Schneider Electric Updates EcoStruxure Automation Expert, Forges Strategic Agreement with Wood

Schneider Electric presented a couple of news items to us at the ARC Industry Forum a couple of weeks ago. It continues to push its evangelization of software-defined control using IEC 61499. It also announced a strategic agreement with Wood plc. I just got off a Webcast billed as customers using Automation Expert. Instead, it was a deep dive into the product—which is OK. 

Interesting note (to me, anyway) that the speaker called IEC 61499 a new standard written with Industry 4.0 in mind. I pulled a book from my library a couple of weeks ago that I reviewed in 2001, “Modeling Control Systems Using IEC 61499”.  Anyway, this really is a step in the right direction. The Open Process Automation group uses this standard, among others. One last weird note—they call Automation Expert new, but they just released version 21.0?

Schneider Electric announced EcoStruxure Automation Expert version 21.0, the next in an ongoing series of updates and enhancements for the world’s first software-centric system. 

Schneider Electric is implementing Agile software development methodology to deliver a new EcoStruxure Automation Expert release, based on direct customer feedback, every six months.

“Keeping pace with rapid innovation while still maintaining the capability to be 100% future proof is a key benefit of EcoStruxure Automation Expert for our customers,” said Fabrice Jadot, senior vice president, next generation automation, Schneider Electric. “In the space of a couple months we’ve added features and functions that will enhance the user experience and directly address high-demand customer needs. Our best-in-class implementation of agile mode project delivery¾along with an overall agile mindset¾helps us provide an always-current experience for our users.”

IEC 61499 adoption

EcoStruxure Automation Expert, first launched to the public in November 2020, is the world’s first universal automation offer, based on the IEC61499 standard for interoperability and portability. 

Early interest in this new category of industrial automation is strong. The company reports that its integrator partners see enormous benefit in being able to add value beyond traditional PLC control. Early adopters are innovating to provide comprehensive, more capable solutions by combining technologies for their customers.

“This is not the same automation platform from 30 or 40 years ago, so there’s an initial learning curve for adjusting to IEC61499-based technology,” said Jadot. “But we’re finding that once customers and partners dive into the technology, they see real returns in flexibility and speed of engineering unlike anything they’ve experienced before. When users realize the full value of EcoStruxure Automation Expert, the most common response is, ‘This is a game changer.’”

EcoStruxure Automation Expert is particularly drawing interest from businesses in the consumer packaged goods and logistics sectors where the added flexibility is needed to react quickly to changing market dynamics, take advantage of new opportunities, or rapidly mitigate potential risk.

Next-generation technology

Enhancements in EcoStruxure Automation Expert V21.0 include:

  • EtherNet/IP scanner for software programmable automation controller
  • ASi-5 gateway
  • Position control with Lexium 32 servo drives

and updates include:

  • Common function library improvements 
  • Improved user interface
  • Ability to define supported function blocks in logical devices
  • Physical view enhancements
  • Other quality, performance, security and usability enhancements

Universal automation

Universal automation is the world of plug and produce automation software components based on the IEC61499 standard that solve specific customer problems in a proven way. Adoption of a universal automation layer, common across vendors, will provide limitless opportunities for growth and modernization across industry. 

By greatly extending the capabilities of existing IEC61131-based systems and enabling an app-store-like model for automation software components, the advancements possible in the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be fully realized. As its benefits become visible, Schneider Electric believes other vendors will adopt universal automation, and end users will soon begin to demand it from their automation suppliers and ecosystem.

Schneider Electric and Wood Forge Strategic Agreement

Schneider Electric has formed a strategic relationship with Wood, a global leader in delivering automation solutions for projects, operations and consulting services to energy, industrial, and several other vertical markets, to make open and interoperable automation a reality for customers.

The memorandum of understanding agreement provides Wood’s automation and control group access to Schneider Electric’s IEC61499-based software, helping them deliver open, standards-based automation solutions to their global energy and industrial customers. Using object-oriented, event-based programming, where hardware and software lifecycles are decoupled and engineering efficiency is optimized, Schneider Electric and Wood are now able to provide mutual clients with next-generation, open automation and control, which can deliver step-change operational improvements today while also simplifying upgrades in the future.

“With closed systems, the full potential of Industry 4.0 remains untapped,” said Fabrice Jadot, Senior Vice President, Industrial Automation, Schneider Electric. “To accelerate industrial digital transformation, we must prioritize portability of automation applications. Today, agility and resilience are paramount. The IEC61499 standard delivers that needed interoperability and that’s why it is fundamental to the shift towards more flexible automation. We are delighted to be working with Wood, an industry innovator that has been leveraging the benefits of IEC61499, to deliver the next-generation automation solutions that end users need to thrive in the digital economy.”

“By combining our diverse capabilities and domain expertise in automation with the IEC61499 technology, we can unlock unprecedented innovation for our customers,” said Bridget Fitzpatrick, Global Process Automation Authority, Wood. “The siloed nature of industry is holding us all back. We agree that collaboration is essential to next-generation industries, and IEC61499 is the enabler. We look forward to continuing to bring greater value to our customers’ projects and welcoming a new era of open automation.”

For First Time Yearly Non-Automotive Robotic Orders Higher Than Automotive Orders

I have noticed over the past several years that the share of sales of automation vendors from the automotive sector has been declining. If nothing else points to that trend, it would be sales of that automotive technology mainstay—robots. Welding robots populating automotive assembly lines were synonyms for automation. If you looked at sales by industry and application, those have led the list for a long time.

Things have changed. For the first time, yearly orders of robots from non-automotive sectors surpassed automotive robot orders, as sales of robotic units in North America increased 3.5% in 2020 from 2019. This growth was driven by a strong Q4 that was the second-best quarter ever for North American robotic sales with a 63.6% increase over Q4 2019.

So say Industry statistics – released recently by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), part of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3) – show that North American companies ordered 31,044 robotic units, valued at $1.572 billion in 2020. In Q4, companies ordered 9,972 units valued at $479 million. 

“The surge in robot orders that we’re seeing, despite the pandemic, demonstrates the growing interest in robotic and automation solutions,” said Jeff Burnstein, A3 President. “It’s promising to see the growth of robotics in new applications and reaching a wider group of users than ever before.”

Year-over-year orders in life sciences increased by 69%, food and consumer goods grew by 56%, and plastics and rubber saw a 51% increase. Automotive orders increased 39% in 2020.

“In 2020, we saw two trends in particular that propelled growth in non-automotive orders for robotics technology,” said John Bubnikovich, Chief Regional Officer – North America, KUKA Robotics. “First, the automation competence level in general industry has grown, and that matured into greater demand for the technology. Second, consumer behavior shifted significantly and the expectations created by this shift were tough to satisfy without automation.”

At the same time, Bubnikovich said, supply chain disruptions and instability in the workforce made industries accelerate automation strategies.

The same trends are being noticed by other major robot manufacturers.

“With the changes in people’s personal buying behavior caused by COVID, robots have been utilized in record numbers to allow for the fulfillment of orders in the e-commerce space while allowing for correct social distancing practices,” said Dean Elkins, Segment Leader – Handling, Yaskawa Motoman. “In addition, robots largely aided in the production of personal protection and testing equipment and the medical devices needed to keep our society healthy and safe.”

“We have seen a substantial increase in activity in non-automotive sectors, as customers focus on making their production lines more flexible and better able to efficiently achieve high mix, lower volume production in response to constantly evolving customer demands,” says Mark Joppru, Vice President – Consumer Segment & Service Robotics, US ABB Robotics and Machine Automation.  “In food applications, for example, where robots were traditionally used to automate simpler processes like case loading, they are increasingly being commissioned for higher value processes, like directly preparing food, resulting in improvements to food safety and hygiene.  While these trends have existed for several years, COVID has changed perceptions and priorities for customers, accelerating the adoption of robotic automation.”

In August of 2020, A3 reported on the strain to supply chains and economic uncertainty due to COVID-19. Alex Shikany, A3 Vice President, Membership & Business Intelligence, noted that despite a drop in orders, industry leaders showed optimism about the remainder of 2020, and accurately predicted the strong finish to 2020.

“The pandemic has created a sense of urgency for manufacturing companies to invest in automation like never before,” said Mike Cicco, President and CEO of FANUC America. “Traditionally, companies have implemented automation to reduce cost, increase output, and improve quality.  However, the pandemic has added an additional factor that is driving manufacturers to re-examine their supply chain to increase flexibility, minimize disruptions, and move it closer to their customers. With this mindset, there are more opportunities for scaling robotic applications across multiple facilities, especially for larger companies. The untapped potential for automation is a promising sign for our industry; the opportunities for automation today are truly limitless.”

To help educate users and potential users about how to successfully apply robotics and automation, A3 will hold Automate Forward, the premier virtual automation trade show and conference. Register free and join industry peers March 22-26 to hear from more than 80 speakers and see the latest technologies from more than 160 leading automation suppliers.

About Association for Advancing Automation (A3)

In the spring of 2021, the Robotic Industries Association (RIA) will become the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), the global advocate for the benefits of automating. A3 promotes automation technologies and ideas that transform the way business is done. RIA is one of four allied associations, including AIA – Advancing Vision + Imaging, Motion Control & Motor Association (MCMA), and A3 Mexico, that will transform into A3. Combined, these associations represent over 1,100 automation manufacturers, component suppliers, system integrators, end users, research groups and consulting firms from throughout the world that drive automation forward.

NI Corporate Impact Strategy and Practice

ICYMI, NI (the company formerly known as National Instruments) has staked out some bold new directions. It is now called simply NI. The corporate identity also includes new logo and bold new colors.

That can be mere cosmetics. It has also just announced its 10-year corporate impact strategy, aimed at addressing some of our most pressing environmental, societal, and economic issues. The goals cover three pillars:

  • Changing the faces of engineering
  • Building a thriving and equitable society
  • Engineering a healthy planet

That could also be mere words written for a corporate annual report only to be forgotten in the quest for sales, profits, survival.

To probe more deeply, I was able to connect with Tabitha Upshaw, NI’s Head of Corporate Impact, to discuss more on these goals and what NI is actually doing. She took some time out of a busy day to brief me on the details of the goals and directions. I acknowledged that this sounds great and also within the history and culture of NI—a company I’ve followed since 1998 when it was an upstart entrepreneurial company. The refreshing part is in the details. She (and the team) has organized governance teams, working groups, reporting—all the tools of good management. I think they are actually going to follow through to make an impact.

NI Launches 10-Year Strategy and Goals for Advancing Diversity, Equity and Sustainability 

Company also makes $3.4 million commitment to advancing diversity in STEM education

February 03, 2021 09:00 AM Eastern Standard Time

NI released Engineering Hope, its 2030 Corporate Impact Strategy, outlining the company’s vision and aspirational goals for making a measurable, positive impact on society and the environment by 2030. The long-term plan to advance diversity, equity and sustainability furthers NI’s promise to Engineer Ambitiously, connecting people, ideas and technology to take on the world’s greatest challenges.

“The world is facing pressing challenges, from climate change to inequality. Engineering will play a pivotal role in confronting these issues, which is why we must collectively lead the change we hope to see in society,” said NI President and CEO Eric Starkloff. “We are focusing our efforts in areas like sustainability, diversity and equity – areas in which we can drive important, meaningful impact at NI, in the engineering field and in society at large.”

Over the next decade, NI is dedicated to creating impact in three areas by working toward a set of 15 goals and commitments, including two “moonshot” diversity goals. The strategy reflects a yearlong process to assess NI’s environmental impact and the priorities of employees, customers and other stakeholders. See the full strategy and goal list at ni.com/engineeringhope2030.

  • Changing the faces of engineering: NI is committed to increasing diversity and inclusion across its workforce and management teams and throughout the engineering industry. NI’s “moonshot” goals are based on the aspiration for its workforce to mirror society overall. With that in mind, NI has set specific 2030 goals to increase the representation of women and people of color in its workforce and in management roles, based on global and U.S. demographics.Achieving this goal, particularly in technical fields, will require focus not just within NI, but also on educational opportunities for underserved communities. NI will continue supporting the future generation of engineers by giving to and volunteering with STEM education initiatives. NI will invest $3.4 million globally over the next four years in STEM education initiatives that serve underrepresented or economically disadvantaged students. Its first grantees, Code2College and Project Lead The Way, will each receive $100,000 per year for the next four years to expand their hands-on learning programs.
  • Building a thriving and equitable society: By 2030, NI’s goal is for 16% of its suppliers to be small or diverse businesses. This is part of NI’s commitment to increasing equity and well-being among its employees and in the communities where they live and work. The company will also work toward achieving pay equity, advancing comprehensive well-being programs and supporting economic opportunity initiatives through giving and volunteering.
  • Engineering a healthy planet: By 2030, NI’s goal is to achieve Zero Waste at NI-owned buildings and reduce waste at leased facilities worldwide. The company will also work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve resources and design all new buildings to LEED and WELL standards. NI will also pursue circular design improvements to its products and packaging and donate or discount NI products to organizations developing green technologies.

To further progress toward these goals, NI has issued a 2+1 Giving Pledge: By 2030, the company will increase giving from 1% to 2% of annual, pre-tax profits in the form of monetary and product donations. And NI employees will have the opportunity to spend 1% of their work hours volunteering in their communities.

“This strategy builds upon NI’s culture of caring and long legacy of corporate citizenship,” said NI Head of Corporate Impact Tabitha Upshaw. “At the same time, it goes beyond philanthropy to integrate corporate impact into most every aspect of our business, especially the way we empower our customers, educators and innovators to use NI products for good.”

The strategy is also designed to be iterative, and NI may scale its commitments and goals as its programs evolve and mature. NI will publish an annual corporate impact report that measures against its 2019 baseline data.

About NI

At NI, we bring together the people, ideas and technology so forward thinkers and creative problem solvers can take on humanity’s biggest challenges. From data and automation to research and validation, we provide the tailored, software-connected systems engineers and enterprises need to Engineer Ambitiously every day.

AVEVA Joins United Nations Global Compact Network

AVEVA Underscores Commitment to Build a Sustainable Future as a Member of the UN Global Compact Network 

AVEVA held a virtual conference last week with one early morning devoted to a media/press/analyst roundtable discussion primarily around sustainability. Schneider Electric has been an outspoken sustainability advocate for quite some time. It, of course, is the majority shareholder in AVEVA. The two companies often work hand-in-glove. 

In this case, AVEVA has joined the United Nations Global Compact and the UN Global Compact Network UK,  a voluntary leadership platform for the development, implementation, and disclosure of responsible business practices. AVEVA joins thousands of other companies around the globe committed to taking responsible business action to create a more sustainable world.

Launched in 2000, the UN Global Compact is the largest corporate sustainability initiative in the world, with more than 12,000 companies and 3,500 non-business signatories based in over 160 countries, and 69 local networks. Its aim is to mobilize a global movement of sustainable companies and stakeholders to create the world that conducts business responsibly by aligning its strategies and operations with Ten Principles on human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption; and takes strategic actions to advance broader societal goals, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with an emphasis on collaboration and innovation.

AVEVA is already making strides towards a sustainable future, and today’s announcement marks another step in this journey. Alongside embedding changes across its own functions, AVEVA is enabling its customers to advance their own sustainability efforts with software solutions that can be applied across more than nine industry verticals to address challenges such as providing real-time energy data and supporting improved operational efficiency to help customers cut their energy consumption and emissions.

Craig Hayman, CEO of AVEVA, commented, “Joining the UN Global Compact cements our existing commitment to align our business with the Ten Principles, and provides an exciting platform for learning and collaboration with other members. AVEVA’s key focus will initially be on areas where our social and environmental contribution can be greatest, including addressing the climate crisis and expediting the transition to a more circular global economy. We will accelerate this journey by delivering products and solutions which will drive more sustainable outcomes for our customers while also providing additional benefits for our employee and partner ecosystem focused on ultimately creating a better environment for all.”

Steve Kenzie, Executive Director, UN Global Compact Network UK, added, “The core of the United Nations Global Compact’s mission is to support companies doing business responsibly by aligning their strategies and operations with ten universal principles on human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption. We also support business taking actions to advance the Sustainable Development Goals. We are delighted and encouraged by AVEVA’s endorsement of our initiative.”

Hitachi ABB Power Grids’ Digital Enterprise Joins Hitachi’s Lumada Portfolio

About six months ago, ABB completed a divestiture of about 80% of its holding in ABB Power Grid business, and Hitachi acquired it. The new business, a joint venture, is called Hitachi ABB Power Grids. Today, it announced the integration of its Digital Enterprise solution with Hitachi Vantara’s Lumada portfolio of digital solutions and services for turning data into insights. 
 
The two Hitachi business entities have agreed to rebrand the DE components as Lumada Asset Performance Management (APM), Lumada Enterprise Asset Management (EAM), and Lumada Field Service Management (FSM), adding to the growing portfolio of DataOps and Industrial IoT solutions. 
  
The DE portfolio of solutions and its predecessors enable customers spanning multiple global industries to operate, analyze and optimize over $4 trillion of assets every day. With the incorporation of the DE portfolio into Lumada, this experience is further complemented by a leading technology engine to deliver access to information, systems, people and analytics across asset-intensive organizations. 
 
With Digital Enterprise’s incorporation into Lumada, Hitachi ABB Power Grids’ energy domain experience will be augmented by Hitachi’s Lumada Industrial IoT platform. Hitachi was recently named a Leader in the 2020 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Industrial IoT Platforms based on Gartner Inc.’s evaluation of the company and its Lumada IoT software. 

“Our software solutions and Lumada are highly complementary,” said Massimo Danieli, managing director, grid automation business unit, Hitachi ABB Power Grids. “Combining best-in-class Lumada IoT capabilities and the domain expertise built into Digital Enterprise applications provides both new and existing customers unparalleled flexibility and faster time to value, while preserving the value of their past software investments. The journey we began with our customers as part of the Digital Enterprise evolution story has become broader and more compelling, as we join the Lumada ecosystem.” 

“Lumada Enterprise Asset Management and Field Service Management allow us to seamlessly expand our Ellipse EAM, enabling us to share information across all parts of our organization, tearing down silos and giving us the opportunity to formulate a longer-term, holistic strategy that reflects our specific business outcomes,” said Brian Green, general manager, asset management, from the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC). “In addition, implementing these solutions allows us to optimize the quality of the data we collect and ensure safe, compliant and efficient business operations.” 

“Bringing these solutions that each encapsulate deep domain expertise into the greater Lumada ecosystem gives customers an extremely powerful combination of tools to modernize their business,” said Chris Scheefer, senior vice president, Industry Practice, Hitachi Vantara. “The holistic view of assets and information provided by Lumada allows leadership to analyze and react in real-time, enabling efficient, effective operations and a foundation to create a more sustainable future.”  

DE and Lumada also share core foundational features: a modern microservices design, vendor-agnostic interoperability, and a flexible deployment model, including cloud, on-premises and hybrid. 
 
With the combination of Hitachi ABB Power Grids’ Digital Enterprise application portfolio and Hitachi’s Lumada solutions offered by Hitachi Vantara, customers will be able to benefit from additional data services including data integration, data cataloging, edge intelligence, data management, analytics and more. 
 
The new integrated Lumada portfolio will offer advantages to customers in the following key areas: 

1.     Digital Transformation & Data Modernization – improving access to and insights from data 

2.     Connected Asset Performance – helping to predict and prevent asset failures 

3.     Intelligent Operations Management – improving oversight and maintenance of assets 

4.      Health, Safety & Environment – enabling safer environments for workers and the public 

COVID-19 Reshapes Manufacturing Landscape, New Google Cloud Findings Show

This information came to me about a month ago. I’m still catching up with filtering through all the releases from the last couple of months last year. Covid may have kept many people indoors, but it didn’t slow down work in engineering, marketing, or PR. This is a survey conducted by Google Cloud and the Harris Poll regarding the effects of Covid on manufacturing. This is a blog post from Google’s Dominik Wee, Managing Director Manufacturing and Industrial.

After facing severe headwinds from COVID-19, ranging from decreased orders to negative impacts on operations, manufacturers around the world have started to revamp their operating models and supply chain strategies—and now feel more prepared to successfully navigate future pandemics, according to our new research released today.

The key for manufacturers’ ability to transform—despite the ongoing pandemic—is their embrace of digital enablers and disruptive technologies. In fact, more than two in five manufacturers have increased their use of data and analytics, digital productivity tools, and public cloud platforms, irrespective of their location in the world.

“Manufacturers have always prepared for unpredictable events that could adversely impact operations,” said Bob Parker, Senior Vice President, Enterprise Applications, Data Intelligence, Services, and Industry Research for IDC. “But what makes COVID-19 so unique is its sustained nature that touches the supply chain, irrespective of geographical location, in a way we haven’t seen in our lifetime. As a result, we’re seeing an urgency from manufacturers to quickly put the right technological levers in place, sooner rather than later. While there may have only been initial conversations about digital transformation in the past, we’re now seeing a rapid acceleration of critical tools and technologies being adopted within the industry.”

Below are five noteworthy takeaways we’ve identified within our findings:

1. Not surprisingly, as with other industries, the pandemic has had a devastating effect on manufacturers overall. Nearly all of manufacturers (95%) believe their manufacturing or supply chain operations have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. The top three adverse impacts include lost productivity (46%), lower sales (44%), and increased lead times, possibly due to supply chain disruptions (39%). About a third of manufacturers have also experienced downward pressure on overall customer demand (35%), labor shortages (34%), and/or the inability to maintain a safe working environment (33%).

2. To overcome COVID-19-related challenges, manufacturers were forced to pivot their operating models and supply chain strategies. More than three-fourths of surveyed manufacturers (77%) said COVID-19 caused their companies to re-evaluate their operating model strategies. The most common reasons include an inability to collaborate effectively with value chain partners (41%), the inability to collaborate effectively with employees (40%), and a lack of the right technology to operate without a large number of on-site workers (39%).

3. Technology played the most critical role in maneuvering through the pandemic, particularly “disruptive” AI, robotics, and more. More than three-fourths of surveyed manufacturers (76%) revealed that the pandemic has caused their companies to increase the use of digital enablers and disruptive technologies such as: cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, robotics, 3D printing/additive manufacturing, Internet of Things, and augmented or virtual reality. More specifically, the top three digital enablers/disruptive technologies that respondents are further utilizing are data and analytics (46%), digital productivity tools (43%), and public cloud platforms (42%).

4. Interestingly, despite many manufacturers not being prepared for COVID-19, most now feel prepared to successfully navigate future pandemics. As mentioned earlier, nearly (95%) believe their manufacturing or supply chain operations have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. That said, 82% of those surveyed now feel prepared to deal with another COVID-19-like event in the future. This sentiment could be related to how manufacturers successfully ventured into new verticals, such as providing ventilators and PPE during shortages and resuming investments in new digital factory plans.

5. Finally, the pandemic—and its aftermath on the manufacturing industry—has differed greatly by country.

1. In Japan, approximately half of manufacturers who cited a negative impact (51%) say that the pandemic has led to lower sales, compared to 44% globally.

2. In Korea, more than two in five manufacturers who cited a negative impact (43%) said that the pandemic hindered their ability to maintain a safe working environment, compared to 33% globally.

3. In France, nearly half of manufacturers (48%) felt equipped with the right technological tools to maintain business continuity in the first 1-3 months of the pandemic, compared to 37% globally.

4. In the UK, more than two in five manufacturers (43%) said that dependency on legacy technology has created more risk for their respective business operations over the next year, compared to 30% globally.

5. In Italy, more than a third of manufacturers (35%) felt that their IT systems lacked necessary redundancies, which undermined their overall operational resiliency, compared to slightly less than a quarter of overall surveyed manufacturers (23%).

6. In Germany, for 86% of manufacturers, COVID-19 has caused an increased use of digital enablers and disruptive technologies, compared to 76% globally.

7. In the United States, 64%of manufacturers have increased their use of data and analytics, compared to 46% globally.

Research Methodology

The survey was conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of Google Cloud, from October 15 – November 4, 2020, among 1,154 senior manufacturing executives in France (n=150), Germany (n=200), Italy (n=154), Japan (n=150), South Korea (n=150), the UK (n=150), and the U.S. (n=200) who are employed full-time at a company with more than 500 employees, and who work in the manufacturing industry with a title of director level or higher. The data in each country were weighted by number of employees to bring them into line with actual company size proportions in the population. A global post-weight was applied to ensure equal weight of each country in the global total.