Manufacturers Must Close the Digital Transformation Gap

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The headline of this article comes from a survey conducted by MES solution provider Parsec Automation Corp. The company spent several months surveying 530 manufacturing professionals in the United States and Canada. Every security company I know does surveys. These are becoming quite a popular marketing tool.

I’m interested partly because I wonder how much talk about digital transformation is simply marketing hype and how much refers to real work. I’ve concluded that although manufacturers in general have digitized many sources of data they mostly fall short of gathering sufficient data from important sources and using that data intelligently in order to make better decisions.

This survey suggests as much.

Survey Highlights:

  • Manufacturers are pleased with digital transformation but may need to go further, as 31% of “fully transformed” companies still collect most of their data using manual processes.
  • Supply chain issues remain top of mind, with 53% of manufacturers saying their organizations are “hardly” or “somewhat” prepared to weather a storm.
  • Manufacturers anticipate using AI/ML, but just one-third (34%) feel their businesses are prepared to leverage this advanced technology.
  • MES (manufacturing execution system) technology is facing a knowledge gap, with 75% of manufacturers who report being familiar with—but not yet using MES—saying they don’t know how the technology would benefit their operations.

One telling thing is the lack of knowledge about the benefits of MES. MESA, the trade association, has been working alongside both solution providers and active users for many years to promote the benefits of the technology. Trainers told me 15 years ago that the greatest interest came from manufacturers in Asia followed by Europe. They had trouble filling classes in North America. This survey of manufacturers in North America seems to confirm what my current sources tell me—we are still falling behind over here.

Overall, nearly three-quarters (73%) of manufacturers have begun the digital transformation process, with 40% reporting significant progress or completion. However, more than one-third (35%) still report relying on paper-based data collection, which suggests a significant gap among manufacturers’ willingness and preparedness to embrace today’s technology.

“Although manufacturers are steadily advancing towards digital transformation, there remains a significant scope for progress,” commented Eddy Azad, Founder and CEO of Parsec. “It’s heartening to note that over half (53%) of the survey participants are utilizing enabling technologies like MES. This insight underscores the need for technology providers to not only effectively showcase the benefits of their solutions, but also to furnish the requisite tools and education for the seamless and sustainable adoption of these transformative technologies.”

In perhaps the understatement of the report, Parsec’s survey findings suggest that manufacturers may be underutilizing technology or underestimating its capabilities. Among the respondents whose companies have reportedly “completed” their digital transformations, nearly one-third (31%) still collect most or all of their data using non-digital processes.

When it comes to MES platforms, which leverage IIoT technologies to automate and optimize nearly every facet of manufacturing operations—from receipt of raw materials, through production, to shipping, warehousing, and distribution—more than one-quarter (27%) of respondents said they had never heard of MES before.

All is not lost, though:

Those who have adopted MES, however, are pleased with their results. An impressive three-quarters (75%) of respondents who are actively utilizing an MES platform said they were “very” or “extremely satisfied” with the product. These active users said they adopted the advanced technology to increase efficiency (73%), improve quality (57%), and reduce operating costs (47%).

I’ve become increasing interested in the power of various AI technologies. Here the report agrees.

Across the industry, manufacturers are keenly aware of the trajectory of today’s technology, with more than half (52%) agreeing that enterprise software solutions should include capabilities for AI and ML.

At the same time, just one-third (34%) feel their business is prepared to leverage this advanced technology. When asked about the barriers standing in their way, respondents cited lack of knowledge (46%), lack of trust in the technology (39%) and implementation costs (33%).

“Manufacturers need to adopt advanced technology to propel the industry forward,” Azad elaborated. “Contemporary software solutions must be developed with enhanced accessibility and exceptional user experience in mind. It is imperative for technology providers to proactively engage with manufacturers, address their apprehensions, and offer guidance to fuel their success.”

Parsec is the developer of TrakSYS, a proven operations management software application and solution platform designed to significantly improve manufacturing processes. Parsec is committed to providing best-in-class products and solutions to our worldwide community of clients to assist them in optimizing their manufacturing operations. There are thousands of TrakSYS licenses in use around the globe in a wide variety of Industries.

Retrocausal Raises $5.3M Round to Meet Demand for Generative AI Manufacturing Assembly Optimization Solution

I have a built-in marketing hype detector. I hear so much hype that sometimes it goes into overdrive. The hype cycle of the past few years has be artificial intelligence (AI). Everything is AI. That was even before ChatGPT soared into everyone’s attention span.

So, when I hear about a company with a product using Generative AI, I need to be shown.

I wrote about Retrocausal a few months ago. Then I sort of forgot about it. This press release about the company raising another round of financing gave me the excuse to talk with CEO Dr. Zeeshan Zia.

The funding was straightforward. I wanted to know more about what the software does and how Generative AI fits into the picture.

Retrocausal, a leading platform provider for manufacturing process management, today announced a $5.3M financing round co-led by Glasswing Ventures, One Way Ventures, and Indicator Ventures, along with participation from existing investors Argon Ventures, Differential Ventures, Ascend Vietnam Ventures, Incubate Fund US, SaaS Ventures, Hypertherm Ventures, Stage Venture Partners, and Techstars.

One product of the company is Assembly Copilot. This product uses a number of vision and projected video displays to guide workers—especially new, untrained ones—into a proper assembly workflow. It shows what to do next and how to assemble. It will go to the next step without any specific input from the worker. In other words, it does its job and gets out of the way. All of us who have ever developed automation systems know that when the automation gets in the way of the work, then the worker will turn it off.

Funding will be used to meet the increased market demand for its proprietary generative AI technology, Retrocausal’s Kaizen Copilot software for Manufacturing Assembly Optimization. Retrocausal’s solution simplifies manual assembly operations and the underlying processes to empower the low-skilled workforce to take on high-skill manufacturing jobs. 

Kaizen Copilot (check out video) is way cool. An industrial engineer or supervisor sets up a prototype workstation along with a worker. Components are arranged and work instructions defined. A camera, even the one on their smartphone, is installed above with the entire operation in the field of view. The software captures the work—motions, locations, relative positions—and analyzes the process. Kaizen Copilot uses a Generative AI recommendation engine to analyze the workflow, material placements, and worker motions to provide suggestions for better workstation layout and assembly order.

The big problem Retrocausal addresses is the labor crisis in manufacturing. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, by 2030, the manufacturing skills gap, caused by the labor market’s struggle to find workers with highly technical and manual expertise, could lead to 2.1 million unfilled jobs risking over $1 trillion in losses that year alone. 

Retrocausal’s Copilot software allows an untrained worker to become productive on a new process within five minutes and deliver the productivity and quality of someone who has had months of training, resulting in 25% greater First Time Yields (FTY) and 90% less assembly-related scrap costs. 

Retrocausal’s Copilot extends its impact beyond individual performance. It equips production supervisors and junior industrial engineers with the capability to radically overhaul workstation design and re-balance assembly lines. Production supervisors and junior industrial engineers can improve workstation design and re-balance assembly lines to minimize the operator headcount needed to run a line while eliminating bottlenecks leading to 35% greater value per operator.

“We are thrilled to receive the continued support of Glasswing Ventures, new investors One Way Ventures and Indicator Ventures, and our existing investors, in helping us meet the growing demand for our offering,” said Dr. Zeeshan Zia, CEO of Retrocausal. “This latest round will help our team accelerate deployment as we continue to leverage AI to address the manufacturing talent shortage and re-imagine manufacturing assembly processes.”

Kubernetes-as-a-Service for the Distributed Edge

Containers, specifically Kubernetes, constitute a powerful tool in the modern edge-to-cloud architecture, ZEDEDA has developed a service model for the technology.

In brief:

  • ZEDEDA Edge Kubernetes Service is a fully managed service including a Kubernetes runtime curated, managed and supported by ZEDEDA.
  • Organizations can instantly deploy Kubernetes infrastructure at the distributed edge, securely and cost-efficiently.
  • ZEDEDA’s partnerships and integrations with industry-leading orchestrators, such as Avassa, Rafay, Red Hat OpenShift, SUSE Rancher and VMware Tanzu, provide a robust solution for the modern edge landscape.

ZEDEDA has announced ZEDEDA Edge Kubernetes Service, a fully managed Kubernetes service for the distributed edge. The new service includes a Kubernetes runtime that is curated, managed and supported by ZEDEDA, as well as integrations with industry-leading orchestrators.

Deploying Kubernetes at the edge is challenging because it was built for centralized data centers and scale-out clouds and, therefore, not for inherently constrained and distributed edge environments. ZEDEDA Edge Kubernetes Service is a fully managed service that simplifies Kubernetes deployments at the edge, allowing customers to focus on their applications instead of managing and maintaining the underlying infrastructure. The new service eliminates the struggles typically associated with Kubernetes deployments at the edge, such as highly remote or distributed locations, constrained devices, unreliable security, lack of skilled IT personnel in the field and undependable network connectivity. ZEDEDA Edge Kubernetes Service enables organizations to deploy and run Kubernetes infrastructure at the distributed edge remotely, securely and cost-efficiently.

“Our customers are industry leaders who are pushing the boundaries of innovation at the distributed edge, and working with them, we realized the need for an edge service that would remove the obstacles of deploying Kubernetes in these environments,” said Said Ouissal, ZEDEDA’s CEO and founder. “ZEDEDA Edge Kubernetes Service is a first-of-its-kind fully managed edge solution that enables our customers to use any Kubernetes tools that fit their needs and provides a clear path to modernize edge infrastructure while leveraging existing IT investments.”

ZEDEDA Edge Kubernetes Service Provides Full Lifecycle-Managed Kubernetes.

Programming Model Enables Application Development for both Cloud and Edge

Edge compute continues to be the most talked about part of the network these days. This news concerns an application development platform for Edge and Cloud. I wish I could try out all this software like I used to many years ago. It’s all too complex and expensive today. Like everything, I don’t know if it works, but it sounds good.

Lightbend Inc., the company providing cloud native microservices frameworks for some of the world’s largest brands, has announced the release of its latest version of Akka, one of the industry’s most powerful platforms for distributed computing, which incorporates a new and unique programming model that enables developers to build an application once and have it work across both Cloud and Edge environments.

“Today, applications developed for cloud native environments are generally not well-suited to the Edge and vice versa,” said Jonas Bonér, Lightbend’s founder and CEO. “This has always struck me as counter-productive, as both architectures lean heavily on one another to be successful. As the line between Cloud and Edge environments continues to blur, Akka Edge brings industry-first capabilities to enable developers to build once for the Cloud and, when ready, deploy seamlessly to the Edge.”

“Akka has been a powerful enabling technology for us to build high-performance Cloud systems for our clients,” said Jean-Philippe Le Roux, CEO of, an innovative company delivering Digital Twin technologies to geo-distributed companies. “We have been able to dramatically speed our time-to-production by building a single solution for both Cloud and Edge with Akka.”

Akka provides a singular programming model that eliminates the high latency, large footprint, and complexity barriers the Edge has posed for development teams wanting to bridge the Edge and Cloud. Developers focus on business logic, not complicated, time-consuming tool integrations. As a result, businesses can harness, distribute, and fully utilize the vast amount of intelligent data to improve their operations, regardless of where that data is generated. Some specific capabilities of the latest version of Akka include:

  • Adaptive Data Availability
  • Projections over gRPC for the Edge – asynchronous, brokerless service-to-service communication
  • Scalability and efficiency improvements to handle the large scale of many Edge services
  • Programmatically defined low-footprint active entity migration
  • Temporal, geographic, and use-based migration
  • Run Efficiently In Resource Constrained Environments
  • Support for more constrained environments such as running with GraalVM native image and lightweight Kubernetes distributions
  • Support for multidimensional autoscaling and scale to near zero
  • Lightweight storage, for running durable actors at the far edge
  • A Single Programming Model for the Cloud-to-Edge Continuum
  • Akka single programming model keeps the code, the tools, the patterns, and the communication the same, regardless if it is Cloud, Edge, or in between
  • Seamless Integration – works at the Edge or in the Cluster automatically
  • Empowering New Innovation
  • Active/Active digital twins, and many other new use cases
  • No dealing with complicated logic to handle network segregation
  • Focus on business logic and flow (not on tool integrations)

Industry IoT Consortium Publishes the Digital Twin Core Conceptual Models and Services Technical Report

Digital Twins form the core technology to Industry 4.0, Industrial Metaverse, and Digital Transformation. (Did I hit all the hype hot buttons there?) All joking aside, digital twins—making digital designs available across platforms—are important. The Industry IoT Consortium (IIC) has published this month the Digital Twin Core Conceptual Models and Services Technical Report.

The report guides technical decision-makers, system engineers, software architects, and modelers about connecting the foundational IT infrastructure with industry-specific business applications powered by digital twins in industrial settings.

The report describes digital twin fundamental concepts and basic requirements, core conceptual models and services, enabling architectures and technologies, and supported business applications. It provides high-level technical considerations in implementing the digital twin core layer, aligned to the Virtual Representation section of the Digital Twin Consortium (DTC) Platform Stack Architectural Framework: An Introductory Guide. The IIC report also includes a survey of relevant standards and can be used as input for standards development for digital twins.

The Industry IoT Consortium is a program of the Object Management Group (OMG). 

More About The Edge—This Time From Siemens

The list of trade fairs that I’m missing grows. I did not go to Nuremberg this year for the SPS show. There were many product announcements. These three are from Siemens concerning its Industrial Edge. It is all happening at the Edge.

  • New hardware and software available for Siemens’ Industrial Edge ecosystem
  • Industrial Edge Management System now cloud-based As-a-Service
  • Low code for Industrial Edge: Simplifying edge app programming with Mendix on Edge

Edge Computing allows manufacturers to capture and process data where it’s generated: at the field level in the plant. At this year’s SPS trade show in Nuremberg, the technology company Siemens is expanding its range of products and services for Industrial Edge at all levels. This will allow users to connect their information technology (IT) even better with the operational level (OT). Industrial Edge is also part of the portfolio of the Siemens Xcelerator open and flexible business platform.

Industrial Edge Management (IEM) is a software portal for managing IoT solutions consisting of hardware and software in the factory. It allows all devices, applications, and users integrated into Siemens Industrial Edge to be centrally managed. Siemens now also offers this system as a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): IEM Cloud is available as a fully managed service and includes both the infrastructure and the set-up of the system. The operational system requirements and configuration costs for users are kept to a minimum. Industrial Edge devices can be integrated directly in the management system. IEM Cloud can be used to manage automation software as well as hardware from Siemens and third-party providers. 

Siemens is also expanding its Industrial Edge ecosystem with more hardware: more Simatic industrial PCs (x86 processor-based) and Industrial Edge devices from the Scalance and Simatic IoT device family based on ARM processors are now available. Weidmüller is also the first third-party manufacturer in the Siemens ecosystem to offer the u-control M4000, an edge device based on this processor architecture. The ARM processor-based devices are primarily designed for less data-intensive use cases: for example, remote access and connectivity solutions like gateways. And users can now use Siemens’ new Industrial Edge Own Device software to convert their existing third-party x86 processor-based IPCs into fully functional Industrial Edge devices, centrally manage them, and thereby integrate existing hardware into their IoT environment.

Mendix’s low-code development environment allows users to develop field-level apps in production with no coding knowledge. Automation engineers can use the new Industrial Edge plugin to develop industry-specific apps in their Mendix Studio Pro development environment and seamlessly install them on appropriate devices at the field level. 

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