Commercialization Accelerator Program

Several companies have internal incubators or other programs to foster innovation from outside the company. Hexagon has been pursuing one method of innovation—acquisitions. But it also has an “open innovation start-up platform” called Sixth Sense targeted to “accelerate technology commercialisation in global manufacturing industry.”

Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division launched Sixth Sense to bring together start-ups and industry-leading companies to create transformative solutions that benefit everyone. It promotes sharing resources, data and ideas to fast-track progress and solve real-world problems which address some of humanity’s greatest challenges, such as the journey to net zero. The challenge areas include Sustainability, Big Data, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Sensors and Robotics.

Sixth Sense’s first themed challenge – Artificial Intelligence (AI) for sustainable Smart Manufacturing – encompasses all these areas and is also accepting dedicated applications, with start-ups encouraged to register their interest for future themed challenges and events.

Parth Joshi, Chief Product and Technology Officer of Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division, said: “We are searching for intelligent, efficient solutions that will not only enhance performance, but benefit people and the planet. Industry 4.0 is evolving and pushing to solve complex challenges, but the catch is that you cannot solve big problems without solving lots of little ones at each step with innovation.”

The 10 most innovative proposals will be chosen for an intensive innovate-on-the-job scaling programme, supported by Hexagon, key clients and world-leading mentors. Three final concepts will be offered opportunities to globalise and scale their business as commercial joint ventures.

Milan Kocić, Head of Sixth Sense for Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division, said: “Sixth Sense will build a bridge between small businesses and larger manufacturers; helping overcome start-ups’ challenges with scaling, while simultaneously meeting the industry’s need for new ideas.”

The platform has already partnered with a number of promising young companies, and is founded on the principle that diversity is fundamental to innovation and establishing such a thriving open ecosystem.

The selection criteria for Sixth Sense include:

• $1m or less in revenue

• 1-5 years in existence

• Post seed, Series A, Series A+

• Proven traction and product-market fit

• Propensity to scale

Preferred qualities:

• Validation of investment from third party

• IP & licenses

Market Analysis, Lithium-Ion Batteries and Low Voltage Motors

I like the market research by Interact Analysis. Its analysts search out data and don’t seem to use the famous sliding scale for prognostication. Although, as always take trend analysis with a grain of salt. Here are two news items from their research.

Lithium-Ion Battery Production Goes Global

Thoughts from Maya Xiao, Senior Analyst.

Why are you doing this research now, Maya? For two reasons. The first of these is that lithium-ion battery manufacturing has gone global in recent years. Previously, production was concentrated in APAC, where the main market also was. But in the past couple of years, electric vehicle manufacturing has taken off in the EU and in America, and as a result we are seeing battery manufacturers springing up across these regions. It’s a global boom time for the lithium-ion battery industry, and we need to assess the state of this burgeoning market.

But the second reason is that research is also needed into the battery manufacturing machinery segment. That’s because every battery manufacturer needs dedicated machinery, which is now a blossoming high-tech sector in its own right. Our aim is to give battery makers and component suppliers a clear view of the machinery landscape.

Can you give me one stand-out fact that you have learned during your research? There’s a lot of optimism about market growth from battery manufacturers and capital markets, and this may be leading them to make overestimates regarding the expected production capacity of planned installations. The average utilization rate of global battery capacity is under 70% currently.

How was 2021 for battery manufacturing? It was a good year. We saw the battery market double in size, and even triple in some regions. And the machinery market was even stronger, being bolstered by the presence of some very innovative high-tech start-ups. Where end-user markets are concerned, EV production saw fast growth, especially driven by the Chinese market, and some big OEMs in Europe.

What about 2022? We anticipate some major financial activity in the markets, with battery manufacturers such as LG Energy Solution, SVOLT and CALB engaging in IPOs which will enable them to invest in significant expansion. As a result, we expect to see tougher competition in the market as the existing big players such as CATL and BYD are challenged by smaller companies which, through going public, generate more funding for R&D and manufacturing expansion.

Low voltage AC motors market grew 21.5% by revenue in 2021

New research from Interact Analysis shows that the low voltage motors market saw the highest revenue growth in living memory during 2021, driven by historic price increases as a result of supply chain disruptions. Growth in unit terms of 6.6% was much more in line with the broader rate of recovery seen in the manufacturing sector globally. Supply chain disruptions have included shortages of key components and raw materials – with steel, copper, and aluminum in particular reaching record highs in 2021 – as well as major increases to shipping prices.

China continues to be the world’s largest motor market and, although ABB and Siemens continue to be global market leaders, domestic Chinese companies, including Wolong Electric and Wanan Motors are now entering the top ten global suppliers. During 2022 we expect to see Wolong hit the top spot in APAC, which will be a first for a Chinese supplier.

Blake Griffin, Senior Analyst at Interact Analysis comments, “For me, one of the most interesting findings of this research is related to new high efficiency IE4 and IE5 motors. There is a lot of hype surrounding them, but the market has shown that it will generally not adopt them unless forced to by legislation. Currently, the IE4 & IE5 motor market is in its infancy with a market size of $134 m in 2020. But major growth is predicted in the European Union which is putting IE4 minimum efficiency performance standards in place.”

Hype in the Press

I have a love/hate relationship to journalism. A free press that reports on what’s happening in government and the world is essential to democracy. The business of journalism combined with the journalist’s zeal for uncovering a “big” story lead to things like click bait and use of emotion-laden words in stories and headlines.

A reporter once put a private conversation we had about local schools politics on the front page of the local paper. That one experience shaded my relationships with reporters when I was later involved in the politics. It also has influenced my reporting during 20 years of interviewing people for magazines and this blog. In that time, I have had to retract only one interview. I’ve changed a couple of things when people didn’t realize this is a personal blog where I add opinions to the press releases. A couple of PR people thought I should just reprint their releases verbatim without comment. Well, sorry about that.

I recently had an email conversation with the founder/CEO of a Web-based news site promoted as a to-the-point news source. It was. Then I noticed post-acquisition emotional adjectives and heads. I was disappointed. He was surprised they did such a thing.

So, I wasn’t surprised when I opened Facebook and saw a post by long-time colleague Dan Hebert dissing the LA Times for a story about 2.5-foot waves “slamming” the California coast stemming from the Tonga volcano eruption and ensuing “tsunami”. I am an inland boy, but I don’t think 2.5-foot waves in the Pacific Ocean “slam” into much of anything.

At about the same time, my copy of the RAM Review newsletter arrived with a lead article from Bob Williamson dissing on another news source taking unresearched statistics (see my article on The Data Detective) about manufacturing.

I grimace when major-newspaper editorialists beat up on manufacturing because of workers leaving, excessive job openings, and an overall decline in jobs. They are looking at data. What do they know about how manufacturing works? And what do they really know about this major economic machine that produces 10.9% of the gross domestic product (GDP) here in the U.S.? Let’s go beyond those numbers and look at manufacturing pre- and post-COVID-19.

“The manufacturing workforce is shrinking,” a recent headline screamed. When we look at the peak of manufacturing (July 1979), there were 19,531,000 employed. As of Dec. 2021, there were 12,580,000 employed in manufacturing. That is clearly a HUGE decline (by the numbers). But what really happened? This is what happened: a total of five, yes five, economic recessions since 1979, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Manufacturing employment declined in each of them.

After those economic recessions, manufacturing kicked into high gear (again) at some of the highest rates in recent history. A 2014 Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED) report update said it best: “Manufacturing is growing, even when manufacturing jobs are not. What is the explanation? A prime candidate is productivity growth.” And this continues to be true today.

This statement in the newspaper article also got my attention: “Manufacturing has weathered the biggest surge in workers quitting, a nearly 60% jump compared with pre-pandemic.” Employees who “quit” their manufacturing jobs in Nov. 2021 (the latest figures available at this time) was 2.3%. Let’s compare. In the same period (Nov. 2021) when manufacturing quits were 2.3% of the employed workforce, (retail) Trade, Transportation, and Utilities reached 3.6%, Professional and business services reached 3.7%, while Accommodation and Food Services sector reported the highest number of quits at 6.9% of their workforces.

I’ve just taken a few snips from the article. Check out the entire thing. I’ll just add an appropriate conclusion from Williamson for this segment:

The good news: Manufacturing jobs are still rewarding, and there are plenty of openings to be filled by talented people willing to learn.

We have to take in news, but we also need to check our prejudices and filter out the BS.

Fifteen Years of iPhone

Remember 10-12 years ago when some worriers considered all the bad things that could happen if workers took their iPhones and other smart mobile devices into the plant? I wrote articles at Automation World about all this mobile connectivity. Companies figured out how to connect them to the HMI of machines and processes. Engineers complained to me at conferences that I was responsible for their loss of free time even on vacation because bosses expected them to be always on.

But the benefits have been tremendous. Maybe managers had to learn how to allow people to be off the grid at times, but there would have been no way to negotiate these Covid times without them. My first smart device was a Palm Pilot. I lusted for a Newton, but I just couldn’t rationalize it. With the Palm, I synced my ACT CRM, loaded documents, and took notes. When I was calling on a large engine manufacturing plant or other large facilities, I didn’t have to take a big notebook, briefcase, and lots of paper. That was mid-90s.

One of my favorite tech writers, Om Malik, blogged a retrospective of his writing on the iPhone. He wrote for Wired and Red Herring and then started the Web-based news site GigaOm. Now he blogs on his own.

I brought the Palm (later generations) with me when beginning my editorial career at Control Engineering in 1998. Once again, I could call on a company and only take that along.

Gary’s Device Collection 1995-Present

The photo shows a couple of my Palm devices then several, but not all, of my early phones. Then a couple of iPods, which were way cool. A couple of early HTC Android phones, and then five of my iPhones including my model 12 at the bottom right.

These devices have been essential to my improved productivity and effectiveness. They’ve also been a time-waster, but you can’t have everything.

Thank you to Steve Jobs and Apple for the development and evolution of the iPhone.

Digital Twin Consortium Announces Digital Twin System Interoperability Framework

I applaud these efforts to improve and increase digital interoperability through industry or formal standards and open source. These efforts over many years, and even ones that pre-date digital, have provided progress not only in technology but in the lives of users. This announcement comes from the Digital Twin Consortium, a project of The Object Management Group (OMG)

Digital Twin Consortium (DTC) announced the Digital Twin System Interoperability Framework. The framework characterizes the multiple facets of system interoperability based on seven key concepts to create complex systems that interoperate at scale.

“Interoperability is critical to enable digital twins to process information from heterogeneous systems. The Digital Twin System Interoperability Framework seeks to address this challenge by facilitating complex system of systems interactions. Examples include scaling a smart building to a smart city to an entire country, or an assembly line to a factory to a global supply chain network,” said Dan Isaacs, CTO, Digital Twin Consortium.

The seven key concepts of the DTC Digital Twin System Interoperability Framework are:

1 System-Centric Design – enables collaboration across and within disciplines—mechanical, electronic, and software—creating systems of systems within a domain and across multiple domains.

2 Model-Based Approach – with millions and billions of interconnections implemented daily, designers can codify, standardize, identify, and reuse models in various use cases in the field.

3 Holistic Information Flow – facilitates an understanding of the real world for optimal decision-making, where the “world” can be a building, utility, city, country, or other dynamic environment.

4 State-Based Interactions – the state of an entity (system) encompasses all the entity’s static and dynamic attribute values at a point in time.

5 Federated Repositories – optimal decision-making requires accessing and correlating distributed, heterogeneous information across multiple dimensions of a digital twin, spanning time and lifecycle.

6 Actionable Information – ensures that information exchanged between constituent systems enables effective action.

7 Scalable Mechanisms – ensures interoperability mechanism(s) are inherently scalable from the simplest interoperation of two systems to the interoperability of a dynamic coalition of distributed, autonomous, and heterogeneous systems within a complex and global ecosystem.

“The Digital Twin System Interoperability Framework enables USB-type compatibility and ease for all systems connected to the Internet and private networks, which until now, has been the domain of system integrators,” said Anto Budiardjo, CEO, Padi.io. “This means system integrators can concentrate on designing applications rather than point-to-point integrations.”

ABB Retains Process Control AutomationMarket Leadership

The process control automation (Distributed Control Systems or DCS) market was ripe for consolidation. A few companies began to grow, most were candidates for acquisition. No company had a more voracious acquisition appetite than ABB. Part of its genius was the development of the 800xA platform designed as a way of bringing the newly formed empire together. It is now announced by ARC Advisory Group that ABB is the market leader for the 22nd consecutive year with about a 20% share of a $14 billion dollar market.

During 2020 ABB saw growth across key regions, despite the impact of the pandemic on the DCS market across industry. Energy transition and sustainability, as well as an upturn in DCS segments across the pharmaceuticals and biotechnology markets were key growth drivers for ABB.

The DCS market analysis and forecast report by ARC Advisory Group has been published annually for the past 40 years, with ABB consistently in the lead for more than half that time.

“ABB leads the field in DCS thanks to its domain knowledge in multiple industries, extensive service network, a continued investment in developing technology, loyal customers and digital solutions that meet rapidly changing customer requirements,” said Bernhard Eschermann, Chief Technology Officer, ABB Process Automation. “Much of our development is focused on advancing technology such as modular automation, select I/O and secure Edge integrated solutions which address new process and business challenges while protecting investments. We believe these type of solutions to be some of the catalysts needed for the successful implementation of industrial IoT and agile navigation within Industry 4.0.”

The recent launch of the latest version of ABB Ability System 800xA represents an evolution for automated control and plant operations of tomorrow. It is a process control system, an electrical control system and a safety system and a collaboration enabler, allowing further improvement of engineering efficiency, operator performance and asset utilization. In addition, ABB Ability Symphony Plus, is an industry leading DCS in the power, water and waste water markets and ABB’s Freelance offering is a DCS tailor-made for hybrid markets.

ARC’s report also highlights ABB Ability, ABB’s unified, cross-industry portfolio of digital solutions, which includes more than 170 Industrial Internet solutions and an Industrial Internet technology platform and cloud infrastructure. Drawing on insights across over 20 industries and more than 40 years of experience in digital technology, ABB Ability helps customers to develop new processes and advance existing ones by providing insights and optimizing planning and controls for real-time operations. These insights can then be fed into control systems like ABB Ability System 800xA and ABB Ability Symphony Plus to improve key performance metrics of plants and assets. With an installed base of 35,000 DCS systems across more than 100 countries ABB is a trusted leader in creating digital solutions for customers in the industrial space.