not alone. Its big tech peers Amazon and Google are finding growth much more challenging. They are doing things that make them less likable by the day. And like them, Apple too, is primed to stumble! 

Siemens To Acquire Industrial Drive Technology Business of ebm-papst

This acquisition is a very interesting acquisition from several points-of-view. This shows Siemens commitment to factory automation. It hints at entry into the mobile automated robotic space (see the analysis by Vanessa Lopez, Research Analyst, Interact Analysis at the bottom of the story). Even though I don’t see as much in the US as I once did, Siemens is still one of the most active automation suppliers.

Key points from the news.

  • Planned acquisition to strengthen Siemens’ position as a leading technology company in the field of factory automation and digitalization
  • Strategic addition to the Siemens Xcelerator portfolio
  • A business of ebm-papst, a leading supplier of fans and compact and intelligent mechatronic systems, which employs around 650 people
  • Major growth opportunities in the field of intelligent, battery-powered drive solutions

Siemens AG has signed an agreement to acquire the industrial drive technology (IDT) business of ebm-papst. The business, which employs around 650 people, includes intelligent, integrated mechatronic systems in the protective extra-low voltage range and innovative motion control systems. These systems are used in free-range driverless transport systems. The planned acquisition will complement the Siemens Xcelerator portfolio and strengthen Siemens’ position as a leading solutions provider for flexible production automation.

Cedrik Neike, member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG and CEO of Digital Industries, said: “Ebm-papst’s innovative portfolio of mechatronic drive systems and its highly qualified people are an excellent fit for Siemens. The acquisition will enable us to tap new business and customer potential in the rapidly growing market for intelligent, battery-powered drive solutions in intralogistics as well as mobile robot solutions.”

IDT products are intelligent, integrated mechatronic systems, which support the automation and digitalization of production processes. This acquisition will be a strong addition to the Siemens Xcelerator portfolio. Through their use in mobile robots and driverless transport vehicles as well as in the automation of auxiliary processes, such as the retooling of modern production machines, they are an important lever for greater flexibility and productivity. For this reason, high market growth is expected in this market segment.

The transaction is to be completed by mid-2025, subject to the necessary foreign trade and merger control approvals. The IDT business of ebm-papst is located in St. Georgen and Lauf an der Pegnitz, Germany, and in Oradea, Romania. The parties have agreed not to disclose the purchase price.

“The acquisition by Siemens is a strategically significant step for us. What our industrial drive technology (IDT) business had lacked until now was a global sales organization for maximum growth. Siemens is a long-standing customer and a company with strong international market penetration and an extensive customer base. The integration that has now been agreed upon will give our IDT business global market access. It will open up new horizons for innovation and further growth,” added Dr. Klaus Geißdörfer, CEO of the ebm-papst Group. “We’ll use the proceeds from the sale of the IDT business to further expand our Air Technology and Heating Technology divisions, to further strengthen our three regions – Europe, Asia and the Americas – and to invest in future fields of our product portfolio, such as digitalization and sustainability.”

Interact Analysis take

Siemens’ recent acquisition takes advantage of surging market

VANESSA LOPEZ, Research Analyst, Interact Analysis

If you’ve been following manufacturing news, Siemens has been making big waves in its divestitures and acquisitions over the last few years. Most recently, it divested several business units worth nearly €3 billion into the newly formed Innomotics, which is currently up for sale.

On March 21st, Siemens announced yet another acquisition. In a press release, the company unveiled its plans to acquire ebm-papst’s industrial drive technology (IDT) business. What makes this move most interesting is the acquisition of ebm-papst’s ultra-low voltage motor offering. In a report published by Interact Analysis in late 2023, we found the market for these products is growing strongly, particularly in applications relating to conveying and mobile robotics.

From a product perspective, ebm-papst’s portfolio is a valuable addition to Siemens’ portfolio. While Siemens has been active in the ultra-low voltage drive market, it previously lacked a complimentary motor offering. ebm-papst, with over $50 million in sales, ranks 13th in the global market. The majority of its revenue comes from the EMEA region, where it holds 10th position in the regional market. Siemens’ acquisition of ebm-papst’s IDT division opens up wider global market access for these products, leveraging Siemens’ extensive global sales channels.

While this could include many pieces of equipment, we believe the primary target is mobile robot applications.

Mobile robots are experiencing early-stage growth. As predominantly battery-powered solutions, these robots typically utilize either 24v or 48v DC motors (what we term ultra-low voltage motors). The demand for ultra-low voltage drives and motors is therefore reflecting this upward trajectory. According to Interact Analysis’ ultra-low voltage drives report, revenues are projected to grow at a CAGR of 25.9%, reaching $3.1 billion by 2027. Similarly, ultra-low voltage motors, extensively utilized in mobile robots, are expected to witness substantial revenue growth, reaching $6.5 billion by 2027, as indicated in Interact Analysis’ ultra-low voltage motors report. This surge in demand can be attributed primarily to the burgeoning adoption of mobile robots, particularly in warehouse automation applications.

Also notable is the rapid growth seen by roller conveyors in both segments of the ultra-low voltage markets under discussion. These products are highly compact and often operate at either 12V or 24V, making them an ideal application for ultra-low voltage motors. Moreover, most conveyor manufacturers purchase motors rather than manufacturing them in-house. Our conversations with ultra-low voltage motor vendors consistently highlighted roller conveyors as a significant area of interest for future growth. Interact Analysis estimates this market will nearly double by 2030.

The accelerated surge in warehouse automation, including the adoption of mobile robots and roller conveyors, presents substantial avenues for Siemens to expand its footprint and secure market share. By strategically aligning itself to meet the escalating demand for ultra-low voltage drives and integrated motor solutions, Siemens is poised to benefit from this surging market. Therefore, we consider Siemens’ acquisition of ebm-papst’s industrial drive technology business as a pivotal and forward-looking investment.

Hexagon and Dragos Partner to Strengthen Industrial Cybersecurity 

More and more companies are developing partnerships to serve customers rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. Hexagon had acquired PAS and its Cyber Integrity solution some years ago. This partnership announced with cybersecurity solution provider Dragos aims to do no less than “revolutionize OT cybersecurity at industrial facilities.”

The technical partnership focuses on integrating the complementary OT cybersecurity capabilities of the Dragos Platform and Hexagon’s PAS Cyber Integrity to provide customers with enhanced inventory data, comprehensive configuration management and superior intrusion detection and threat management to protect businesses operating in multiple critical infrastructure sectors. The collaboration is expected to harness the respective strengths, industry insights and innovative spirit of both Dragos and Hexagon.

“This relationship represents a significant step in forging the future of OT cybersecurity,” said Nick Cappi, vice president of OT Cybersecurity at Hexagon. “Through the integration of technologies, industrial facilities that use Hexagon and Dragos will be in a better position to achieve their security goals. We are excited to work together and collectively solve bigger security challenges for customers.”

The companies will integrate their specialized expertise and capabilities to tackle the unique challenges encountered by owner operators. Together, they aspire to enhance safety, efficiency and productivity, with a goal of revolutionizing how the cybersecurity industry protects industrial infrastructure and valuable assets.

“Hexagon is known for providing forward leaning technology that also prioritizes safety and security, and the partnership with Dragos brings additional value to industrial and critical infrastructure organizations using our technologies,” said Matt Cowell, Global VP of Business Development at Dragos. “The integration between Dragos and Hexagon will leverage our complementary capabilities and respective strengths to provide an integrated approach to managing security across the different layers of the operational environment.”

Emerson Adds Software to its DeltaV Automation Platform

Emerson has gone through a process of divesting companies and adding others, such as NI (nee National Instruments) becoming overall more of an automation company. Much like years ago when Rockwell shed aerospace and trucks and other industries becoming Rockwell Automation.

Its tagline in press releases for some time has included software as an emphasis. Now, they’ve announced the new DeltaV Automation Platform adds SCADA, MES and operations management software technologies. The idea is to promote smarter, safer, optimized and more sustainable operations.

One of my more popular podcasts asked the question why industrial technology vendors are moving to software.

As part of its Boundless Automation vision for helping organizations deliver more seamless operations, global automation technology and software leader Emerson is evolving its DeltaV brand into the DeltaV Automation Platform. The newly expanded automation platform will include supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, manufacturing execution systems (MES) and operations management software alongside the distributed control (DCS) and safety systems (SIS) and other technologies that have been part of the brand for decades. The evolution builds a more comprehensive automation platform to make it easier for users to deliver smarter, safer, more optimized and more sustainable operations.

Organizations across nearly every industry including life sciences, specialty chemical, mining and extraction, food and beverage, energy and more are experiencing new complexities as they face the modern challenge of improving throughput, performance and quality while simultaneously increasing sustainability of operations. Navigating this increased complexity requires seamless mobility of data, reliable performance and advanced control strategies from the plant floor to the corporate boardroom. The comprehensive nature of the new DeltaV Automation Platform will empower users to move away from “plant-by-plant” strategies to “site-by-site” or even enterprise automation solutions—the more advanced, integrated automation strategies that are increasingly necessary to compete in a complex global marketplace.

This, of course, is an ideal way to perpetuate, and indeed increase, vendor lock-in of its customers. Why go anywhere else for all your hardware and software needs?

“In an era of increased demand and higher sustainability targets, today’s organizations are looking for ways to manage and contextualize data across the many software solutions they use to help unlock easier, faster and safer decisions,” said Nathan Pettus, president of Emerson’s process systems and solutions business. “The DeltaV Automation Platform will combine a flexible, fit-for-purpose portfolio of DCS, SIS, SCADA, MES and operations management software with unmatched application and cross-industry expertise to help cross-functional teams across the enterprise more easily achieve their goals.”

With an extensive portfolio unified under one brand, users will have access to a comprehensive technology ecosystem that provides a broader suite of solutions. Organizations will more quickly and easily find the right solutions to meet their specific needs and will gain easier access to service, training and support.

All solutions in the DeltaV Automation Platform will be seamlessly supported through the Guardian digital customer experience. 

RoboDK and Comau Partner For Robotic Simulation and Offline Programming

The amount of activity in the robotic sector continues to amaze me. Companies continue to exploit the power of partnerships to extend applications rather than trying to invent it all themselves (most companies don’t have that sort of funding to invest in extensive R&D). This news brings Comau, a Stallantis company, and RoboDK, a spinoff from the CoRo laboratory at ETS University of Montreal. I can remember Comau from my earliest trips to the Robot Show in Detroit in the 80s.

The news is that the latest version of Comau Roboshop Next Gen software now fully integrates with RoboDK robotics simulation and offline programming.

Comau users can now enjoy the benefits of RoboDK directly due to RoboDK’s integration into Comau’s Roboshop Next Gen software suite. This integration allows users to easily simulate and program robots using advanced CAD to path features, import 3D Models, detect collisions, integrate with external axes such as turntables and linear rails, support multiple robot cells in the same project, improved integration with CAD/CAM software and use advanced simulation features such as conveyors and grippers. This allows Comau robot programmers to easily use Comau robots for advanced manufacturing applications such as robot machining or 3D printing.

In addition to these technical benefits, the collaboration also introduces support for Realistic Robot Simulation (RRS), providing accurate path and cycle time estimates. This advancement aims to provide businesses with a clear understanding of robot behavior and precise cycle time details, ensuring more efficient and optimized robot operations.

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