Rockwell Automation announced it has signed an agreement to acquire Italy-based ASEM, S.p.A., a leading provider of digital automation technologies. ASEM provides a complete range of Industrial PCs (IPCs), Human-Machine Interface (HMI) hardware and software, remote access capabilities, and secure Industrial IoT gateway solutions.
Here is the justification from Rockwell’s Communication people: “ASEM’s high-performance automation solutions enable The Connected Enterprise with smarter technology, enhanced productivity, and a more secure environment by integrating smart devices, the control platform, and design and operational software all on a single network.”
My friends in Italy (you can find my column in Italian in Automazione Oggi—Automation Today) tell me that ASEM is indeed a major Italian supplier. It is an interesting pick up. Rockwell acquired an Industrial PC company years ago and proceeded to gut it. I have a feeling that the new regime under Blake Moret has better strategies in mind.
The keyword I pick out centers on IIoT gateway solutions along with the “integrating smart devices…”
I’ve been closely watching the IT companies develop their compute platforms into gateways to serve as the data/information highway from the plant to the enterprise. I know that Rockwell is a target account for their sales groups. In fact, rival ABB has partnered with HPE.
Combine this technology with the close partnership with PTC/ThingWorx and there are many interesting possibilities. How Rockwell handles this acquisition will be indicative of whether Moret has shed the past and is forging a new future—or whether it was just an opportunistic buy to try to gain a European foothold with something to sell.
The transaction includes the purchase of a minority interest in ASEM held by KEB Group, Germany. Post-close, Rockwell Automation will maintain ASEM’s strategic supplier and technology partner relationship with KEB.
The transaction is expected to close in the spring of 2020, subject to customary approvals and conditions, and will be reported in the Architecture & Software business segment.
The 2020 edition of the annual manufacturing trade show in Hannover, Germany isn’t until April, but here I am in Hannover for my first trip to the preview of the show given to global media. Well global except for most of the Chinese delegation for obvious reasons.
2020 is expected to be as large as ever with the theme this year of Industrial Transformation.
Show organizers have placed an emphasis of attracting start up companies acknowledging that these are often the sources of energy and new ideas. This year 250 startups are expected at the show.
Hannover Messe is the world’s largest manufacturing technology show partly because it is also the broadest. The areas of emphasis this year are:
- Digitalization (AI, IoT, Analytics, security)
- Individualization (impact on manufacturers)
- Climate Change (customers ask for responsibility from manufacturers)
Demographics — acknowledging the global shrinking workforce — will be an added area of concern.
The Big Picture trends, defined as 5G, Automation, Digital, Energy, Engineered Parts, Global, Logistics, and Future, constitute the organizing principle for the layout of the 30+ Halls.
Attendees will not escape without hearing about Data many times. Artificial Intelligence being the key component.
Networking is also considered an important component, and attendees will be tutored on speed and 5G.
I am not sure yet if I will be attending–there are several personal commitments I have not to mention the cost. The jury remains out on that one. I’m trying to work it out. It’s a tiring week, but I always learn much.
Announcements and discussions at this year’s iteration of the Industry Forum sponsored by ARC Advisory Group were amazingly diverse. Another IT supplier appeared. Security remained an issue. Most conversations revolved around open (open source and open interoperability), edge, 5G, collaboration/partnerships, software-defined, machine learning, MQTT and its companion Sparkplug, and most importantly, solving problems for end users.
Following is a brief recap. Follow the links for in-depth information. Of course, many company announcements fit into more than one bucket.
Examples one of a variety of open include Eclipse Foundation and the Open Group Open Process Automation Forum with the IT technology of Kubernetes thrown in.
The Eclipse Foundation launched the Sparkplug Working Group. Founding members Chevron, Canary Labs, Cirrus Link Solutions, HiveMQ, Inductive Automation, and ORing are defining an open standard specification to create interoperable MQTT IIoT solutions.
The Working Group will encourage the definition of technical specifications and associated implementations that rationalize access to industrial data, improve the interoperability and scalability of IIoT solutions, and provide an overall framework for supporting Industry 4.0 for oil and gas, energy, manufacturing, smart cities and other related industries.
Sparkplug is relatively new which leads to interoperability problems since each supplier and end user must create all definitions of the data. Success of this WG is essential for any widespread adoption of is. The Eclipse Foundation pointed out the intent and purpose of the Sparkplug specification is to define an MQTT topic namespace, payload, and session state management that can be applied generically. By meeting the operational requirements for these systems, Sparkplug will enable MQTT-based infrastructures to provide more valuable real-time information to business stakeholders as well.
The Open Group Open Process Automation Forum progresses. This topic broaches on both open and software-defined control. The Open Group Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF), in the first major update to the standard for open process automation systems since February 2019, has progressed perhaps more than I would have predicted after its unveiling only a few years ago at the ARC Forum.
Its first release focused on interoperability while the O-PAS Standard Version 2.0 provides a vendor-neutral Reference Architecture which enables the construction of scalable, reliable, interoperable, and secure process automation systems. The latest release, which is a Preliminary Standard of The Open Group, has further emphasis on standardized system configuration portability to significantly reduce capital cost and time investment for end-users. With these capabilities, end-users can easily exchange equipment without being tied to a single vendor or requiring individual configuration parameters to be written in different operating languages.
With their standard moving from interoperability to portable configurations, leaders told me that the next release will expand on this portability theme.
Bedrock Automation integrates Flow-Cal Flow Measurement into Open Secure Automation (OSA) Platform.
Speaking of both software-defined and open, Bedrock Automation Founder, CEO, and CTO Albert Rooyakkers explained its extension to the “Open Secure Automation (OSA)” platform with the addition of Flow-Cal algorithms “bringing oil and gas measurement and custody transfer securely into the digital age.” This was essentially a software addition to the platform to bring a new twist on flow computer functionality.
The new OSA +Flow family embeds industry-leading Flow-Cal measurement applications. Flow-Cal’s software has long been the industry’s choice for flow measurement and production-accounting data. Affirming Flow-Cal’s stature is the fact that the American Petroleum Institute (API) has selected it to develop, support, and distribute its standard flow measurement calculations.
The OSA +Flow software has been incorporated across all Bedrock controllers providing scalability for PLC, RTU, or DCS flow control requirements at custody transfer stations, separators, and other oil and gas production facilities. These solutions include full support of multi-drop serial, Ethernet, and HART for Coriolis, ultrasonic, and smart transmitters.
The system API compliant library, OPC UA, Inductive Automation software, MQTT, as well as software-defined I/O.
Diamanti Accelerates Energy and Service Organizations’ Adoption of AI/ML
AI and ML applications often leverage GPU processing for training models and they benefit from containers and Kubernetes—an open source container project. However, these processes are often complicated to adopt and run at scale. With the recent announcement of GPU support in the Diamanti AI/ML platform, enterprises have an easier on-ramp to managing large-scale containerized workloads under Kubernetes.
“We’re pleased to share the early customer traction we are seeing on our newest solutions in a wide range of industries including energy, services and more,” said Tom Barton, CEO of Diamanti. “These customers are validating state-of-the-art technologies internally while also benefiting from the reduced physical footprint and cost-savings that come with the Diamanti AI/ML platform.”
The new solution, announced in late 2019, is in early access today and fully supports Nvidia’s NVLink technology for higher performing workloads, as well as Kubeflow, an open source machine learning framework for Kubernetes that provides highly available Jupyter notebooks and ML pipelines. Combined with Diamanti’s Kubernetes control plane, this allows customers to deliver highly scalable environments for performance-intensive AI/ML workloads, accelerating model development and training.
A major energy company turned to Diamanti for a new workload leveraging AI/ML for optical character recognition (OCR) to scan invoices. The customer needed to scan more than 15,000 invoices a day. The legacy infrastructure could not keep up with the demand and eventually accrued a backlog of more than 200,000 invoices. Deploying the Diamanti solution with GPU support eliminated that backlog within hours.
Edge – 5G
As the other influencers at an HPE event told me once, “Gary, everything you do is the edge.” So it is not surprising that I had many conversations about the Edge. But 5G technology was also on many minds. The consensus opinion–5G will drive decision making to the edge.
As an example of edge at the Forum, here is an announcement from Opto 22. For as long as I’ve known the company, it continues to push the latest IT technologies mashed up with control and automation. This product release highlights its pioneering role in IoT.
Industrial automation manufacturer and industrial internet of things (IIoT) developer Opto 22 announced groov RIO, a family of intelligent, distributed input/output (I/O) for IIoT and automation applications. groov RIO represents a first-in-class solution for its ability to quickly connect traditional wired switches and sensors directly to Ethernet networks, software applications, and cloud platforms without intermediary control or communication hardware, such as PLCs, PACs, or PCs.
The first shipping version of groov RIO is the GRV-R7-MM1001-10, a standalone, 10-channel, multi-signal, multifunction I/O unit for signals including thermocouples (TCs), integrated circuit temperature devices (ICTDs), voltage inputs, current inputs, millivolt inputs, discrete DC inputs, self-wetting discrete inputs, discrete DC sinking outputs, and Form C mechanical relays. In addition, two channels provide special features like pulse counting, on- and off-time totalization, software latching, frequency measurement, and more. GRV-R7-MM1001-10 is completely standalone and software-configurable through a browser-based interface.
“When we designed groov RIO, we were looking for ways to democratize I/O data, because that’s what the IIoT is all about,” said Vice President of Product Strategy at Opto 22, Benson Hougland. “Although groov RIO can be used as remote I/O with our groov EPIC system or another control system, we also wanted it to operate autonomously, facilitating direct connection between I/O signals and databases, business software, or cloud IoT platforms.”
GRV-R7-MM1001-10 supports 12 different types of field I/O circuits. It also provides no-hassle, enclosure-free installation with multiple power options, including standard 802.3af Power-over-Ethernet (PoE); an extended operating temperature range; and UL Hazardous Locations and ATEX approvals.
Once installed, groov RIO can be independently managed and configured through browser-based tools. Per-channel I/O type and signal-processing options through groov Manage eliminate the need for a master control unit, and support for standard enterprise network services like DNS, DHCP, and VPN facilitates network connectivity. Embedded communication options range from efficient data publishing with MQTT Sparkplug to advanced signal processing, data aggregation, and transactions with databases and web services, using the low-code Node-RED environment and runtime.
Data —> Action
It’s all about data they all say. But when I talked with Mike Brooks who is now advising at AspenTech, he counseled, “Not too much data.” The action is in using data, not collecting it. Therefore the drawback (indeed, failure?) of data lakes. Too much storage, not enough usability. AspenTech exemplifies using Machine Learning not just to say they are in AI, but to find usable information for the companies to use to improve operations.
Collaboration – Partnerships
The Eclipse Foundation and OPAF exemplify collaboration and partnerships. Inductive Automation has community as a strategic initiative. Both founder Steve Hechtman and chief strategy officer Don Pearson highlighted it at last year’s Ignition Community Conference.
This announcement highlights community along with edge and other trends. Inductive Automation announced improvements to three products and a new development resource within Ignition by Inductive Automation. Ignition is an industrial application platform with tools for building solutions in human-machine interface (HMI), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
The solutions include:
- New and improved products for Ignition Edge.
- An expansion of the Ignition Onboard program.
- Improvements to the Ignition Perspective Module.
- A new, free resource for developers: Ignition Exchange.
Ignition Edge will soon have three new products. Ignition Edge is a line of lightweight, limited, low-cost Ignition software solutions designed for embedding into field and OEM devices at the edge. They allow organizations to extend data collection, visualization, and system management to the edge of the network. With the new products coming soon, the lineup will include Ignition Edge Panel, Ignition Edge Compute, Ignition Edge Sync Services, Ignition Edge EAM (Enterprise Administration Module), and Ignition Edge IIoT.
The Ignition Onboard program now has easier access to industrial hardware that comes with Ignition already installed, configured, and licensed. Numerous device manufacturers are embedding Ignition and Ignition Edge into their devices — including Advantech, Moxa, OnLogic, Opto 22, and ORing.
The Ignition Perspective Module lets users easily build mobile industrial applications in HTML5 for monitoring and control of their processes directly from their mobile phones.
A significant part of the Inductive Automation strategy is to promote community among its customers and partners. The development has been ongoing for some time culminating into Ignition Exchange — a new, online space where developers can get free Ignition resources provided by Inductive Automation and the Ignition community. These resources can save time for developers.
OPAF, Bedrock Automation- as in take hardware platform add flow metering, exemplify the trend toward software-defined hardware.
I discussed ML in relation to AspenTech for decision making. Perhaps the industry is moving past the SciFi “artificial intelligence” part of the technology to emphasize real use cases deployed today.
To name a trend “operations” may sound archaic, but many conversations moved from technology to solving real problems for customers. This announcement from AVEVA exemplifies that trend.
AVEVA unveiled its new Discrete Lean Management software. The new offering improves operational efficiency through the digitalization of lean work management for both manual and automated production lines. AVEVA’s quick-to-deploy and easy to use digital tools enable access to production information, KPIs and notifications on dashboards, workstations and mobile devices to improve overall equipment and labor effectiveness, and to facilitate data-driven continuous improvement.
AVEVA Discrete Lean Management is designed to address the issues faced by operating manufacturing plants still using paper-based systems for lean and work order management, work instructions and data collection procedures. It enables physical records to be replaced with digital tools that mitigate the risk of manual processes and provides real time visibility into production performance allowing team collaboration in response to production issues.
The AVEVA Discrete Lean Management software solution is used in Schneider Electric’s manufacturing plants and has been successfully deployed in more than 70 smart factories globally resulting a 10% productivity increase due to downtime mitigation and 70% improved response-time due to automated escalation of production issues.
I actually visited one of the plants in the deployment—one in Lexington, KY. It was an excellent example of using software tools to enhance a lean process rather than getting in the way.
MQTT was mentioned all over the conference. This is a data transport technology. It is usable for both OPC UA and for Sparkplug. Some companies touting their use of the technology include:
I didn’t have as many security conversations as the past few years, but I did chat with some PAS Global executives, and the company announced several new products, along with some new branding.
PAS, now PAS Global, keeps building on the platform of alarm management and safety and its ability to see what is on the process plant’s network assuring integrity of the process control system.
While at ARC Forum, company executives stressed industrial operations must increase focus on cybersecurity while maintaining continuous vigilance on safety. Stated simply, organizations need to ensure OT integrity in the face of unprecedented opportunity and risk. PAS has introduced new and updated products to optimize the integrity of industrial assets and reduce cyber risk, improve process safety and reliability, and ensure OT data health.
PAS Cyber Integrity prevents, detects, and remediates industrial cyber threats. Version 6.5 introduces an enhanced user experience for OT asset inventory information and data collection and transfer. This release also provides support for multiple integration methods (REST API, Syslog, SQL, CSV, SDK), integration with Darktrace, and Microsoft Windows event analytics;
PAS PlantState Integrity Version 8.7 introduces enhancements to Independent Protection Layer (IPL) Assurance that include sensor monitoring and voting, analysis filtering, and process trip reporting.
PAS Decision Integrity enables trusted data for decision-making. Version 1.0 leverages capabilities from PAS Automation Integrity and adds support for OT data health monitoring (data chain accuracy and visualization) and data lake enrichment.
These new product releases will be generally available by the end of March.