I receive enough feedback to believe that this is a well read blog in the industry. Not bad for what may be the only independent blog in the industry. Others I read are good (I continue to point readers to Jim Cahill’s Emerson Automation Experts as the model for doing it correctly) but they are company blogs. Nothing wrong with that. Just a different take. And I know of one that is a business in itself selling programs to companies and offering a different venue for company thought leaders.
Not only is the blog well read by engineers, managers, and executives, many marketing and public relations people come across this place, too. So, I get lots of pitches. In the IT industry, marketing has a category called influencers. Influencer marketing people know how to feed us information. Since everyone else in the controls and automation market similar to me is a publication, they tend to pitch me as if I were still at a magazine. Hint: I left that industry six years ago so that I could be my own person and be digital only. And, while I sincerely appreciate my sponsors and run ads for them, the business model has not been to make a majority of income from those. That is my financial foundation. Over the years, I’ve traded my expertise and knowledge of industrial businesses for custom research, analysis, and consulting.
With that as a background, the following is a general note for all the marketing and press relations people who stumble across my writing. I love you all, and I appreciate the work you do. I’m just a little different (well, a lot different).
I write a blog. There is no editorial calendar or “special issue” designed to attract advertisers. I’m interested in things I can think about. And I write everything–no contributed articles. It may be news, a tech trend, a significant new product or perhaps acquisition, and the like. It may come from press release or interview or something I see on the web. As the “connection” part of my blog name (have it because I could get the domain name, of course) implies, my interest is connecting—things, people, companies, ideas.
So, just feed me. If your CTO or someone in that office has something to say, ping me. I’ll take a look at a press release. If I can glean something out of the ordinary, I’ll use it to riff on. Otherwise, I am hungry to learn what is happening in the industry.
Supposing I have read a release. If I were still in the magazine business, we would have taken it verbatim, posted it on the Web, and then inserted it in the print magazine. The sales person would send a note to the marketing person notifying them that we were covering ABB, and by the way, want to buy an ad. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just a different business model. And one that is increasingly tough to sustain.
For me, this tidbit of a press release leaves me hungry to know more. I’d love a little more detail. I’m sure there must be an Internet of Things angle. Then rather than just calling out the product name, I’d love to know something of the hardware connections throughout the system. I’d love to know more about the analytics—is there ML involved that builds on the accumulating date for example?
I like to teach people considering a project something about what is involved in researching, designing, and implementing a system. Many times I have fielded inquiries from executives with just that question. And then, I would have a value-add and the company would show real expertise. I realize that this means more work for the marketing and PR teams. I sympathize. However, setting up a 30-minute interview would pay off for you, me, and the thousands of readers who stop by here.
Thanks for listening.
When I was as-a-service offerings in the wake of my trip to HPE Discover 2019, I mentioned Inductive Automation as an example in the industrial market. There is actually another company. I’ve never heard about it—bad on my part. It’s called Zedi Solutions. I didn’t know if it was just the Canadian way of pronouncing “z” (we Americans say “zee” and there rest of the English-speaking world says “zed”) or a play on “Jedi”. Well, there’s a rocket with a window on its Web page.
Zedi Solutions is a company no more. Emerson’s methodically growing digital transformation presence was just enhanced through the acquisition of its cloud-based supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) platform.
Emerson states that the acquisition of Zedi’s software will enable it to help oil and gas producers increase production and lower operating costs through cloud-based monitoring, control and optimization.
“As world energy demand continues to grow, helping our vital oil and gas market customers maximize their resources is a top priority,” said Lal Karsanbhai, executive president of Emerson’s Automation Solutions business. “Through our vast portfolio of automation technologies, we are helping the industry navigate ever-changing market dynamics and operational challenges. The addition of Zedi strengthens our ability to help customers leverage the latest advances from the field to the refinery.”
Zedi’s technology is currently enabling customers to monitor more than 2 million sensors and thousands of devices and applications. By combining Zedi’s scalable cloud platform and applications expertise with Emerson’s extensive applications, controller, instrumentation and flow metering portfolio, this acquisition expands opportunities for Emerson across the global oil and gas production market.
“Oil and gas producers today are challenged to meet production targets while controlling costs, and they are looking for opportunities to transform operations and make their teams more effective through digital solutions like analytics and mobility,” said Jim Nyquist, group president of Emerson’s systems and solutions business. “This important investment bolsters our portfolio and ability to help Emerson’s customers achieve Top Quartile performance through emerging Industrial Internet of Things technologies.”
Emerson and Zedi’s software and automation businesses share a common vision of automating the production process through edge and cloud analytics and machine learning. The combined software and expertise of the two companies will provide producers with scalable and easily deployable end-to-end connected solutions to optimize and manage their operations.
Zedi’s software and automation businesses are based in Calgary, Canada, with approximately 155 employees in North America.
Emerson tried the SCADA acquisition route many years ago with the acquisition of Intellution. It subsequently sold that company to GE and it became a foundation for GE Digital. The company just wasn’t a fit at the time. Even though I don’t know Zedi, I have a feel that this will work out far better for Emerson. For one thing, times and markets have changed. For another, Emerson is already more advanced in software than it was 20 years ago.
Do you want to devote your life and engineering talents building social websites designed to trick people into giving you their personal data so that your company can sell it and the founder and his friends become billionaires? Or, would you rather do something significant, forging abundance, engineering the big challenge to help people survive and thrive?
I miss spending a week of my Augusts in Austin, Texas. No, not for the 105 deg F outside and 65 deg F inside the convention center. It was for National Instruments’ NI Week user conference. Some of the brightest engineers I knew worked there or were customers and the pursuit of solving big engineering challenges was palpable.
NI now focuses on instrumentation for solving those big challenges. Being out of my normal area of coverage, they don’t contact me anymore. But it’s still a cool company. Infected a little by “big company disease”, but still cool.
I thought about that while reading the latest Abundance Insider Newsletter from Peter Diamandis. This guy is crazy—crazy smart, that is. If you aren’t receiving the newsletter and following him, click here and start getting it. You may not totally agree, but it’ll blow your mind for sure.
Diamandis originated the X Prize to encourage accomplishing big, hairy, audacious ideas.
Here are some examples from the latest newsletter and a bonus thrown in from a podcast.
What: Siemens Gamesa is now leveraging the Earth’s surface for a future of energy abundance. The large-scale renewable energy technology manufacturer has just begun operations of what it claims is the world’s first electrothermal energy storage system. Already, Siemens Gamesa has turned a section of volcanic rock into a massive organic battery, capable of storing up to 130 megawatt-hours of energy for a week. The company additionally reports that its electrothermal energy storage system is significantly less expensive than conventional storage solutions. If we can begin to harness organic material for energy storage, how would this influence the modern-day power grid and storage solutions?
Why it’s important: Renewable energy has long been promoted as an alternative solution to fossil fuels and other contemporary sources of energy. However, their oft-cited limitation is that of energy storage. If Siemens Gamesa demonstrates the successful scale-up of its sustainable solution to the storage problem, pervasive implementation of renewable energy sources would become a much more feasible option, and long-term implications would abound. If communities could soon store energy beneath their homes for extended periods of time, how might this influence real estate values and opportunities for expansion? What new microgrid networks and local economies would arise?
City of the Future?
What it is: Long in the works, Sidewalk Labs’ plan to build out a high-tech utopia on Toronto’s waterfront is now out. While still subject to a thorough public vetting process — principally by government-appointed, non-profit partner Waterfront Toronto — the plan outlines an urban model for integrated smart cities of the future. Dubbed “the most innovative district in the world” by Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff, the pitch’s most pioneering components include autonomous vehicle networks, ubiquitous public Wi-Fi, an 89 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, and countless sensors for collection of “urban data” to optimize civil engineering decisions.
Why it’s important: Already, Sidewalk Labs’ comprehensive plan has been projected to help create 44,000 jobs and generate $4.3 billion in annual tax revenue. Sidewalk Labs has additionally stated it will spend $1.3 billion on the project with the aim of spurring $38 billion in private sector investment by 2040. Beyond the targeted district, however, a materialized smart city plan could become an ideal testing ground for next-generation breakthrough technologies and automated ecosystems that provide seamlessly delivered public services and predictive routing.
What it is: A team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) has made extraordinary headway in the field of high-tech prosthetics, creating a bionic arm that functions smoothly without a brain implant. Previous robotic prosthetics required a patient to undergo high-risk, invasive surgery for a brain implant to achieve maximum robotic mobility. This arm, however, bridges the gap between seamless function and non-surgical bionics. In one instance, it was shown capable of following a computer screen cursor in real time without exhibiting the jerky motions and intermittent delays typical of other non-surgical mind-controlled prosthetics.
Why it’s important: This innovation represents a fundamental leap in the age-old mission to enhance the quality of life and autonomy of individuals who have lost a limb. By improving prosthetic quality at significantly diminished risk, non-invasive bionics no longer require patients to risk their health to enjoy long-term use of a high-functioning, mind-controlled limb. As brain-computer interface (BCI) technology continues to surge forward, we are quickly charting the path to a future wherein responsive prosthetics will serve countless uses, from limb replacement to assistive aids in any number of industries and professions.
Repurpose your Chem E (or other) Degree For Greater Good
In an interview on TechNation with Moira Gunn, Neil Kumar, CEO of Bridge Bio and a Chem E , talked of reflecting when he was in school that the traditional industries that employed Chem Es were on the decline—Oil & Gas and Plastics. So he looked around and focused on biopharma. He noted that many of the startups in that market were engineers with a Chem E background. His company has developed a new model for addressing genetically-driven diseases affecting a small number of patients.
Is it time to start thinking bigger about the contribution you can make to society (and yourself and family)? Instrumentation, control, automation, data—these are all technologies and skills that can lead to a better life than trapping people on their smart phones in an app that sucks you dry.
Antonio Neri, HPE CEO, announced during his keynote address to HPE Discover Las Vegas 2019, that the company was moving toward “Everything as a Service”—a consumption-based model within the next three years. Wait, isn’t this a company that sells boxes? Lots of power inside the boxes, but still. Most of the conversations for the rest of the week reinforced this strategic direction.
From the press release, “HPE will offer entire portfolio through a range of subscription, pay-per-use and consumption-driven offerings, in next three years transitioning the company into an as a Service company over time.” The concept will work out as a service contract with the customer with built-in verifiability as a default. It will offer a low level of granularity.
In the industrial automation space, the reaction differed among competitors and customers when Inductive Automation (note: one of my sponsors) began with its version of pricing for its original HMI/SCADA software. Some 15-16 years later, it seems to be doing well. Actually well enough that in the past year a couple of competitors have announced their responses.
When we discussed Edgeline IoT during the arranged Influencer Coffee Talk—Tom Bradicich, HPE vice president, for years has been a visionary evangelist regarding data generated from the processes, aka the Edge. I met him during his stay at National Instruments where he received industrial grounding after his IBM days where he promoted the concept of “Big Analog Data.” He told us that now he has moved from being a visionary to being an historian. These ideas are now adopted, not just theory. When asked about owning data from manufacturing, he said unequivocally that IT will own the data.
Manufacturing applications are not core to HPE, but we did get a lot of play during Discover. I gave a brief discussion of the manufacturing “demo” in my first post. It was one of the first stands on the exhibition floor. A mock up of a conveyor system with stations formed the layout of the exhibit. The system began with design, continued through assembly, looked at packaging, switched a little into predictive maintenance and troubleshooting of the line, then a quality station.
Two partners sill be immediately recognizable by regular readers—PTC and ABB. The design station featured Creo CAD from PTC along with Windchill PLM. The next station was guided assembly featuring PTC Vuforia augmented reality helping guide assembly along with PTC ThingWorx connecting data from the IP-enabled screwdriver (torque, presence, number of screws per assembly, and the like). An ABB dual-armed robot deftly prepared a box and inserted the product. Later on was another station using PTC’s Vuforia and ThingWorx.
At our 5G Influencer Coffee Talk, executives noted that 5G is still in process, but HPE Aruba is working on it. That is, 5G along with WiFi 6. Before long, there should be some interesting Aruba wireless products. 5G holds great potential for communicating things as well as people. We discussed the difficulties and potentials for handoffs from WiFi to Cellular and back. Could this be a better/faster SCADA? It’s build for today’s cloud not older computing architectures like LTE is.
During our security Influencer Coffee Talk, technologists from HPE discussed silicon-rooted trust. HPE makes its own ASIC that assures only authorized firmware is running on the device.
Finally, more thoughts relevant to manufacturing and production in industrial use cases. As “Dr. Tom” Bradicich told us during his session, data is created at the edge, so need the ability get at the data at the edge. Therefore the concept of move data center from cloud to edge. This is actualized by a partnership of HPE, ABB, Rittal, and PTC. There is sort of a “data center in a box”, although the box is actually a rack.
While I was checking the “box” out on the show floor, the representative from Rittal told me that customers at a recent conference in Monaco complained that it was too much work to install equipment at the edge. But this data center in a box concept overcame that objection.
On last tidbit for thought. HPE has a platform called NonStop—a very high availability compute platform. We spotted on in an Edgeline rack. The HPE statement held that it is inventing the market for high availability converged OT, not following. I wonder what applications this could disrupt.
I have been reading a good book that I highly recommend. Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan.
This short, concise book packs much thought and makes you also think. Here, for example, is rule 44 out of 64:
With food, as with so many things, you get what you pay for. There is also a trade-off between quality and quantity, and a person’s “food experience”—a meal’s duration or quotient of pleasure—does not necessarily correlate with the number of calories consumed. The American food system has for many years devoted its energies to increasing quantity and reducing price rather than to improving quality. There’s no escaping the fact that better food—measured by taste or nutritional quality (which often correspond)—costs more, because it has been grown or raised less intensively and with more care. Not everyone can afford to eat well in America, which is a literal shame, but most of us can: Americans spend less than 10 percent of their income on food, less than the citizens of any other nation. As the cost of food in America has declined, in terms of both price and the effort required to put it on the table, we have been eating much more (and spending more on health care). If you spend more for better food, you’ll probably eat less of it, and treat it with more care. And if that higher-quality food tastes better, you will need less of it to feel satisfied. Choose quality over quantity, food experience over mere calories. Or as grandmothers used to say, “Better to pay the grocer than the doctor.”
As with food, so with other things.
Pondering this section, I recalled the Wal-mart effect. Are you old enough to remember when Wal-mart’s message was “Made in America”?
Suddenly its message was “Low Prices”.
The low prices translated to “No Longer Made in America.” The company’s buyers forced supplier manufacturers to chase ever lower costs. How could you make stuff even cheaper? Quality meant nothing. Buying a brand name product at Wal-mart you received a completely different product than if you bought one directly from the manufacturer’s distribution channel.
The idea spread everywhere. And buyers didn’t always play fair, either.
Once many years ago, I was at a Starbucks in Mount Prospect, IL doing something on my Palm Pilot (told you it was a while ago). A guy beside me asked to see the stylus.
Turns out he owned a small manufacturing company in the area that had bid on manufacturing the stylus. He quoted according to the specs as low as he could go–pretty much just to keep the machines in his plant busy. They told him “do not change the specs.”
He examined my stylus from the finished product. It was made much more cheaply than the spec. The Chinese supplier convinced Palm to change the spec, cheapen the product, and got the sale. Probably for a profit.
Tells me a couple of things:
- Be wary chasing the low cost supplier and customer
- Don’t be afraid to suggest changing the specs in the quest for business
Oh, and buy the book and practice the “rules”.
The popular saying holds that the future is here just unevenly distributed. According to a survey released by PWC and The Manufacturing Institute, that thought is certainly true about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (which PwC labels 4IR but many others label Industry 4.0). This research confirms my observations that many manufacturers have projects at a variety of stages, while many others have adopted a wait-and-see attitude.
The report notes that fourth industrial revolution has been met with both enthusiasm and fence-sitting. While sentiments and experiences have been mixed, most business leaders are now approaching 4IR with a sense of measured optimism. Indeed, larger systemic changes are underway, including building pervasive digital operations that connect assets, developing connected products and managing new, real-time digital ties to customers via those products.
While manufacturers recognize the potential value of advanced technologies and digital innovation—particularly robotics, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), cloud computing, advanced analytics, 3D printing, and virtual and augmented reality—they are still deliberating how and where to invest and balancing the hype with their own level of preparedness. Meanwhile, they’re also well aware of the significant changes 4IR will bring to a new manufacturing workforce—that is, one that is increasingly symbiotic and increasingly beneficial for many workers and manufacturers alike.
This narrative is reflected in a new survey of US-based manufacturers carried out by PwC and The Manufacturing Institute, the workforce and thought leadership arm of the National Association of Manufacturers. We see a definitive—and, indeed, inevitable—shift to 4IR as companies seek to integrate new technologies into their operations, supply chain, and product portfolio. At the same time, they acknowledge that scaling, justifying 4IR investments, and dealing with uncertainty surrounding use cases and applications usher in a new set of challenges.
Some key survey findings include:
• While the sector as a whole is making assertive forays into 4IR, many manufacturers still inhabit the awareness and pilot phases. Nearly half of manufacturers surveyed reported that they are in the early stages of a smart factory transition (awareness, experimental, and early adoption phases).
• Manufacturers do expect the transition to accelerate in the coming years—73% are planning to increase their investment in smart factory technology over the next year.
• While we see a number of fence-sitters, the bulk of manufacturers are indeed prioritizing 4IR, the digital ecosystem, and emerging technologies. 31% report that adopting an IoT strategy in their operations is “extremely critical” while 40% report that it’s “moderately critical.”
• About 70% of manufacturers say the biggest impacts of robotics on the workforce in the next five years will be an increased need for talent to manage in a more automated, flexible production environment and the opening of new jobs to engineer robotics and their operating systems.
…While adopters have identified clear signs of success. Though most manufacturers are still climbing the 4IR adoption curve—albeit at different speeds—those that have made progress are reporting a modicum of performance boosts measured by productivity gains, reduced labor costs, new revenue streams from IoT-connected products and services, as well as improved workforce retention and worker safety. Those that have effectively defined their use cases with a focus on outcomes rather than technology are seeing early wins, and are looking for ways to generate even more value.
Manufacturers are seeking to balance 4IR hype and reality. And most acknowledge that sitting back and waiting for the inevitable may not be an option.
The road may be longer than the hype would have companies believe, but preparing for and embracing change is a muscle many of today’s manufacturers are ready to flex. Those that can build on their ad hoc pilots and prioritize investments and strategies with their long-term desired business outcomes will be better positioned to create lasting value for their organization.