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.”
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.
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.
GE Digital had not updated me for a while. So, an invitation to a conversation with new GE Digital CTO Colin Parris was welcome—even if in the middle of several virtual user conferences. Naturally we talked about digitalization, something GE Digital was early to the game with. Also AI. Digital Twin continues to form the base of the company’s strategy.
Most welcome, there was no talk of optimization and Six Sigma. Instead business transformation through Lean plus Control plus Digital Twin was the focus of conversation.
As an example of the importance of digitization, he discussed a business that was so focused on optimization that it didn’t want to invest in digital. Then COVID came knocking. The company had been reluctant to digitize, but did it in five days when forced to when employees had to work from home. It then improved the system over the ensuing three months.
Here is another example Parris related.
The Prime Minister of India asked citizens to turn off their lights for nine minutes in a show of solidarity in the fight against COVID-19. With meticulous planning by India’s Power System Operation Corporation (POSOCO), national and state agencies, and supported by the GE Digital Grid Software team and Advanced Energy Management System (AEMS) solutions, the nation’s power grid withstood a 31- gigawatt drop and recovery.
When the request came down, POSOCO and its extended team of national and state agencies had less than 60 hours to prepare. For 1.3 billion consumers this would be a simple, yet powerful, way to unite with their fellow countrymen and the world, but it would also put tremendous stress on the nation’s power grid. A sudden decrease in demand could cause grid instability, leading to system collapse.
Due to national lockdowns associated with the pandemic, the normal daily peak demand of 160 GW had already fallen by 50 GW due to the significant reduction in demand from the commercial and industrial sectors. For the April 5 “lights out” event, POSOCO estimated a reduction in demand of 12 GW within two to four minutes. Power systems can handle gradual drops, but a sudden drop caused by lights switching off across the nation risked collapsing the world’s largest synchronous grid. Consumers would expect the power to return at full capacity at the end of the nine-minute vigil.
Preparations to meet the unprecedented reduction in load and recovery began in earnest on April 3 to create and test guidelines for reliable grid operations across POSOCO’s five regions. Hydro and gas generators, which require the least amount of time for ramp-up, were tested the morning of April 5. The Ministry of Power announced that the country’s electricity grid was robust, stable and ready to handle the demand.
At 9:00 pm on April 5, an estimated 80% of the nation’s citizens (approximately a billion people) turned off their lights and illuminated candles, lamps and flashlights in a show of national strength and unity. The resulting power drop and recovery was 31 GW – more than double the projections, but by connecting with control centers remotely, observing key parameters, and continuously monitoring system health, POSOCO was able to provide uninterrupted supply to consumers.
Given India’s strict lockdown response to COVID-19, the GE Digital teams were not able to hold in-person planning meetings, but by using GE Digital’s remote work capabilities, the team’s engineers were able to support POSOCO while working safely from their own homes.
I also received update information about GE Digital’s APM 4.4 (Asset Performance Management).
- GE Digital’s APM 4.4 uses Digital Twins, Advanced Visualizations, and improved Connectivity to help Asset and Process Intensive Companies in Power Generation, Oil & Gas and Chemical Processing Industries to Rapidly Reduce Costs while Adapting to Changing Market Conditions
- Power Generation companies using existing APM solutions enjoy availability / uptime increases of up to 20%; with O&M Cost Reduction up to millions of dollars per year
- Oil & Gas and Chemical Processing companies using APM enjoy up to 6% improvements in availability, up to 40% reductions in reactive maintenance and up to 20% reduction in costs associated with Health, Safety and Environment issues
Available both as a cloud and on-premises solution, APM allows companies in asset and process intensive industries like Oil & Gas, Chemical and Power Generation to align key technologies with critical work processes and functions across their businesses.
This release has focused on driving tighter integration across capabilities within the APM solution as well as to existing systems such as Enterprise Asset Management / Computerized Maintenance Management System (EAM/CMMS) solutions. In addition, APM focuses on automating work processes with enhancements to allow users to automate tasks and provide a more seamless experience to have the right information at the right time to make critical business decisions.
“Our software helps customers to better operate, analyze and optimize their business processes with simplicity, speed and scale,” said Linda Rae, General Manager, GE Digital Power Generation and Oil & Gas. “APM helps industrial companies to efficiently and rapidly reduce costs while adapting to changing market conditions. With more than 30 years’ experience delivering software for our partners in industry, we’re always learning how to help them rise to today’s challenges.”
The latest APM release added more than 30 new Digital Twin blueprints for Oil & Gas, Chemical, Fossil and Nuclear Power Generation as well as Mining, to its catalog of more than 300 pre-configured analytic and diagnostic models for various equipment classes and systems across industries. Built by reliability subject matter experts, the blueprints monitor asset health by detecting degradation or performance loss across the asset or system to provide a diagnostic recommendation. This significantly reduces the time to value for our customers, with built-in detection and remediation information guidance.
Several new reports are also available for predictive diagnostic users including Sensor Health Reporting and the Predictive Diagnostic Coverage report. These help users understand diagnostic coverage relative to an asset’s designed capabilities.
For Predix APM cloud customers, Advanced Visualization capabilities are being introduced to enable rich dashboarding, analysis, and reporting on APM alerts, cases, and more. Dashboards are now available through the integration of a Business Intelligence (BI) tool for additional dashboarding capabilities.
GE Digital has also announced enhancements and unlimited availability of Predix APM for European customers via its Frankfurt, Germany operations center. In partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS), GE has made technology investments to enhance customer experience and further support GDPR regulations.
The GE Digital APM Roadmap continues to advance the state of technologies for APM as well as features and functions. APM 4.4is now generally available from GE Digital. More information can be found here.
This week I attended the AVEVA World customer conference sitting on my patio with a bank of computers on the table. It’s always nice to catch up with the latest from technology suppliers, even if we couldn’t meet in person and have all those informative hallway conversations.
Next week I’ll be attending three conferences, something that would have been a physical impossibility only a few months ago. Looks like all of my anticipated conference trips have been cancelled until November.
I must begin with a note regarding the AVEVA/Schneider Electric relationship. If you go back a few years, Schneider Electric made a rather large and significant acquisition. It kept the Foxboro and Triconex (and a few other) brands and used the software parts—Wonderware and Avantis and some others—as an investment into an engineering software company called AVEVA. As a result, Schneider Electric owns just over a majority of the shares in the publicly traded software company. And, therefore, Schneider Electric played a significant minor role in this conference.
Schneider’s chairman and CEO, Jean-Pascal Tricoire, said, “AVEVA should be agnostic. Our customers don’t have just one system but have the problem of integrating the complexity of having more than one system. AVEVA is completely open. We are independent companies working closely with each other.”
Craig Hayman, CEO of AVEVA, noted during his keynote address, “We’ve pivoted to emphasize digital. We recognize that people and data are the two most important assets. We do this technology in order to make people successful. Businesses have the great responsibility to protect employees and customers. We’re seeing the power of data and analytics helping companies respond to incidents as they occur and operate assets as efficiently as possible.” Indeed, digital, data, and people were the keywords of the event.
In further remarks, Tricoire emphasized “Digital Trust and Sustainability”. He shared how COVID-19 has accelerated existing digital trends, encouraging more efficiency, “remote everything,” greater resilience, and for sustainability to mitigate and adapt to primary threats of both the pandemic and climate change. He said, “Faced with a very volatile environment, companies need superior agility, and increased efficiency. This means they need increased capacity on one side, resiliency on the other side. The overall winner is digitalization. And the need for digitalization has been further reinforced by companies new need to operate remotely, for higher efficiency, and ultimately, for much better sustainability.”
Guest customer keynoter, Saad Bashir, CTO of the City of Seattle, speaking on “Digital Agility in the Age of COVID-19” shared his thoughts on what happened in Seattle when the pandemic hit. “Although we had planned for digital resiliency for some time, we didn’t really know how it would go until one morning all 30,000 people in our team decided to stay home and log on.” Although the team’s resiliency plans have held up well, Saad adds, “We’ve already seen opportunities from the lessons learned and one that’s worth highlighting is digital resiliency…with a unified view of our infrastructure with systems that are seamlessly connected so that they can inform decisions.”
Much discussion involved both Cloud and Edge—you must develop both, can’t have one without the other.
Ravi Gopinath, AVEVA Chief Cloud Officer and COO discussed cloud and AI. He noted four areas of investment—new way of engineering; new way of visualization; reliability and safe operations; drive agility. Develop cloud on one side and AI on the other. The cloud strengths—deploy applications easily, low TCO, enable flexible consumption, and enhance collaboration. AI provides—analysis, prediction, guidance, learning. Leading to Digital Twin, Big Data, and Industrial IoT and Edge.
The press release coming from the event focused on Schneider Electric, who announced expanded partnerships with AVEVA, Lenovo and Stratus to address the convergence of IT and OT. This partnership is bringing together system integrators with IT solution providers to build integrated industrial edge computing solutions resulting in the immediate release of three programs to empower system integrators to expand their value to end users, enabling their customers’ industrial digital transformations.
These programs include:
Industrial edge reference designs: Co-developed with AVEVA, including solutions from Lenovo and Stratus, these reference designs reduce risk and time to market with fully customizable, pre-integrated EcoStruxure Micro Data Center solutions for any edge environment. With secure solutions designed to meet IT standards, system integrators can free up time from the IT architecture to focus on the software and solutions. These reference designs are available in Schneider Electric’s Local Edge Configurator and can be customized to specifications.
A digital training program for system integrators: Edge computing continues to prove itself as a space for opportunity for system integrators to extend business models and establish their roles as consultants. This learning program includes a comprehensive digital training series for system integrators on Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Micro Data Center and EcoStruxure IT solutions to help address common challenges at the edge.
The Industrial Edge Exchange Community: Built within Schneider Electric Exchange, the Industrial Edge Community allows system integrators to easily identify and engage with edge-certified IT solution providers. It is designed to facilitate new business and address IT/OT projects, and features a tool that pairs Alliance System Integrators with Schneider Electric’s Edge-certified IT Channel Partners.
“The smart factory is becoming smarter. Our expanded partnerships and new industrial edge programs empower system integrators to leverage their domain expertise and become IT/OT convergence specialists and meet these needs for their customers,” said Philippe Rambach, Senior Vice President, Industrial Automation, Schneider Electric. “We know that smart manufacturing is driving an unprecedented wave of IT technologies into industrial spaces. As companies leverage AI, robotic processing automation, and more, they will require edge computing solutions to reduce latency and enable resiliency, while ensuring privacy and security, and addressing important data and bandwidth requirements.”
What is the Industrial Edge?
For industrial operators to capture the benefits of increased automation, they cannot rely on cloud-technology alone to bring the resiliency and speed demanded by AI, HD cameras, and other Industry 4.0 technologies. Local edge data centers are IT infrastructure enclosures/spaces/facilities distributed geographically to enable endpoints on the network. When in industrial environments such as a manufacturing plant or distribution center, this application is referred to as “industrial edge.”
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.
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.
I remember Stratus Technologies for years as a fault-tolerant server company that was almost alone exhibiting at manufacturing events. It has been an aggressive innovator for the past several years. This was just released today.
The company now bills itself as a global leader in simplified, protected, autonomous Edge Computing platforms. It today unveiled enhancements to its ztC Edge portfolio, which includes the ztC Edge 100i and ztC Edge 110i. This update delivers an improved and more efficient deployment and provisioning experience to help organizations quickly install the zero-touch Edge Computing platforms across multiple locations. In addition, new manageability, security, and performance enhancements will help partners and customers reduce their cost of operations and maintenance, minimize risk of data loss, and ensure high availability for all business-critical operations.
The ztC Edge is a secure, rugged, highly automated Edge Computing platform that helps organizations achieve peak performance through increased operational efficiency and zero downtime at the edge. With its built-in virtualization, automated protection, industrial interoperability and more, ztC Edge ensures that customers can quickly and easily achieve higher availability for their essential applications.
- ztC Edge system settings and user preferences can now quickly and easily be stored to a local drive or the Stratus Cloud. Simplified system backup and restoration will help companies save time by automating certain processes and reducing user error.
- Different templates can be created and archived for different use cases, workloads, or locations, making commissioning systems more efficient and accurate. Organizations can use these templates to rapidly provision single, or multiple ztC Edge platforms from remote areas. This is especially important for partners who implement and manage multiple platforms across multiple customers’ facilities and properties, making it easier for them to support systems and applications from one off-site location remotely.
- The latest version of the ztC Edge is Microsoft Azure certified, with integration capabilities embedded in the platform for simple systems management and faster time to value for customers.
- The ztC Edge 110i update introduces a new secure, cloud-based file repository, called the Stratus Cloud, for partners and customers to safely transmit, store and retrieve their ztC Edge system preference templates. Unlike other third-party cloud offerings, Stratus Cloud automatically authenticates users and groups using the same credentials as their Stratus Customer Service Portal account, saving partners and customers time and effort.
- The ztC Edge 110i also comes with expanded 64 GB memory capacity to support a broader range of memory-intensive industrial workloads, giving customers more choice and flexibility in consolidating multiple applications (such as SCADA) on one machine – saving costs and increasing agility.
- ztC Edge 110i platforms are now Class I Division 2 certified, making them safe to deploy in hazardous locations. This certification allows ztC Edge to be implemented in a wider variety of industrial settings with more significant environmental variability.
The ztC Edge’s built-in virtualization makes applications portable, while the computing platform also provides greater availability, resilience, and data protection than other platforms. Numerous out-of-the-box capabilities improve the security of customers’ ztC Edge platforms, thus upgrading their security posture and mitigating risk. ztC Edge platforms also support common OT and IT protocols, tools, and standards, such as SNMP and OPC UA, which makes them easy to integrate into, and work with, existing environments, saving partners and customers time.
“One of the biggest threats to customers is adding technology that is undependable and not secure. Customers should never have to worry about these risks when modernizing their Edge Computing capabilities,” said Jason Andersen, vice president of business line management at Stratus. “For some organizations, having highly reliable and protected platforms in place is imperative to the success of their business. They depend on these platforms to be ‘always-on’, secure, and able to run in any environment without human monitoring, maintenance, repairs, or support.”
“With 40 years of experience protecting business-critical applications and environments, our ztC Edge platform has evolved to address challenges around performance, security, and manageability for computing at the edge,” said Jason Dietrich, chief revenue officer at Stratus. “Stratus partners can trust they are providing customers simple, protected and autonomous Edge Computing solutions that will maximize their operational efficiency while minimizing their operational, financial and reputational risk.”
I finally got some time to collect my thoughts about Wednesday’s virtual conference. There was a bit of Rockwell Automation at the PTC LiveWorx. Wednesday was Rockwell’s turn with ROKLive–the latest, and virtual, iteration of its distributor education series RSTechED and RATechED.
At times over the years, journalists, editors, and writers were not invited to TechEDs. Then they invited us and we sat in sessions. They’ve tried a few executive education days during these events–usually June and usually alternating between Orlando and San Diego. This year was to have been co-located with new partner PTC’s event–until Covid-19 and quarantine.
I received an invitation and link to check out the Digital Transformation track. (Although a refresher on programming PLCs, networking, and drives would have been OK, too.)
This was pretty high level with former P&G vp and consultant Tony Saldanha, Microsoft’s Caglayan Arkan, Gartner’s, Ivar Berntz, LNS’s Matt Littlefield, Cisco’s Paul Didier, and at the end of the day two presenters from Rockwell, Mick Mancuso and Jeff Botsch. There were many more. Some time slots had two speakers and some had three.
A few speakers got pretty high-leveled, but many practical tips came out.
On the one hand, OEE came out a few times. I’m not a fan–mostly because of data collection methodology. You cannot use OEE as a comparison because within the formula are many definitions and common definitions plant-to-plant seldom exist. In fact, one Rockwell presenter acknowledged as much.
While Saldanha was speaking, he mentioned that MRP II (or its ideas) was still in widespread use. That is disheartening. I learned and implemented that way back in the late 70s. I’d hope that everyone had moved way past that by now.
Tips I gleaned from the talks
- We’re benchmarking the wrong companies, you’re competitors are likely to be startups
- When looking for digital transformation projects, look for the 10x opportunities
- Focus on solving problems, not just applying technology
- Consider business objectives first
- People are key, and be aware of workforce issues such as turnover, retirements, training (and I should add diversity)
- Key is to develop agile plants and agile supply chains
- Develop healthy change management processes
- Pay attention to governance issues
I have several more virtual conferences this week. I miss meeting the people, but these have not been as painful as I feared.