The Cobot “Virtual” Expo

Organizations and companies have been exploring how to do a virtual trade show for more than 20 years. I can remember the early efforts…and shudder. However, we now have a “witch’s brew” of pandemic, increasing bandwidth, improved interactive graphics, browser advances such as HTML 5 and more which have coalesced into a good user experience. If they could replicate the hallway conversations and chance meetings, perhaps some travel could be eliminated. But I still prefer being there.

Yesterday robot industry veteran Joe Campbell, who is now sr. manager of applications development with Universal Robots, gave me a tour of the UR Cobot Expo. It is officially concluded, but you can still visit everything except for the chat functions for the next 30 days. And the expo is pretty cool. Pandemic restrictions have forced creativity upon marketers and designers, and most of the events I have attended have been well worth the time. Certainly this one is if you have any interest in exploring this technology area at all.

“The Cobot Expo” offers American manufacturers flexible automation solutions with a rich experience with an extensive range of product news and demonstrations, featuring more than 30 different booths, insightful keynotes, interactive QAs, and live chats with automation experts (these latter are not active now).

As I’ve written before, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that resilient businesses—those that can emerge with plans for growth—can react quickly and decisively to protect workers while keeping business running, adapting processes and product lines, with many manufacturers now increasingly using collaborative robots to make those changes efficiently and cost-effectively.

“The crisis has accelerated the need for flexible automation,” says Campbell. “We’re seeing an uptick in interest for collaborative robots due to social distancing requirements, reshoring to avoid long supply chains, and the need for rapid production line change-overs. The Cobot Expo is a timely opportunity to showcase and discuss how cobots can play a pivotal role in helping manufacturers successfully navigate the pandemic.”

The Cobot Expo is free to attend and is open for anyone with an interest in collaborative robotics (on demand only now). Attendees are invited to visit booths that feature new insights and resources on the most common cobot applications such as machine tending, packaging and palletizing, product inspection, assembly, welding, dispensing, and finishing. Joining this lineup is ActiNav, the world’s first autonomous bin picking kit for machine tending launched by Universal Robots this spring.

For expo visitors wondering how to get started with collaborative robots, numerous keynotes with live QAs will offer insights on critical topics such as how to identify good projects, choosing the right cobot model and peripherals, conducting risk assessment, whether to take a DIY approach or go with an integrator, and much more. The agenda also has presentations on cobot maintenance and programming and the many new ways cobots are quickly being deployed to address the COVID-19 crisis, including area disinfection, the manufacturing of test kits, face shields and ventilators, and in the handling of COVID-19 tests, protecting hospital staff from exposure.

The Cobot Expo is also an opportunity to meet the many UR+ partners presenting the industry’s largest and most comprehensive ecosystem of new products certified to integrate seamlessly with the UR cobots. The rapidly expanding UR+ platform now includes over 250 UR+ components and application kits with more than 400 approved commercial developer companies in the UR+ program.

The UR+ partner booths include: ATI Industrial Automation, Energid, Flexibowl, Flexxbotics, Hexagon, Mircopsi/Nvidia, New Scale Robotics, OnRobot, Piab, Robotiq, Schmalz, Schunk, SMC, Vectis, Vention, VersaBuilt, Visumatic, Wiretank, and Zimmer.

Alongside the UR+ partners will be booths hosted by Association for Advancing Automation (A3) and OEM partners showcasing products powered by UR cobots. The OEM partners include: Columbia Okura/Rocketfarm, Computech, Hirebotics, IRIS, Melton Machine, ONExia, and ProCobots/Easy Robotics.

“With tradeshows and conferences cancelled, we are experiencing phenomenal interest from all industry stakeholders in participating in the Cobot Expo,” says Campbell. “This truly is an extraordinary opportunity for an extraordinary time.”

HPE Edge Orchestrator Delivers Low-Latency Cloud Services At the Edge

• Enables telcos to monetize 5G networks and edge infrastructure by delivering new low latency cloud services at the edge via an app catalog

Remember two things if you meet the typical profile of a reader of this blog—it’s all happening at the edge and production/manufacturing are the edge; and data is the gold we’re mining and hype of the cloud is so over, it’s about gathering, analyzing, orchestrating, and sending all the data gathered at the edge to some sort of cloud.

I’ve been watching developments of 5G (and not so much WiFi6, but it’s a partner) for some time. It’s hard to separate the hype from reality—something that always happens at the early stage. Marketers can’t prevent themselves from trying to hype their companies as ahead of the curve, while engineers have been quietly pushing the curve.

So I was able to watch some sessions at the Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Discover Virtual Experience on this very topic. HPE’s Aruba is a leading supplier of communication products. Following is the lead announcement from last week.

HPE Edge Orchestrator, a SaaS-based offering enables telcos to deploy innovative new edge computing services to customers via IT infrastructure located at the edge of telco networks or on customer premises. With the HPE Edge Orchestrator solution, telcos can extend their offerings to include a catalog of edge computing applications which customers can deploy with a single click, across hundreds of locations. HPE Edge Orchestrator enables telcos to monetize the 5G network and telco cloud while bringing lower latency, increased security and enhanced end-user experiences to their customers.

Analysts expect the next decade to see the rise of edge computing where data intensive workloads such as AI, machine learning (ML), augmented and virtual reality apps will be hosted at the edge. Telcos already have thousands of edge sites powering mobile and fixed networks, so they are uniquely positioned to lead the edge services market. In fact according to a recent IDC study, 40% of enterprises trust their telco to be their main provider of edge solutions. However, until now telcos haven’t had the tools to do this themselves without relying on public cloud providers.

HPE Edge Orchestrator gives the power back to telcos. Now they can offer value-added edge services in their own right and can move from being primarily bandwidth providers to offering innovative edge computing applications, such as AI-powered video analytics, industrial automation and VR retail services. New revenue from these high-value enterprise services will also help to cover the significant cost of deploying new 5G infrastructure.

• Telcos can move from being primarily bandwidth providers to offering innovative edge computing applications

HPE Edge Orchestrator unleashes the deployment and configuration of customer applications, provided as virtual machines or containers, at geographically distributed edge locations owned by telcos, such as existing central offices or on customer premises. Customers can access edge applications via a self-service app catalog for simple management, monitoring and the deployment of an app to an edge device with one-click operation.

HPE Edge Orchestrator enables enterprises to easily combine their applications with network services offered by telcos, thus creating an end-to-end flow across the edge. Today, HPE Edge Orchestrator supports Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) with other network-as-a-service (NaaS) functions being added to the catalog over time. The MEC platform enables applications to run at the edge, while delivering network services that ensure a dynamic routing of edge traffic in 4G, 5G, and Wi-Fi environments.

To capitalize on the edge services opportunity, telcos need to bring applications from the cloud out to the edge where the data exists. With HPE Edge Orchestrator, along with HPE Edgeline and ProLiant servers, telcos can position application intelligence at the edge and unlock major business benefits for their customers:

  • Lower latency: When applications can process requests locally instead of routing them to a data center, they can deliver much better performance. This translates to a better user experience for any business application. For the new generation of ultra-low-latency use cases like augmented reality and industrial automation, short round-trip times are absolutely essential.
  • Bandwidth optimization: Positioning application intelligence out at the edge, such as doing number-crunching closer to where the numbers are generated, greatly reduces the wide-area network (WAN) bandwidth the application requires. This translates to lower WAN costs for businesses and less traffic congestion in telco core and metro networks. Applications like video analytics become much more efficient and, as a result, applicable to use cases that might not have been viable in the past.
  • Improved security and privacy: Any time businesses transmit data over a network, they’re potentially exposing it to security threats. For the most sensitive information, some businesses want to keep everything onsite. In regions with strict privacy protections like the European Union, some applications may simply not be viable unless they can process all personally identifiable information (PII) locally.

New edge computing offerings start with compute platforms optimized for deployment at remote operator sites (central offices, radio towers, other point of presence (POP) locations), or even directly at the customer premises. For example, HPE Edgeline Converged Edge Servers, such as the EL4000 and EL8000, have been specifically designed to run at the edge. Platforms like these host all of the components needed to manage the edge computing workloads in containers or VMs.

HPE Edge Orchestrator provides a centralized, comprehensive, hardware agnostic orchestration platform to provision, configure, and perform general management functions for all components of edge computing. HPE Edge Orchestrator is also multi-tenant by design.

Telcos can give diverse enterprise customers their own “private” interfaces to manage their workloads, sites, edge devices, and services, while their own teams manage the entire CSP edge computing portfolio as a single system. HPE Edge Orchestrator can also work in conjunction with the recently announced Aruba Edge Services Platform (ESP), enabling enterprises to easily integrate both Wi-Fi-based and telco services.

HPE Emphasizing Software As Part of Pivot to As-a-Service Vision

HPE Discover Virtual Experience wrapped up last week, but I have much to think about and report. The HPE team did an excellent job pulling together a conference where we saw many different living rooms and home offices. Tough job; well done.

The release of a new software portfolio from HPE may sound more to the interest of enterprise architects, but I have already seen demos of where this also aids the coming together of OT and IT in order to bring the production side of an enterprise into more of a value to the enterprise. This is important toward the counteracting of recent enterprise history where production was a “black box” and corporate financial geniuses viewed it as something that could be moved around chasing low cost.

From the blog of Kumar Sreekanti, CTO and head of software at HPE, we learn about the coming together of Ezmeral—brand name for the software portfolio.

Digital transformation is being amplified by an order of magnitude. In fact, many business leaders that I’ve spoken with are now embracing a digital-first strategy—to compete and thrive in the midst of a global pandemic. And the enterprises that use data and artificial intelligence effectively are better equipped to evolve rapidly in this dynamic environment. Now these data-driven transformation initiatives are being accelerated to enable faster time-to-market, increased innovation, and greater responsiveness to the business and their customers.

As CTO and head of software at HPE, my focus is on delivering against our edge-to-cloud strategy and vision of providing everything as a service. Software is a very critical and important component of this strategy. It’s also essential to helping our customers succeed in their data-driven digital transformation journeys, now more than ever.

We’re committed to providing a differentiated portfolio of enterprise software to help modernize your applications, unlock insights from your data, and automate your operations—from edge to cloud. Today, we announced that we’ve unified our software portfolio with a new brand: HPE Ezmeral.

The HPE Ezmeral portfolio allows you to:

  • Run containers and Kubernetes at scale to modernize apps, from edge to cloud
  • Manage your apps, data, and ops – leveraging AI and analytics for faster time-to-insights
  • Ensure control for governance, compliance, and lower costs
  • Provide enterprise-grade security and authentication to reduce risk

Business innovation relies on applications and data. The apps and data running the enterprise now live everywhere—in data centers, in colocation centers, at the edge, and in the cloud. Most of the applications running businesses today are primarily non-cloud-native; and data is everywhere, with more and more data being generated at edge. Our customers are having real issues with non-cloud-native systems that will not or cannot move to the public cloud due to data gravity, latency, application dependency, and regulatory compliance reasons. Data has gravity, so our customers want to bring compute to the data not data to the compute. And because data is exploding, it’s driving the need for AI and machine learning at enterprise-scale—with the ability to harness and leverage petabytes of data.

Our customers want flexibility and openness; they want to eliminate lock-in. They want pay-per-use consumption in an as-a-service model. They want open solutions that give them the best of both worlds—with a modern cloud experience in any location, from edge to cloud. We address these needs by providing HPE GreenLake in the environment of your choice, with a consistent operating model, and with visibility and governance across all enterprise applications and data. Our software provides differentiated IP to deliver these cloud services through HPE GreenLake.

And in today’s news, we announced new cloud services from HPE GreenLake. This includes new HPE GreenLake cloud services for containers and machine learning operations—powered by our HPE Ezmeral Container Platform software to run containerized applications with open source Kubernetes, and HPE Ezmeral ML Ops software to operationalize the machine learning model lifecycle.

HPE Solidifies New Direction With As-a-Service and Software Direction

Antonio Neri, a scant two years into the position of President and CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), laid out a vision and roadmap last year to make the company “the global edge-to-cloud platform as-a-service company” which develops and delivers “enterprise technology solutions and services that help organizations accelerate outcomes by unlocking value from all of their data, everywhere.”

This year he unveiled new executive leadership–one heading GreenLake, the as-a-Service portion of the vision, and the other heading Ezmeral, the newly defined software portfolio and direction–and showed how far the vision has come in a year.

I am impressed with the speed and consistency of this pivot.

HPE Discover, the annual conference usually held in Las Vegas, went totally online this year. This was my sixth or seventh of these within four weeks, and by far the best. Kudos to the communications team for pulling this all together. I attended as an Influencer, and the global leader assembled an outstanding group (except for me) and a good program for us to meet as much of the leadership as possible.

I will write indepth specifically about GreenLake and Ezmeral and sustainability and helping restart work following COVID-19–and perhaps most important for you, my industrial audience–Aruba Edge Orchestrator.

Why do I take all the time and effort to attend these enterprise and IT events?

Let me share one example. I sat in two sessions specifically talking industrial applications.

In the first, an engineering leader from Stanley Black & Decker spoke of his IoT project using HPE’s Edgeline compute platform at almost every level of the manufacturing stack. Edgeline is an industrialized version of HPE’s high performance compute platform. I have seen examples in previous Discover events from off-shore oil platforms and a refinery in Texas. This is one of the points where the reality of “IT/OT Convergence” hits home.

The other session featured HPE Fellow and VP of HPE Labs Dr. Tom Bradicich detailing the vision of data–from analog data (which he has been discussing with me since his days at NI several years ago) to the edge to the cloud.

You can visit HPE.com and register for the event for a while, yet. Click sessions and search for keywords such as IoT, edge, and so forth to watch the on-demand videos. Yet another benefit of the “virtual experience.”

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Integrated Service Delivery Model Assess, Manage and Optimize Automation Assets

Continuing coverage of this week’s Honeywell Process Virtual Technical Experience.

[Note: You can have these posts sent to you via email simply by signing up at the appropriate link. There is normally one post per day, however covering two conferences and a couple of press conferences this week necessitates a little extra coverage.]

Continuing the theme of “remote” and also support and services, Honeywell Process Solutions announced this week Enabled Services program powered by Honeywell Forge. This automation lifecycle services offering focuses on ensuring Industrial Control System (ICS) health, reliability and compliance.

In brief:

  • End-to-end solution enables remote preventive maintenance and support
  • Plant operators can reduce number of incidents per year by 40% and improve total cost of ownership

“Honeywell developed the Enabled Services program as a subscription-based service for ICS users dealing with increasing system complexity, an aging industrial workforce and the constraints imposed on plant operations by global health concerns,” said Mark Dean, director of offering management, Honeywell Process Solutions. “Through this Enabled Services offering, Honeywell’s experts can conduct rapid analysis and make fast recommendations to solve the issues and be onsite only when necessary. Honeywell has created a powerful tool for customers to significantly improve maintenance efficiency and redirect expensive resources to high priority corrective maintenance.”

Honeywell estimates it’s Enabled Services solution can deliver increased value by reducing the number of incidents per year by 40%, with a net decrease in total cost of ownership of 15%. These capabilities not only help improve system health, performance and compliance, but also allow customers to redirect existing high skill resources to use more time to work on systems improvements and to focus on their core business.

Based on Honeywell’s step-change Lifecycle Solutions & Services delivery model, which responds to customer-driven feedback from around the world, the Enabled Services solution is designed around three key pillars:

  • System health and performance – in other words, what is going wrong in the plant
  • System compliance — why it is going wrong
  • Prescriptive maintenance and remediation – how the issues can be resolved.

Honeywell’s program uses intuitive and consistent dashboards powered by Honeywell Forge technology, which provides users with real-time intelligence to enable peak performance. It also employs remote connection and/or local data collection, predictive and diagnostic tools, and global resource centers – all to support improved operational and business performance.

Enabled Services remote support capabilities were specifically developed with security in mind. The services employ protected network connections built on industry recognized standards, such as IEC 62443, to transfer data from the customer’s site to Honeywell’s global resource centers.

Through its proactive approach, Enabled Services offer improved efficiencies compared with ad hoc maintenance regimens, homegrown solutions that compromise migration readiness, and/or delaying service and repairs until assets fail. This comprehensive solution can help company executives, plant managers and control engineers to:

  • Understand and improve operational effectiveness and risk profiles
  • Leverage operational benefits from systems, applications and people
  • Focus efforts on core competencies by deploying suitably skilled resources
  • Improve the health, security and stability of control assets

Honeywell’s Enabled Services offering includes two levels of support to meet diverse customer requirements. Enabled Services Enhanced employs fully connected systems and offers continuous insights on system health, performance and compliance with actionable recommendations. Enabled Services Essential is intended for a non-connected system and offers less frequent updates.

Keyword For Honeywell Virtual Technology Experience Is Remote

One conference I’m attending from the comfort of my office this week is Honeywell Virtual Technology Experience. Thanks to the pandemic, no Honeywell User Group (HUG) this year.

This remote conference technology constantly improves. This is my fourth of the season. Technical glitches have been rare. Speakers overall have ranged from good to outstanding. Jason Urso, Honeywell Process Solutions Chief Technology Officer gave his usual great technology roundup even dialing in demos from Australia.

Interesting that I used the word remote, because that is the word of the year. Any of us who can work from home are. That includes process control where many engineers can work from home and avoid getting sick.

Urso pointed to disruptions in the economy including disturbances to supply chains, postponed maintenance checks, and restricted travel combining to increase operational risks for critical manufacturers. Simultaneously, demand for key products like toilet paper for hygiene, filter paper for purification products, and packaging materials for shipping is peaking, making reliable, high-quality production even more important.

“Living in this new reality, manufacturers are faced with having to find new ways of operating, balancing the need to keep critical processes and plants running while ensuring the safety of their employees,” noted Urso. ”Here are three critical steps manufacturers can take to navigate this unprecedented situation:

  • Focus on essential work onsite to minimize the potential exposure of workers
  • Adopt proven and secure remote solutions for operations
  • Receive aid remotely through collaboration with on-call experts”

The bulk of the keynote reviewed three remote solutions Honeywell Process has developed for situations just like this.

Remote Project Engineering

Honeywell is continuing project operations by using software and digital twin technology. Project engineers from around the world continue working on Honeywell projects from home or in locations where offices are still operating with social distancing.

“We do so by utilizing digital twin technology that makes a digital replica of the customer’s equipment and processes which allows our project engineers to work on the ‘digital copy’ of the project versus on the actual equipment itself,” says Urso. “Critical infrastructure projects in oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and power can proceed without interruption.”

Remote Operations

Customers increasingly have fewer individuals working onsite to follow stay-at-home orders. In some cases, quarantines of key individuals are also affecting the availability of skilled resources at the site. In response, Honeywell has issued new software that enables process operations to be monitored or even executed from remote locations outside of the facility. Remote support staff in other facilities or at home can be utilized as if they are working directly at the process location.

Case study

We recently deployed remote operations solutions to one of our own specialty additives plants in Orange, Texas, that produces polyethylenes, allowing us to operate and ensure business continuity even with reduced onsite staffing. A virtual remote-control workstation duplicates the operator’s distributed control system stations in the main control room and can fully take over in case of further restrictions or illness. Our engineers can now support operations and execute essential tasks from remote locations, maintaining social distancing while keeping the same number of eyes on the plant.

According to Urso, “software was up and running in less than two hours and is protected by the highest levels of cybersecurity protocols and best practices.”

Remote Services and Support

Our customers are also looking for Honeywell to provide remote support in light of restrictions on personnel traveling and entering a site. Honeywell has deployed multiple remote service options to continue providing expert support via remote connectivity to our equipment. These remote options also use the power of Honeywell Forge offerings to proactively detect issues and bring them to the attention of both the customer and Honeywell experts.

Because our remote offerings help our customers in essential industries maintain critical activities in a safe manner during this crisis, Honeywell Process Solutions has trained all service technicians to build awareness of this capability and collaborate with our customers through this challenging time.