Swift Sensors Appoints Ray Almgren CEO

Executive promotions and shuffling are not my stock in trade, but I’ve known and respected Ray Almgren for a long time. Very happy to see him take on this sensor company—the essential basic element of an Internet of Things ecosystem. Sensors don’t get all the glory, but without them, no things in the Internet of Things.

Swift Sensors, a producer and supplier of wireless sensor systems, announced the appointment of Ray Almgren as Chief Executive Officer. Almgren will lead the growth initiatives of the company to expand product offerings and to scale worldwide distribution channels.  

Founded by Dean Drako, Swift Sensors has developed low-cost, monitoring solutions, making wireless IoT devices available for one-tenth the cost of traditional systems. These sensors are critical for operational efficiency and improvements, monitoring data such as temperatures for food processing and pharmaceuticals, or machine health and operation in industrial manufacturing. 

Almgren joined the company in 2016 as the Chief Marketing Officer, and helped launch the company. Almgren was named Chief Operating Officer in 2019. 

“Ray brings extensive knowledge and experience in sensors, embedded systems and the Internet of Things (IoT),” said Dean Drako, Founder and Chairman of Swift Sensors. “His leadership of our product development and marketing strategy has been a key factor in our success. As CEO, he will continue these initiatives and create a world-wide distribution channel for our products. Ray’s reputation in our industry as a strong technical and business leader is known throughout the world.”

Almgren joined Swift Sensors after a 28-year career at National Instruments (NI), where he served in numerous roles including Director of Engineering, Vice President of Product Marketing, and Vice President of Corporate Marketing. Almgren graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering.

Harting Technology Celebrates 75 Years

Whenever I begin to feel down about humans and the human condition, whenever politics and social media crap get to be too much, then a story about the human spirit comes my way.

I met a couple of members of the Harting family at a tech event several years ago. The company exemplifies the “connection” part of The Manufacturing Connection even though I seldom acknowledge them 

But to think, there the family was in the peace following the devastation of the Second World War starting a company that has grown and thrived for 75 years. 

In this hall in Minden, a few months after the end of the war, the Harting company was launched under the name of “Wilhelm Harting Mechanische Werkstätten”.

For 75 years now, the HARTING Technology Group has been driving technological change and providing decisive impetus for the future. The vision formulated in 1996 by the owner family “We want to shape the future with technologies for people” remains the guiding star of our entrepreneurial activities. September 1 marks the 75th anniversary of the founding day of the family company. The manufacturer of everyday products such as waffle irons and irons has evolved into a worldwide leading supplier of industrial connection technology for the three lifelines of data, signal and power, a global player fielding innovative products and solutions focusing on Industry 4.0 and digitization.

Wilhelm and Marie Harting opened the “Wilhelm Harting Mechanical Workshops” on September 1, 1945, in a repair workshop covering about 100 square meters in Minden, Westphalia. Wilhelm Harting initially concentrated on everyday consumer goods, which were in short supply after the war: Immersion heaters, hotplates, energy-saving lamps and electric firelighters that sold like hot cakes. His wife delivered the goods by bicycle in the surroundings of Minden and was paid with bread, bacon, eggs, and legumes. For copper and other raw materials, the company’s first buyer had set off to Cologne and Wuppertal with his rucksack. The return trip was on a coal freight wagon.

The nascent company had a stand at the first HANNOVER MESSE in 1947 and received numerous orders for alternators, starters, regulators, fuel pumps and ignition distributors.

The company grew rapidly and needed more space. From 1950 onwards, the company gradually moved to the neighbouring refugee settlement of Espelkamp. By 1955, the company already had 500 employees and was able to double its turnover to 8.6 million D-Mark within a year. 

The Han (HARTING standard), patented in 1956 and a registered trademark since 1957, became the standard, the epitome of the industrial connector and laid the foundation for the ascent of the medium-sized company from East Westphalia. Thanks to the Han-Modular series, customers are able to achieve optimal design solutions for the supply of machines, systems and plants. Today, the Han-Modular represents the market standard for modular industrial connectors.

Like the company founders, Dietmar and Margrit Harting are also committed to the region. They support projects, initiatives and associations in the fields of culture, sports, education and science. Margrit Harting, until 2018 also Vice President of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of East Westphalia in Bielefeld, has received several awards for these activities. She is Honorary Chairwoman of the Philharmonic Society of Eastern Westphalia-Lippe, Honorary Chairwoman of association for the promotion of the Minden-Lübbecke district, Honorary Chairwoman of the Local Cultural Agency Espelkamp, and honorary citizen of Leibniz University Hanover. In 2002 she received the Espelkamp Medal.

For many years, Dietmar Harting was active as a leading luminary in national and international associations and committees, including as President of the German Institute for Standardization (DIN), President of the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association (ZVEI), member of the Presidium of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), President of CENELEC (European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization) and Chairman of the German Commission for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies in DIN and VDE (DKE). From 1995 to 1998, Dietmar Harting was a member of the “Council for Research, Technology and Innovation” under Chancellor Helmut Kohl and from 2004 to 2006, he was also active as a member of the “Partners for Innovation” initiative of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Chancellor Angela Merkel respectively. Several organisations honoured his high level of commitment with honorary membership or honorary presidency. In 2013, the Erich Gutenberg working group bestowed its “Praktikerpreis” (Practitioner Award) on Dietmar Harting.    

In 1998, the entrepreneurial couple received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and in 2009 the Federal Cross of Merit First Class. In the same year, the city of Espelkamp acknowledged the Hartings by bestowing honorary citizenship. Dietmar Harting was also honoured with the Lower Saxony Cross of Merit 1st Class in 2004 and has been an honorary doctor of Leibniz Universität Hannover since 2010.

Dietmar Harting was Chairman of the HANNOVER MESSE Exhibitors’ Advisory Board for many years and also a member of the Supervisory Board and Executive Committee of Deutsche Messe AG. In 2008 he was awarded the Golden Trade Fair Medal. To this day, the technology group ranks as one of the very few companies to have been present at the trade fair every year without interruption.

In October 2015, after almost 50 years in the management of the Technology Group, Dietmar Harting handed over the reins as Chairman of the Board to his son Philip (46). Today, Philip Harting and his sister Maresa Harting-Hertz (Member of the Board for Finance, Global Purchasing and Facility Management) work closely with their parents Margrit and Dietmar Harting on the Board.

The HARTING Automotive subsidiary develops and produces charging equipment for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. HARTING is also making its key contributions to sustainability in the generation of regenerative energy and has long featured as an experienced and reliable partner to the wind turbine industry.

In recent years, HARTING has been increasingly relying on cooperation activities, networks and partnerships such as the MICAnetwork and the Future Alliance for Mechanical Engineering, with which Industry 4.0 and digitization are being driven forward, while shaping and co-determining the networking of processes and objects. The Technology Group regards partner networks as an ideal platform for the further development of Integrated Industry. In this way, the future can be shaped and designed with technologies for people and values created. 

Microsoft Acquires IoT/OT Security Leader CyberX

The news in brief: CyberX’s IoT/OT-aware behavioral analytics platform integrates with Azure security to deliver end-to-end security across managed and unmanaged IoT devices

Everyone has discussed Industrial Control Systems (ICS) cyber risks almost to the point of nausea for several years. Startups in the OT cybersecurity space began popping like dandelions in spring. For a couple of years their display spaces at the ARC Industry Forum paid for the room and then some.

While I like all these companies, I couldn’t see how any could make it long as a standalone company. Sure enough, CyberX has agreed to be acquired by Microsoft.

Here is the justification: As enterprises implement digital transformation and Industry 4.0 for greater efficiency and productivity, boards and management teams are increasingly concerned about the financial and liability risk resulting from the deployment of massive numbers of connected IoT and OT devices. Adversaries targeting this expanded attack surface can cause substantial corporate impact including safety and environmental incidents, costly production downtime, and theft of sensitive intellectual property.

By integrating the CyberX platform with the Azure IoT stack, Azure Security Center for IoT, and Azure Sentinel, the first SIEM with native IoT support, Microsoft will now provide a simpler approach to unified security governance across both IT and industrial networks, as well as end-to-end security across managed and unmanaged IoT devices, enabling organizations to quickly detect and respond to advanced threats in converged networks.

“CyberX’s technology and team are a great addition to Microsoft,” said Michal Braverman-Blumenstyk, Corporate Vice President, Cloud & AI Security CTO, and Israel R&D Center GM. “With CyberX’s expertise and innovative platform, together with Microsoft’s exciting security products, Microsoft is offering a powerful and scalable solution that accelerates digitalization for enterprises at all phases of their IoT/OT journey.”

Founded in 2013, CyberX achieved tremendous growth with the world’s largest enterprises adopting its IoT/OT security platform to secure their facilities worldwide. Leveraging patented, IoT/OT-aware behavioral analytics, CyberX’s agentless technology deploys in minutes to deliver deep visibility into IoT/OT risk — including asset discovery, vulnerability management, and continuous threat monitoring — with zero impact due to its passive Network Traffic Analysis (NTA) approach.

“Nir and I founded CyberX with the goal of delivering a scalable solution that would be easy to deploy and reduce risk for enterprises worldwide,” said Omer Schneider, co-founder and CEO of CyberX. “We’re thankful to our loyal customers and partners as well as to our dedicated employees whose innovation and hard work made it possible for us to reach this important milestone, and also to our investors for their ongoing support.”

“By joining forces with Microsoft, we will rapidly scale our business and technology to securely enable digital transformation for many more organizations,” said Nir Giller, co-founder, GM International, and CTO of CyberX. “Together, CyberX and Microsoft provide an unbeatable solution for gaining visibility and a holistic understanding of risk for all IoT and OT devices in your enterprise.”

CyberX’s founders will join Microsoft and the platform will continue to be enhanced and supported by CyberX personnel. In addition, Microsoft is committed to the channel and will continue working with CyberX’s strategic reseller and technology partners worldwide. The CyberX platform will continue to be available in a hybrid model supporting both cloud-connected and air-gapped networks.

From the Microsoft point of view—Two years ago, Microsoft announced a $5 billion investment in IoT and with this acquisition, the company is eager to continue solving these challenges. Some specifics:

• With CyberX, customers can discover their existing IoT assets, and both manage and improve the security posture of those devices. For example, customers can, often for the first time, see a digital map of thousands of devices across a factory floor or within a building and gather information about their security state and connectivity.

• CyberX’s further integration with Microsoft’s broad portfolio will allow Microsoft to continue to deliver more value to customers. For example, in conjunction with Azure Sentinel, SecOps personnel will be able to identify threats that span OT and IT converged networks that were previously challenging to detect.

• Microsoft appreciates that some customers need help improving the security of their existing IoT environment and is excited that CyberX’s technology and team will be an incredible addition to the company’s commitment to both IoT security and innovation as customers work to digitally transform their businesses.

HPE Shows Company’s Investment In People, Environment, and Doing Business the Right Way

This recap of Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) annual Living Progress Report for 2019 wraps up thoughts and coverage of all the many virtual conferences I experienced in June. The communications teams from all the companies worked hard and had to experiment in real time to bring out the best alternative to just completely shutting down.

These thoughts center on ethics—something given my experience in business I thought I’d never be writing about. If there were two institutions within which I worked where ethics was merely a word in the dictionary, they were business and church.

Thankfully that situation is changing, and this report from HPE is encouraging. I’ve met many people within the company. I don’t think this is superficial marketing-speak.

The report demonstrates HPE’s ongoing commitment to being a force for good by equipping customers with sustainable technology solutions, upholding HPE’s own high Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards across its value chain, and prioritizing company culture to fuel business outcomes by unlocking the innovation of team members.

“Our team members’ passion, ingenuity and resilience enable us to create technology solutions to tackle the many pressing challenges facing society today,” said HPE President and CEO Antonio Neri. “Current discussions around systemic racism, inclusion, and diversity demonstrate the importance of taking bold actions to create a more equitable and sustainable future. We are proud of our progress and committed to do more as a company and in partnership with our peers, customers, and partners.”

In 2019, HPE intensified its strategic focus on culture and launched the “Work That Fits Your Life” program to support a more inclusive workplace that values team members’ experience inside and outside of the workplace. New benefits include six months of paid parental leave for mothers and fathers, career reskilling and transition support, and a company-wide shortened work day once a month on “Wellness Friday”.

From the release:

HPE is investing in human capital because it wants to be a place where people can learn, develop skills and do career-defining work. HPE’s Executive Committee developed the “Work that Fits your Life” program in partnership with its Board of Directors, 54% of whom identify with one or more diverse groups. One of the key goals of the program was to drive inclusion in the workplace. And, the company began tying diversity metrics to executive compensation to further embed inclusion and diversity into the organization.

In 2019, HPE’s employee engagement score rose 10 percent and has risen an unprecedented 18 percent since 2017, and its team members clocked their one millionth hour of company-supported volunteer time since 2016. In addition, HPE offered opportunities to engage with more social impact activities through the inaugural HPE Accelerating Impact initiative.

This year’s Living Progress Report also, for the first time, details racial diversity statistics of its team member population, an important step in being transparent and addressing systemic bias and inequality in our society.

HPE announced that it would make its entire portfolio available as-a-service by 2022, a consumption model that can bring significant energy efficiency gains and cost savings to its customers by eliminating overprovisioning and allowing customers to pay for only what they use. In addition, service-based models allow HPE to maintain chain of custody over equipment to ensure recovery and refurbishment, reducing physical waste and the need to source substances of concern. In 2019, 88% of the nearly four million assets returned to HPE’s Technology Renewal Centers were given a new life, but shifting to more consumption-based solutions is predicted to dramatically reduce the consumption of unnecessary IT assets.

HPE remained on track to meet all of its 2025 climate targets, having reduced its carbon footprint by 47% in just four years. The company also introduced a new emissions reduction target for its transportation logistics footprint – aiming to reduce the footprint by 35% by 2025. It also continued to see opportunity to help customers thrive in a carbon constrained world – with efficient IT products and services representing nearly USD $7.7 billion in revenue in 2019.

HPE continued to hold suppliers to high environmental, social and ethical standards. In 2019, HPE’s supply chain audit and assurance improvement program touched over 133,000 workers and the company guided 51% of its suppliers on how to set their own science-based climate targets. In addition, HPE sought to promote inclusion and diversity through its supply chain by spending approximately USD $1 billion with small enterprises and minority, women and veteran-owned businesses in the United States.

CII and MIMOSA Join Forces to move Interoperability Forward for Capital Projects

CII and MIMOSA sign Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to use the Open Industrial Interoperability Ecosystem (OIIE) as the interoperability framework for CII best practices.

I’m a believer based upon long experience that standards and interoperability drive industries (and society) forward. Just look, for example, at standard gauge railroad tracks or standard shipping containers or Internet protocols. I should also note that I worked on the development of the OIIE several years ago, but they got to the point where I could not contribute for a while. As I wrote recently, things are coming together in this effort for interoperable data flow from engineering design through construction to operations & maintenance throughout the lifecycle of a large capital project.

Here is the latest, and very important, news.

CII (The Construction Institute) and MIMOSA announce their collaboration to adopt and progress the standards for an open, vendor neutral digital ecosystem supporting data and systems interoperability in capital projects, operations and maintenance enabling digital transformation of the full asset lifecycle. The MOU establishes the basis for a CII/MIMOSA Joint Working Group to develop best practices for standards based interoperability in capital projects leveraging the organizations combined strengths.

It will develop formal OIIE Use Cases for capital projects based on Industry Functional Requirements developed by CII, starting with those associated with Advanced Work Packaging (AWP). These OIIE Use Cases will be validated in the OIIE Oil and Gas Interoperability (OGI) Pilot before they are published and licensed for use on a world-wide royalty free basis. Once the jointly developed OIIE Use Cases are validated in the pilot, CII and MIMOSA intend to submit them to ISO TC 184/WG 6 for inclusion in future parts of ISO 18101.

The OIIE is an outgrowth of collaboration between multiple industry-level Standards Developing Organizations, where MIMOSA plays a key leadership role and has led the workstreams for digitalization and interoperability in support of asset life-cycle management. The OIIE OGI Pilot includes standard use cases for asset intensive industries, currently featuring an example oil and gas industry process unit.

Active collaboration has begun, by sharing the existing OIIE Use Case Architecture and asset lifecycle management OIIE Use Cases previously developed by MIMOSA and validated in the OIIE OGI Pilot. CII has shared the AWP data requirements that are under development by CII.

Next steps will begin to include CII AWP best practices in applicable, OIIE Use Cases for capital projects, including jointly enhancing existing use cases and the joint development of new ones. CII and MIMOSA encourage interested organizations to join and participate in each association to fully support this important industry-led effort.

Organizations that participate have the potential to benefit in many ways including:

  • System of Systems interoperability results in less reliance on expensive, fragile, custom integration between systems, reducing IT costs while increasing agility and sustainability.
  • Education and training to a common set of industry practices and standards, provides a more flexible and efficient digital economy work force, benefitting industry and workers alike with reduced loss of knowledge and expertise.
  • Investment in future proofed, vendor neutral, interoperable data, enables industry to create, capture, manage and reuse digital information, as a strategic asset throughout the entire physical asset lifecycle, deriving significantly more business value from capital projects.
  • Owners identified the opportunity to cut CAPEX spend by 15-20% through better information sharing with improved schedules and productivity due to far less time wasted looking for information, and much more time on tools.

CII, based at The University of Texas at Austin, is a consortium of more than 140 leading owner, engineering- contractor, and supplier firms from both the public and private arenas. These organizations have joined together to enhance the business effectiveness and sustainability of the capital facility life cycle through CII research, related initiatives, and industry alliances.

MIMOSA is a 501 (c) 6 not-for-profit industry trade association dedicated to developing and encouraging the adoption of open, supplier-neutral IT and IM standards enabling physical asset lifecycle management spanning manufacturing, fleet and facilities environments. MIMOSA standards and collaboratively developed specifications enable Digital Twins to be defined and maintained on a supplier-neutral basis, while also using Digital Twins to provide Context for Big Data (IIOT and other sensor-related data) and Analytics.

National Instruments Rebrands, Acquires Data Analytics Company

I debated for most of the day about using my energy to work on this blog post about NI (formerly known as National Instruments). It has long been one of my favorite companies. Its user conference, NI Week, overflowed with energy and bright engineers with big ideas. The founders were brilliant, yet humble, men. And I met some of the nicest people in the industry there.

Their marketing and PR people identified me with automation and control, for obvious reasons. Beginning in about 2010 or 2011, they seemed to become more distant until by the 2011 and 2012 NI Weeks, they didn’t talk to me about a single interview. I met with marketing people through 2014, and then all was quiet.

But I’m a keen observer. I noticed that industrial automation and even IoT were being rapidly de-emphasized in favor of the test market. That’s where the company started and remains the core competency. I also noticed that by 2012 the keynotes were no longer about “gee whiz” technology but rather about big engineering ideas—none of which were in industrial control and automation.

And they began emphasizing “NI” rather than the entire name more than 10 years ago.

Therefore, the big splash about rebranding and new directions were not entirely a surprise to me. Well, the green color scheme was. And I have a pet peeve about senior executives explaining what the logo means. I believe that a logo should be self-evident. But as for a new direction, everything they talked about were things I’ve seen them doing for years—solving big engineering problems, community contributions, diversity, sustainability. It’s almost like internally they realized what they had become. But I knew it. No longer the company of the small sale where the average order was $1,000, but now the company of solving big engineering problems.

Which is all good.

Even so, I am interested in data—data acquisition, analytics, and data used for problem solving.

Therefore, the acquisition. This should be a great move. I’m a possibility thinker, so I see these moves and see all the possibilities for good that can happen with a strong merger.

The news in short:

The acquisition strengthens data analytics software capability to provide enterprise-level value.

NI has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire OptimalPlus Ltd., a global leader in data analytics software for the semiconductor, automotive, and electronics industries. The acquisition will expand NI’s enterprise software capabilities to provide customers with business-critical insights through advanced product analytics across their product development flow and supply chain.

NI and OptimalPlus serve highly complementary positions in the semiconductor, automotive, and electronics industries. NI test systems are used in semiconductor manufacturing with OptimalPlus serving as a leading supplier of semiconductor manufacturing data analytics. Similarly, the NI automotive and electronics production test offerings are complementary to OptimalPlus’ growing automotive and electronics analytics business. Combining the strength of NI’s software-centric approach with OptimalPlus’ enterprise-level analytics software is expected to dramatically increase the value of test and manufacturing data, enabling product insights that will improve quality, efficiency and time to market for both NI and OptimalPlus customers.

“The addition of OptimalPlus’ data analytics capabilities will enable us to accelerate our growth strategy by increasing enterprise-level value for shared customers in the semiconductor and automotive industries.” said Eric Starkloff, NI President and CEO. “During this age of digital transformation, we remain committed to delivering innovative software and systems that leverage a robust data platform to address our customers’ business challenges. I welcome the employees of OptimalPlus and look forward to collectively accelerating our long-term growth ambitions.”

“OptimalPlus is excited to join the NI team. We are confident NI is the ideal partner to accelerate our innovation and increase sales opportunities through advanced product analytics,” said Dan Glotter, OptimalPlus Founder and CEO. “It is evident we share the unique commitment to high-quality software tools and need for world-class customer experience. The acquisition by a technology leader like NI is testament to the leading-edge innovation delivered by our R&D, Product and Data Science teams in Israel and to the great dedication and commitment of our employees across the world. Together with NI, we will provide enterprise-level analytics to enable customers to achieve their digital transformation objectives while expanding our customer reach.”

The acquisition is subject to customary closing conditions, including regulatory approval. The transaction is valued at $365 million and expected to close in early Q3 2020. OptimalPlus had 2019 revenue of $51 million and employs approximately 240 employees. Due to the highly complementary nature of the companies, there will be minimal cost synergies from this transaction. NI plans to fund the transaction through a combination of cash on hand and debt.

About OptimalPlus

OptimalPlus develops analytic solutions based on its big data platform technology which combines machine-learning with a global data infrastructure to provide real-time product analytics and to extract insights from data across the entire supply chain. Serving tier-1 suppliers and OEMs, in the market of semiconductor, automotive and electronic industries. The company provides technology to enhance key manufacturing metrics such as yield and efficiency, improve product quality and reliability and provide full supply chain visibility. OptimalPlus headquarters and R&D are in Israel with offices in Asia, Europe, and the United States.