US Alliance of Robotics Clusters to Advocate for Industry

Five years ago I would not have predicted so much robotics news and advancements. This is news about organizations collaborating for the advancement of robotics.

MassRobotics, Pittsburgh Robotics Network and Silicon Valley Robotics have formed the United States Alliance of Robotics Clusters (USARC). USARC supports the development, commercialization and scaling of robotics for global good by collaborating with government and industry stakeholders.

Organizations need focus and deliverables. USARC’s list:

●      Increased collaboration and communication across U.S. robotics clusters

●      Enhanced support and success for stakeholders and startups

●      Focused advocacy for the robotics and artificial intelligence industries

With a goal to help meet U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, USARC and its members will support:

·       Sustainability through myriad robotics application including agritech, energy efficiency, recycling and climate change

·       Revitalization of local industry and economic development through the growth of robotics clusters

·       Onshoring more robotics and artificial intelligence businesses and initiatives

FDT Group Introduces FDT Unified Environment for Field to Cloud Data Harmonization

The HUG experience in Orlando is barely out of my system when I turned to Hannover Messe. No, I am not eating German food, well, at least not in Germany. Yesterday morning I sat in a 7 am (my time) press conference with OPC Foundation. More on that later. I have worked all afternoon consolidating about 20 press releases and interviews and decided at the end of the day to talk about the press conference / annual general meeting I attended virtually this morning. This from the FDT Group.

Steve Biegacki became Executive Director in January bringing experience with building this type of organization not to mention marketing and sales executive experience with both Rockwell Automation and Belden. Along with the Rockwell role he was a driving force behind ODVA and CIP. 

He pulled off his initial AGM at Hannover with his usual style backed with experienced staff. Pretty much like the organizations I’ve talked with this year, they didn’t let the pandemic slow the work cranking out valuable work. Biegacki will be leading a renewed marketing effort to explain benefits of the FDT 3.0 standard.

From today’s news: Device, system, and end users now benefit from an embedded unified environment unlocking universal device management, IT/OT convergence, data analytics, services, and mobility.

FDT Group, an independent, international, not-for-profit industry association supporting the evolution of FDT technology, introduced the FDT Unified Environment (UE), and developer tools based on the new FDT 3.0 standard to deliver next-generation FDT industrial device management system and device solutions for field-to-cloud IT/OT data harmonization, analytics, services, and mobility based on user-driven requirements for smart manufacturing in the process, hybrid, and discrete markets.

Driven by digital transformation use cases to support new Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) business models, the standard has evolved to include a new distributed, multi-user, FDT Server application that includes built-in and pre-wired OPC UA and Web servers enabling an FDT Unified Environment (FDT 3.x) merging IT/OT data analytics supporting service-oriented architectures. The new Server environment deployable in the cloud or on-premise delivers the same use cases and functionally as the previous generation FDT hosting environment, but now provides data storage for the whole device lifecycle at the core of the architecture allowing information modeling and data consistency to authenticated OPC UA and browser-based clients (tablets and phones) for modern accessibility to address the challenges of IIoT.

“Collaboration and data harmonization are the keys to manufacturing modernization,” said Steve Biegacki, managing director, FDT Group. “FDT UE delivers a data collaborative engineering specification and toolset to enable modern distributed control improving operations and production reliability, impacting the bottom line for new IIoT architectures.  I’m proud to witness our first group of members showcasing their FDT 3.0 WebUI-based DTM prototypes mixed with 2.0 DTMs in the new Server and Desktop environments running IO-Link and HART here at Hannover Messe live and in person. To be present as a guest in the OPC Foundation booth to demonstrate field-to-cloud connectivity, OPC UA enterprise access and services along with mobile field device operation is one for industry history books. I especially want to thank Thomas Hadlich, FDT architecture and specification chairman, for leading the first FDT UE demo project; along with our front runner member companies for participating – Flowserve, Krohne, Omron, Magnetrol, Thorsis, CodeWrights, VEGA, Rockwell Automation, Turck, PACTware and M&M Software.”

FDT UE consists of FDT Server, FDT Desktop, and FDT DTM components. System and device suppliers can take a well-established standard they are familiar with and easily create and customize standards-based, data-centric, cross-platform FDT 3.0 solutions—expanding their portfolio offerings to meet requirements for next-generation industrial control applications. Each solution auto-enables OPC UA integration and allows the development team to focus on value-added features that differentiate their products, including WebUI and App support. FDT Desktop applications are fully backward compatible supporting the existing install base.

FDT 3.0 specification license agreements and developer toolkits are now available on the FDT website.

 

Responsible Computing Consortium

We thought of Artificial Intelligence as something magical. Then we figured out that much of the output of AI depends upon how the application is trained. Then, duh, we discovered bias underneath the AI training. Perhaps concepts we have learned since ancient times such as ethics, morals, and responsibility are important. My adolescent self hates hearing me say things like that. But, it’s true.

Sometimes I despair at the general lack of taking responsibility for our words and actions I too often observe.

In a bit of mining that same vein, the Object Management Group announced last Friday, May 20, a new consortium called Responsible Computing (a trademark of IBM, by the way). The founding members of this group are IBM and Dell. Its purpose is to focus on sustainable development goals.

From the news release, “Responsible computing is a systemic approach aimed at addressing current and future challenges in computing, including sustainability, ethics, and professionalism, stemming from the belief that we need to start thinking about technology in terms of its impact on people and the planet.”

“Responsible Computing aims to shift thinking and, ultimately, behavior within the IT industry and affect real change,” said Bill Hoffman, Chairman, and CEO of RC and OMG. “We’ve made our manifesto and framework freely available, and we’ve asked every RC member to implement RC principles. Our goal is that someday every IT professional will adhere to RC principles.”

The new consortium’s manifesto defines RC values to restore trust in IT by responsibly applying technology and by sharing experiences with other organizations. These values include sustainability, inclusiveness, circularity, openness, authenticity, and accountability.

The consortium’s RC framework focuses on six domains of responsible computing, including:

  • Data centers – are designed and operated with a focus on efficiency and sustainability, including emphasizing green energy and improving the handling and disposal of chemicals, toxic materials, and rare metals.
  • More sustainable infrastructure – monitoring the energy usage of products and technologies. Efficient and more sustainable operations, including proper disposal of products.​
  • Code – choosing code that optimizes environmental, social, and economic impact over time. Optimal code includes efficient algorithms, frameworks, and tools and KPIs to accelerate decision-making and pinpoint areas requiring more scrutiny during software development.
  • Data usage – the safe use of data will drive transparency, fairness, privacy, and respect for users.
  • Systems – that address bias and discrimination by driving equality for all, for example, the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for transparency.​
  • Impact – the technologies and innovations that drive a positive impact on society at large such as building to improve human conditions and mitigate social risk.

Through interviews with over 100 CTOs concerns were raised around developing practical actions to progress Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) programs. They wanted to contribute to becoming more sustainable businesses and demonstrate progress through consistent metrics. In November 2020, IBM’s Academy of Technology (AoT)’s responded to these challenges and created the Responsible Computing Council, an international team of technology and computing leaders who collaborate in validation and the implementation of the RC framework and lead by example in becoming a responsible computing provider. Object Management Group (OMG) was an early member of the council, and shortly after that, the OMG board approved the formation of the RC consortium.

“Now is the time for companies to adopt a holistic approach that places sustainability strategy at the center of their business,” said Sheri Hinish, Global Lead, IBM Consulting Sustainability Services. “IBM is proud to be a founding member of the RC consortium. Through this collaboration, we hope to help companies establish new and innovative ways to transform their business operations through ethical, impactful ways that can help contribute to a more sustainable future.”

“Dell is proud to be a founding member of the RC consortium. We are aligned with and driven by a similar passion to help leading technology organizations realize their sustainable development goals, in line with the planet’s,” said Marc O’Regan, CTO EMEA, Dell Technologies. “In addition to being socially and environmentally responsible, we also expect that RC members will see improved go-to-market solutions, strategies and bottom-line results by following RC principles.”

An organization can become more operationally efficient and demonstrate a return on investment (ROI) when meeting sustainability goals. The ROI can potentially include:​

  • Reduced power consumption
  • Waste reduction for packaging
  • Cost-effective heating and cooling solutions​
  • Supply chain efficiency, and more

OMAC Launches Data Governance Initiative

The Organization for Machine Automation and Control (OMAC) continues to reinvent itself as new technologies and applications appear. I could say the same about Mark Fondl, whom I first met as he explained how Ethernet was going to be the only sensible control network some 24 years ago. About the time I first met OMAC. This initiative comes because of all the data-intensive technologies we’ve added in manufacturing over the past few years. We have cloud, analytics, digital transformation, data-driven, and the entire panoply of use cases and tech.

OMAC’s latest initiative, led by ei3’s Mark Fondl, aims to establish a framework and guidelines to protect precious proprietary information while enabling secure data sharing for efficiently solving problems, mining insights, and capturing the highest value from data-supported capabilities. 

The workgroup will elaborate on the following topics to help organizations boost employee collaboration and productivity and support continuous innovation through practical data-sharing approaches. 

  • Categorizing types of data and methods of segmentation
  • Identifying the sources of data 
  • Clustering data usage – from control and optimization to service and support
  • Understanding data ownership and constraints – especially concerning the use of insights arising from the data
  • Architecting data hierarchy for distribution 
  • Reviewing security regulations concerning the transfer and storage

Participating organizations include leading manufacturing companies such as Cargill, Pepsico, and Corning; well-known OEMs including Mettler-Toledo, Milacron, Barry-Wehmiller, and Nordson; system integrators like Rovisys and Martin CSI, and groundbreaking technology companies like the ei3 Corporation, Siemens, General Electric, Rockwell, Cisco, Mitsubishi Electric Europe B.V. amongst others.

The workgroup will meet virtually, with the kick-off meeting being planned for May 18, 2022. (Sorry, I’m a bit late to the party due to the allergy attack.) A face-to-face workshop will take place in December 2022 to allow active members to review the developed content and enable an easy and free flow of suggestions in advancing this topic.

If you would like to participate and contribute your knowledge, skill, and experience, please complete the Expression of Interest Form, and the workgroup administrator will reach out to you.

Bionics and Robotics Training For Youth

Festo branches into many interesting endeavors. I’ve visited the company’s headquarters, a few customers including an Audi plant in Hungary, and the Cincinnati, Ohio area training facility. This news touches on a hot topic crucial to manufacturing success–training and education. Festo Didactic develops training courses and conducts classes. Here are two pieces of news. One from Ohio regarding a pre-apprenticeship program in a couple of schools. The second from Wisconsin concerning an award.

Warren County and Clermont County Schools Kickoff Manufacturing Pre-Apprenticeship Program

Students from Kings High School and Goshen High School get on-the-job training in advanced manufacturing from Festo Didactic, made possible by funding from Easterseals and the State. A group of 14 high school seniors in southwestern Ohio have become the first beneficiaries of a workforce development grant to fund a newly formed pre-apprenticeship program focused on modern day manufacturing.

The grant was awarded to Easterseals, a Cincinnati-based nonprofit organization focused on improving workforce equity, inclusion and access. 

Kings High School in Warren County and Goshen High School in Clermont County are the first high schools in the state to participate in the pre-apprenticeship program in collaboration with Festo Didactic, a global leader in industrial and technical education.

“The Area 12 HUB (Butler, Clermont, Warren counties and Easterseals) partnered with Festo because they have an exceptional model for their manufacturing pre-apprenticeship program,” said Jessica Dean, Manager, Youth Services Community Operations at Easterseals Serving Greater Cincinnati. “In this program, there’s a strong commitment to help youth become successful. For students to have access to high quality STEM education and hands-on training like this, it opens up a world of possibilities.”

According to apprenticeship.gov, by definition, pre-apprenticeship is a program or set of strategies designed to prepare individuals to enter and succeed in a Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP). Pre-apprenticeship programs help employers save time and money by providing pre-screened, ready-to-work employees who have been trained in the specific skills employers need. U.S. Department of Labor case studies have shown that pre-apprenticeship programs can attract more diverse candidates, including women and people of color, and increase employment of disabled workers.

Specifically, Festo’s pre-apprenticeship is designed to introduce students to modern day smart manufacturing. The program prioritizes hands-on, experiential learning that exposes students to the wonders of bionics and robotics in addition to beginner-level engineering concepts in pneumatics and mechatronics. Pre-apprentices receive a comprehensive learning experience in the classroom with textbook and hybrid learning, then head off to the lab to apply their knowledge hands-on with IoT hardware and software systems. Upon completion of the program, students will receive a certificate of completion.

Classes are held at Festo’s Regional Service Center (RSC), a 47-acre state-of-the-art logistics and manufacturing plant that provides automation technology serving all of North America. The plant opened in 2015 and is among the 15 largest employers in Mason.

The RSC also serves as the home base for Festo’s award-winning Mechatronics Apprenticeship Program (MAP2) which first launched at the Festo Learning Center in 2016. In 2020, MAP2 earned the Best in Ohio Business Award in the Workforce Development Program category.

KTEC to Honor Festo Didactic as the 2022 Distinguish Partner

Festo Didatic is scheduled to be presented with KTEC’s 2022 Distinguished Partner Award at the annual KTEC Gala on Saturday, March 26, for the company’s dedication to education and support of KTEC.

The mission of Kenosha School of Technology Enhanced Curriculum (KTEC) is to engage learners of all types in an innovative and continually evolving learning environment, to prepare students for success through academic excellence by the use of 21st Century Skills, strategic partnerships, and technology integration to prepare for a global society.

The company is an important part of innovation for KTEC students. Festo and the school are working together to integrate bionics and mechatronics into the school’s STEM learning program for 6th–8th grade students.

Festo is also an important part of the design team for KTEC High School, which is slated to open this September. Festo is facilitating the development of the Automation and Robotics career pathway.

Zebra Technologies Acquiring Matrox Imaging

Consolidation hits the vision system market yet again. Zebra Technologies, pursuing a strategy of becoming a broader automation player, announced intent to acquire Matrox Imaging. Matrox has been around for a long time. I remember it from my days as an integrator. It’s a tough market to go alone.

Zebra Technologies announced it intends to acquire Matrox Imaging. This acquisition further expands Zebra’s offerings in the fast-growing automation and vision technology solution space following last year’s acquisitions of Adaptive Vision and Fetch Robotics.

Matrox Imaging offers platform-independent software, software development kits (SDKs), smart cameras, 3D sensors, vision controllers, input/output (I/O) cards, and frame grabbers which are used to capture, inspect, assess, and record data from industrial vision systems in factory automation, electronics and pharmaceutical packaging, semiconductor inspection, and more.

“Customers are increasingly deploying automated solutions to augment their front-line workers, enabling them to focus on more complex, higher value workflows, and machine vision is a key technology to help them get there,” said Anders Gustafsson, Chief Executive Officer of Zebra Technologies. “This acquisition enables us to meet our customer’s evolving needs, regardless of where they are on their automation journey—from capturing and analyzing data to facilitate decision-making to deploying physical automation solutions to accelerate the production and movement of goods and materials. We are excited to welcome the Matrox Imaging team to the Zebra family.” 

Matrox Imaging’s solutions complement Zebra’s recently launched fixed industrial scanning and machine vision portfolio as well as significantly augment Zebra’s growing expertise in software, machine learning and deep learning.

“The combination of Matrox Imaging’s technical expertise with the global footprint of Zebra Technologies presents an opportunity for Matrox Imaging to accelerate its long-term strategic plan,” said Lorne Trottier, President and Co-Founder of Matrox. “With its complementary machine vision and fixed industrial scanning portfolio, Zebra Technologies will be an excellent home for Matrox Imaging.”

Zebra expects to fund the $875 million purchase price with a combination of cash on hand along with fully committed financing under its credit facility. The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions, including regulatory approval and is expected to close in 2022. Matrox Imaging generates annual sales of approximately $100 million with a higher profit margin profile than Zebra.

Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP is serving as legal counsel and UBS Investment Bank is serving as financial advisor to Zebra. Stikeman Elliott LLP is acting as legal counsel and Evercore is acting as financial advisor to Matrox Imaging.