Orca Semiconductor Exits Stealth with Customized Analog Solutions

Market niches that open when incumbent companies grow large and mature leaving opportunities for startups hold interest for me. I’ve been watching for this situation for the past few years as the automation market matures with consolidating companies and slow market growth.

Marketing people for a company just exiting stealth contacted me. I just had an enjoyable conversation with CEO Andrew Baker about the opportunity the founders saw in the analog semiconductor market. There appear to be lucrative niches that are too small for the incumbent companies but can be profitable for a right-sized company. Hopefully, Orca Semiconductor will be that type of company in the right type of market.

Their first product is coming out quicker than comparative development in a large company. This is an advanced power management IC for health wearables, hearables, and other connected devices

Orca Semiconductor on June 20 emerged out of stealth mode as the first analog semiconductor provider to deliver the personalization and high-level support, demanded by customers, that “Big Analog” are neglecting.  Founded by experienced analog IC solution innovators who have spent decades in the industry, Orca also announced it is sampling its first product, the OS1000, the most advanced PMIC (power management integrated circuit) in its class developed for health wearables, hearables and other connected devices.

“Companies developing vertical solutions are frustrated with the lack of customer support and customization available from ‘Big Analog’” said Andrew Baker, CEO of Orca.  “We will address this gap head on. Orca will be nimble and adept at attacking and filling this void. We are committed to delivering industry leading customer service and customized analog products that will speed time to market for innovative smart health and smart factory solutions.”

I am not getting into the weeds of the specs. But if you are designing small electronic devices, check them out.

Targeted at wearable devices, health wearables, hearables and other connected devices, the OS1000 delivers the following features: 

Li+ Battery Charge Management

  • -5.5 to +20V charging power source protection
  • Charge Safety: JEITA thermal monitoring and multiple safety timers
  • User configurable Step Charge
  • Power Path

Two Low Iq Buck Converters

  • 300mA @ 0.5V to 3.0V
  • Up to 4 voltage level DVS controlled thru I2C or fast GPIO

Two Low Dropout Linear Regulators

  • Optional Load Switch mode
  • 100mA @ 0.9V to 3.3V

System Support

  • 2µA Iq with 2 buck converters operating (no load)
  • 150nA Shelf-Mode
  • Flexible regulator startup sequencing
  • Power button support
  • 4 GPIO with user assignable alternate modes

International Machine Technology Show 2024

Organizers of the International Machine Technology Show (IMTS 2024) communicate often about the automation section within the upcoming (Sept. 9-14 at Chicago’s McCormick Place) event. This will be a bit of a switch given the end of a long-time partnership for this part of the show.

Check it out. I will be in attendance for a day or two. Let me know. Maybe we can do coffee or something.

Siemens sent one heck of a teaser for its presence at the show. I’ll summarize some of their products on display.

At the upcoming IMTS 2024 in Chicago, September 9–14, Siemens will present its extensive machine tool CNC portfolio and digitalization software technology, highlighted by the digital native SINUMERIK ONE control platform for machining applications.  Also, using a sports theme of “Speed, Agility and Endurance,” aimed at the machine shop on its path to digitalization, Siemens will introduce MACHINUM to the North American market.  MACHINUM brings together machine tool controls, digitalization software and machine shop services from Siemens to help manufacturers optimize their production processes, to provide agility for quick adaptation to changing customer requirements and calculated uptime needs, plus enable digitally proven endurance to maximize the productivity of the entire machine shop or production department.

Under the theme “Empowering the Digital Machine Shop”, Siemens will display its digital threads, from blueprint to finished part, digital twin to simulation, part production, as well as the total integration of these processes into the digital factory for job shops and production departments, all brought to life by Siemens hardware automation and digitalization software.  

Aimed at developing a complete eco-system for the machine tool builder and end-user, the Siemens Xcelerator portfolio brings together the breadth of engineering and manufacturing to provide the optimum solution for customers of any size in any industry.

With SINUMERIK ONE, Siemens is accelerating the digital transformation of the machine tool industry.  The new CNC control platform works with software to create the machine controller and the associated digital twin from a single engineering system and thus contributes to the total integration of hardware and software.  Thanks to its seamless interaction between the virtual and real worlds, including high-performance PLC, drive and motor hardware, SINUMERIK ONE is setting new standards in terms of productivity, performance and digitalization.  It is the future-proof machine controller in the increasingly digital world of manufacturing.

With Create MyVirtual Machine and Run MyVirtual Machine, SINUMERIK ONE is provided with software to create the universal concept of the digital twin, powerful hardware and integrated IT security, making it a forward-looking CNC.

Using Mcenter, the open and modular platform for efficient shopfloors, end-users can seamlessly link all their machine tools and network with company’s IT landscape.  

Companies in Maturity

My old friend Jim Pinto wrote a regular column for me at Automation World magazine. He was fond of predicting that Rockwell Automation had to be acquired because it had grown too large to grow at a respectable rate.

He based that on two articles from the Harvard Business Review.

He was partly right and partly not. Rockwell, along with all the other major industrial automation suppliers, have grown and matured. They can no longer maintain large rates of growth. The market has long since matured. But they are too large and have too fixed of a corporate culture to be acquired. All they can do is continue to look for smaller companies to acquire and build their service organizations.

They should not feel lonely. Here is one of my favorite writers, Om Malik, on the latest status of the large technology companies. Same song, different verse.

Whether it’s Apple, Google, or Amazon, most of these companies are facing the tyranny of large numbers. But if you are a regular reader, you already knew that. Apple is looking at “services” to boost its revenues. “Apple is reporting revenue of $90.8 billion for the March quarter, including an all-time revenue record in Services,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, when announcing the company’s quarterly earnings. Services grew 8% on an annual basis, while hardware sales were down. The good news is that Apple continues to push and innovate on the core technology front — the latest M4 chip being a good example.

Mega-Growth for Apple and others is now in the rearview mirror. “If you’re making hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue, you can’t really double it every year,” I said on the podcast. This is a natural evolution for the industry, as companies reach a point where their sheer size makes it difficult to maintain the rapid growth rates that investors have come to expect.

This new reality for technology giants such as Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft involves grappling with the challenges of being mature companies that have massive existing revenue streams. There are no more markets to conquer — these companies are the market. AI will definitely make these companies more profitable by enhancing efficiency and reinforcing their advantages. However, it is not quite clear how the market will eventually evolve.

That’s why in the industrial technology niche, there is only me as an independent (well, my colleague Walt Boyes has restarted his Insider newsletter). The magazines all still exist, but at reduced size. Most of the ads are purchased by master distributors. That tells me there’s not a lot of growth anticipated in automation, and that engineers reading those magazines mostly are buying parts. That also means not a lot of new products requiring new production lines—whether in factories or processing.

It is the same in the IT market. I dabbled working with units of Dell Technologies and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Their interest in the manufacturing sector waned. They are trying to push the envelope with faster, more powerful compute. Oh, and also services.

Looks like we are in an era of stability and maturity until the next big thing—which will come from the next big need. This may be robotics, software, and medicines to help an aging population.

Survey Finds Manufacturers are Leading the Charge in AI Adoption

61% Predicting to Achieve AI Goals in Just 11 months, Fluke Reliability Survey Finds

Everyone is in the survey business these days. Fluke Reliability conducted this one and of course capitalized on the Artificial Intelligence (AI) meme. The focus was on our traditional understanding of AI in manufacturing, not on Generative AI that is capturing headlines but not use cases.

Why are business leaders (over 600 senior decision-makers and maintenance professionals in this survey) considering AI? Business growth, addressing the skills gap and need for greater efficiency are driving plans for AI, machine learning, cloud computing and other digital technology adoption.

Censuswide conducted the research, which surveyed over 600 senior decision-makers and maintenance professionals in the U.S., the UK, and Germany. The findings confirm that manufacturers are at the forefront of implementing AI technologies into day-to-day operations.

AI will be a high business priority for companies over the next 12 months according to 93% of survey respondents. This sentiment is echoed at an organizational level, with 9 in 10 senior decision makers agreeing AI is the priority and over 4 in 5 maintenance managers saying the same.

Regarding the role of AI in predictive maintenance, only 8% of those surveyed are currently operating a predictive maintenance strategy. However, a massive 76.5% want to shift to predictive/proactive maintenance in the future, and AI implementation is viewed as a tool to achieve that goal.

Manufacturers are already turning their intentions into action, on average respondents said they intend to invest 44% of their technology budgets on AI in 2024 alone. In fact, (30%) of those surveyed plan to invest 51-75% of their technology budget on AI this year.

While only 9% of manufacturers agree that they have completed their Industry 5.0 goals to date, the majority (61%) expect to achieve their AI goals in just 11 months.

Anticipated benefits include:

  • the ability to develop new products and services (35%)
  • provide a new way to address data processing and analysis requirements (35%)
  • a means to address the call for improvements to customer service (35%)
  • the demand for improved efficiency and productivity (34%)
  • ways to compensate for the skilled labor shortage (31%).

FieldComm Group Acquires FDT/DTM Technology

Ah, so go markets. Bitter enemies at the start many years ago. A gradual coming together. And now one big happy organization. FieldComm Group completes acquisition of FDT Group technologies. It all had to happen. I’m sure the member companies did not want to continue paying dues to multiple organizations. It’s a win all the way around. As well, they kept Steve Biegacki on to head up Strategic Integration—something for which he should be good.

From the press release. FieldComm Group, a leading figure in global industrial automation standards, today (June 10, 2024) announces that is has completed the acquisition of FDT Group’s assets including the FDT/DTM technology standards. This significant transaction underscores FieldComm Group’s dedication to addressing industrial device management challenges across the entire industrial automation market, ultimately enhancing operational efficiency for vendors and end users.

With a comprehensive suite of technologies including Information Models, the Field Device Integration (FDI) standard, and well-established communication protocols like HART, HART-IP, WirelessHART, and Foundation Fieldbus, FieldComm Group’s market offerings serve the entire process automation sector. The addition of FDT/DTM technology, a widely deployed device integration standard across process and factory automation markets, adds new technologies to the portfolio, completely addressing the industrial automation hierarchy.

The obligatory comment by the CEO:

“As digitalization transforms the automation industry by breaking down barriers between operation technology and information technology, the integration of factory and process automation devices becomes both more important and more difficult. Our aim as a standards organization is to add intelligence to the device integration process, with an ultimate goal of making it simpler,” stated Ted Masters, President and CEO of FIeldComm Group. “Ends users and suppliers will benefit greatly from this acquisition by having a single standards development organization responsible for the full spectrum of device integration from the simplest sensor to the most complex field instrument.”

Strategic Integration:

As part of the acquisition, FieldComm Group announces the formation of a Strategic Integration Committee (SIC), under the leadership of industry expert Steve Biegacki, former Managing Director of the FDT Group. The SIC will drive advancement of integration standards, including FDT/DTM and FDI, ensuring proactive management and maintenance of these technologies. The committee will initially be composed of FieldComm Group Board-level company representatives, with planned expansion to include representatives from other Standards Development Organizations (SDOs). The SIC aims to collaboratively work to preserve the existing installed base and chart a standardization roadmap for a unified device management platform, ensuring interoperability across existing protocols as well as future technology evolution, including OPC UA FX.

Our focus is on unified device configuration and a migration path to the future,” said Steve Biegacki. “At FieldComm Group, we are committed to seamless integration and enhanced operational efficiency for the entire automation industry.”

Generative AI for Project Estimation and Digital Engineering

My last post concerned using new technologies for specification development. Extending use cases of technology into other realms of administrative work, this release from Galorath announces their new product, SEERai, an advanced chat-based generative artificial intelligence (AI) built specifically to assist digital engineers and engineering professionals plan and estimate projects. (Something else I could have gladly used in my earlier career.)

Use cases for this GenerativeAI technology include information technology (IT), software, hardware, manufacturing, aerospace, military, space, and more.

SEER enables businesses to streamline cost and cost estimation and project planning with real-time insights into cost drivers, risk factors, and the potential impact of hundreds of project variables. With SEER, digital engineers are empowered with industry-leading methodologies in digital engineering and keen, unprecedented insight into actionable data. With the availability of SEERai, cost estimation professionals have easy, generative access to Galorath’s proprietary knowledge base assembled and validated over its forty-year legacy, allowing users to engage in chat-based strategic conversations with SEERai and gain action-oriented insights for their projects and initiatives.

SEERai is built upon the existing industry-leading capabilities of the SEER Cost Estimation Platform. 

SEER’s features include:

  • Predictive Analytics: Accurately forecast project costs, schedules, and potential risks.
  • Machine Learning Algorithms: Improves predictions over time as project data is shared and easily adapts to new information and changing conditions.
  • Data-Driven Decision Making: Provides insights into cost drivers, risk factors, and the impact of different variables on project outcomes to make informed decisions.
  • Risk Analysis and Mitigation: Evaluates the probability/impact of various risk factors on a project, identifying potential issues before they occur and developing mitigation strategies, and planning for program uncertainty.
  • Customization and Scalability: Adapts to projects of different sizes and complexities across various industries with a high degree of AI algorithm customization and scalability.
  • Integration with Existing Systems: Integrates seamlessly with other project management and engineering software tools to facilitate the exchange of data and enhance analysis.

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