Emerson Jumps Into The Software-Defined Automation Architecture Fray

  • Sees Boundless Automation as Industry Inflection Point to Address Data Barriers & Modernize Operations
  • Advanced software-defined automation architecture to integrate intelligent field, edge and cloud, unlocking a new era of productivity
  • Global automation leaders convene to learn about Boundless Automation at Emerson Exchange in Düsseldorf

I seem have become sort of persona non grata by the new marketing regime at Emerson Automation group. However, I picked up this news from it’s meeting last month in Düsseldorf, Germany. I found this statement by automation President and CEO Lal Karsanbhai interesting. It reflects the underlying philosophy I wanted to address when Dave and Jane and I started Automation World back in 2003. The world requires suppliers to go beyond proprietary control and leverage all the data for higher level decision making.

“After decades of implementing evolving automation strategies, manufacturers recognize the need to extract greater value from data that is locked in a rigid and now outdated automation architecture,” said Emerson President and CEO Lal Karsanbhai. “The proliferation of data and the development of advanced software are moving us to an era of unprecedented productivity. Rich data and advanced software are converging to form the next major inflection point in the industry.”

Acknowledging the foundational problems we’ve identified for years, Emerson says it is “poised to transform industrial manufacturing with the next-generation automation architecture designed to break down data silos, liberate data and unleash the power of software with Boundless Automation.”

I applaud Emerson’s strategy, although I do wish it had been done along with the standards efforts of OPAF. But only a couple of competitors seem to be serious about that one. Further, I continue to find companies in my research still trying to break down the silos. I thought we had accomplished that 10 years ago. I guess not. We still have complex networks of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and every department for itself on data definition and retention.

To address this challenge and help customers achieve their operational improvements, Emerson is introducing a vision and actionable strategy to push more computing power closest to where it’s needed and establish the blueprint for a modern industrial computing environment. This environment includes flexibility to deploy software across the intelligent field; a modern, software-defined edge; and the cloud. All three domains will be connected through a unifying data fabric, helping to maintain data context, improve its usability and increase security.

Emerson’s modern, software-defined automation architecture will break down hierarchical networks, securely democratizing and contextualizing data for both people and the artificial intelligence (AI) engines that depend on a continuous flow of information.

Here are the components within Boundless Automation:

  • Intelligent Field: An intelligent field will simplify access to more data from more sources and a greater diversity of applications. With smarter devices and new connection technologies like 5G and APL, customers can streamline both connectivity from anywhere in the world, and integration across the new architecture
  • Edge: The new OT edge creates a modern, secure, low-latency computing environment, putting new software tools and actionable data closest to its user. This enhanced edge environment establishes a platform for IT and OT colleagues to innovate and collaborate more than ever before.
  • Cloud: The cloud will power complex operations and engineering capabilities on-premise and across the enterprise by providing infinite analytical computing power, enterprise collaboration, attractive lifecycle costs and on-demand support and service.

Aras PLM Celebrates Growth, Partnerships, New Products at Customer Conference

The first trip I made as a new editor many years ago was to Microsoft to talk with a manufacturing software/PLM developer. PLM being Product Lifecycle Management—that layer of software used to translate CAD into manufacturing. When I covered automation, we didn’t cover this area often. These software companies seldom advertise, so the pressure from sales to cover them was, shall we say, less intense.

Last year I attended three PLM developers either in person or virtually. This year I began receiving more press releases and news from Aras. I told the marketing person that I knew the company but not that well. That led to an invitation to its ACE2024 conference held this week. I learned a ton about Aras and its products and partners as well as seeing two old friends that I never expected to meet there.

Roque (pronounced Rocky) Martin has been CEO for just more than 2 years. Sounds like he’s done well. Aras has been growing lately—61% over 2 years. The company counts 1.7 million registered users. It recently (like many industrial software companies) introduced a Software As A Service (SaaS) product which this year had seen a 77% year-over-year growth.

Setting a context for the event, he discussed three challenges facing the industry:

  • Digitalization (silos, distributed, digital thread, connect, collaboration)
  • Differentiated Innovation (industry didn’t like customization but discovered that one size fits all is not optimum), 
  • Accelerated Change

Discussing the change challenge, he listed this industry timeline:

  • 1.0 Mechanization (120 years)
  • 2.0 Electrification (70 years)
  • 3.0 Automation (30 years)
  • 4.0 Digitalization (10 years)
  • 5.0 Cognitive (coming soon to software near you)

Rob McAveney, CTO, discussed how the coming Cognitive wave including AI will automate away rote tasks humans have done. Or as he put it, AI + Cognitive systems—leverage to describe what is possible and zoom in on potential solutions. He sees the coming 5.0 software leveraging all the data we’ve accumulated from 4.0 for breakthroughs. Some things to watch for in the Cognitive + AI systems:

  • AI as an assistant
  • Syndicate digital twins
  • Connect system of systems
  • Able to become increasingly able to suggest more complex solutions

Two interesting pieces of news follows. The first are enhancements to its PLM Platform. You sort of have to see the demos to realize how cool these things are. (Oh, if only I would have had tools like this back in my product development days!) The second announcement relates to a partnership with SAIC. Once again viewing the demos shows the power of this integration. I sat in the breakout presentation to get a dive—but I could never do it justice. If you’re in this area of work, check it out.

Aras Announces Strategic Enhancements to PLM Platform

Expands Digital Thread, Low-Code, and Visualization Capabilities and Adds New Supplier Management Applications

New Digital Thread Capabilities

Aras Innovator forms an extensible digital thread, serving as a data backbone for digital engineering and the broader digital enterprise. New capabilities will support simplified user interactions for viewing, editing, and implementing changes on interrelated items. In addition, a new streamlined experience for configuring connections to a comprehensive range of authoring tools simplifies extending the digital thread to a broader set of enterprise applications.

Extended Low-Code Development Enhancements

Aras Innovator is the only PLM platform with a fully integrated low-code development environment. Leveraging a rich set of development and enterprise-class DevOps services, Aras subscribers can extend applications or develop their own to address the unique needs of their organization. These enhancements introduce new widgets and charts that simplify the user experience and navigation for analytics dashboards and reports embedded in Aras apps. In addition, advanced form design tools facilitate a more streamlined, modern user experience for applications built within Aras-powered applications and deployed within Aras’ DevOps framework.

Powerful Visualization of Complex Assemblies 

Aras’ CAD-agnostic approach to 3D visualization has been built on the foundation of the digital thread, enabling users to leverage Dynamic Product Navigation to facilitate the exploration of product data in any representation. The introduction of Aras Advanced 3D enhances this capability, providing a scalable environment to visualize and interact with larger, more complex assemblies that often exceed the capacity of a single CAD session.

Optimized Connectivity and Collaboration with Suppliers

Aras is introducing a suite of supplier management solutions designed to enhance how organizations interact with their suppliers and business partners. These new applications facilitate secure, remote access to controlled subsets of digital thread and PLM information through configurable mobile-optimized web applications. These solutions streamline communication and data sharing to optimize supplier management business processes. Projected availability for Aras Supplier Management Solutions is in Q2 2024, with a preview webinar scheduled for March 26.

SAIC Powers Its ReadyOne Digital Engineering Ecosystem Solution with Aras

Aras, a leader in product lifecycle management and digital thread solutions, today announced a strategic partnership with leading technology integrator SAIC (Science Applications International Corp.) that includes integration of Aras Innovator as the digital thread backbone for its digital engineering solution, ReadyOne.

ReadyOne is SAIC’s rapidly deployable digital engineering ecosystem, which offers customers an end-to-end digital thread for consistent, traceable, and complete engineering solutions. By using Aras’ product lifecycle management (PLM) technology as its foundation, the solution creates a single-source-of-truth for users, letting them access any and all needed information, at any point in the engineering process, all from a common platform. With ReadyOne, collaboration and transparency are increased, while risks and costs are decreased.

Edge Orchestration Leader ZEDEDA Secures $72M in Growth Capital

One of those specialty niche areas of modern compute architecture is technology to handle special needs of edge computing. ZEDEDA developed edge orchestration technology. I see that it is using some Gartner data to tie its fortunes to AI in the form of ML (machine learning). It is growing at enough pace to require additional capital funding. Emerson and Rockwell Automation are two companies in my market space that are invested in this area.

  • Smith Point Capital led the highly oversubscribed Series C round with strong participation from other new and existing investors
  • Funding accelerates ZEDEDA’s global expansion as demand for its product soars as enterprises accelerate adoption of orchestration and AI at the edge
  • Over the past year, ZEDEDA increased annual recurring revenue by more than 250% and increased nodes under management by more than 300%, including significant key enterprise success with more than 10 Fortune Global 500 accounts

ZEDEDA announced closing of $72 million in growth capital, with the Series C round led by Smith Point Capital, founded by former Salesforce Co-CEO Keith Block.

According to Gartner, “By 2027, 20% of large enterprises will have deployed an edge management and orchestration (EMO) solution, compared with fewer than 1% in 2023.” Simultaneously, the demand for AI and machine learning is also exploding. Gartner also predicts that “by 2026, at least 50% of edge computing deployments will involve machine learning (ML), compared with 5% in 2022,” further accelerating the large-scale deployment of edge workloads and increasing adoption of edge management and orchestration.

“This latest round of investment validates our leadership position as the preferred choice of large enterprises for their edge management and orchestration needs,” said Said Ouissal, ZEDEDA’s CEO and founder. “Our unique and innovative product is powering the explosive demand of ubiquitous edge computing, underpinning our customer’s AI and real-time data analytics initiatives. With this funding, we are well-positioned to further extend the cloud operational infrastructure model everywhere, to continue to delight our customers and to realize our vision of powering the next era of computing.”

“We believe edge computing represents one of the next great waves of digital transformation given its unique ability to address the many challenges presented by an increasingly connected world, creating new category-leading companies like ZEDEDA,” said Keith Block, CEO and founder of Smith Point Capital. “Said and his team have a big vision and have already solved critical pain points around deploying workloads at scale for several enterprise verticals. As they’ve built the industry-leading solution to power the edge, we are thrilled to lead the Series C round and help accelerate their position as the market leader for edge management and orchestration.”

With this latest round of funding, ZEDEDA continues to draw significant investment interest and, despite a current tight funding market, has now raised over $127 million in total since its founding. Hillman Company, LDV Partners, Endeavor Catalyst Fund and Forward Investments (DEWA) joined Smith Point Capital as new investors in the company. In addition, ZEDEDA saw strong support from returning investors in this round, including Lux Capital, Almaz Capital, Coast Range Capital, Juniper Networks, Emerson Ventures, Chevron Technology Ventures, 5G Open Innovation Lab, Rockwell Automation and Porsche Ventures.

“Emerson customers rely on us to optimize their operations, and our DeltaV Distributed Control System is the foundation for this, providing intelligent control of all plant activities,” said Claudio Fayad, vice president of technology, process systems and solutions at Emerson. “We have standardized on ZEDEDA as a critical part of our solution, enabling us to extend DeltaV to the distributed edge and provide AI-based data analysis for real-time support for automated decision-making.”

“Our customers’ demand for real-time control, visualization, and closed-loop process and asset optimization applications at the edge remains robust,” said Arvind Rao, vice president of Industry Solutions at Rockwell Automation. “With our strategic partnership with ZEDEDA, we are able to offer industry-leading, centralized edge management solutions that deliver value across the lifecycle of our customer’s applications, significantly reducing their total cost of ownership.”

The growth capital investment emphasizes ZEDEDA’s remarkable business performance and growth over the past year. Annual recurring revenue increased more than 250% year-over-year, and the key metric of nodes under management increased by more than 300%, with 12 Global and Fortune 500 customers, capping another year of extreme growth and success. One notable example includes one of the largest global automobile manufacturers, which has standardized on ZEDEDA to modernize 70,000 dealerships, manufacturing facilities and service centers across 153 countries.

HighByte Releases Industrial DataOps Solution with Native Connectivity to the Snowflake Data Cloud

A couple of IT companies introduced DataOps to me about ten years ago. I thought this looked like a ripe opportunity for the industrial market. Shortly thereafter I ran into a group of former Kepware people who had formed just such a company—HighByte. I then had an opportunity to talk with the Snowflake people at the Ignition Customer Community meeting last September. This Data Cloud company has some interesting technology. This news relates to a relationship and interoperability service.

If you have not explored the utility of DataOps, check out HighByte and also Snowflake.

HighByte announced in February 2024 the release of HighByte Intelligence Hub version 3.3 that offers new and improved interoperability with industry-leading cloud services, including the Snowflake Data Cloud and AWS IoT SiteWise. The latest release introduces two new native connectors for Snowflake supporting a broad set of use cases for industrial enterprises. 

The first new connector, Snowflake Streaming, utilizes the Snowflake Snowpipe Streaming API. This interface enables direct publishing to Snowflake tables without the need for staging files or third-party applications. This significantly reduces the compute, latency, and cost of frequently moving telemetry events into Snowflake. The second new connector, Snowflake SQL, enables HighByte Intelligence Hub users to directly query Snowflake tables. Rather than merely publishing to Snowflake, the Intelligence Hub can operationalize insights and context derived through the Snowflake Manufacturing Data Cloud by making this data available for industrial devices and applications. 

HighByte Intelligence Hub is an Industrial DataOps solution that contextualizes and standardizes raw industrial data at the edge, delivering usable information to cloud service partners. Receiving consistent, usable industrial data accelerates adoption and scale of these cloud services, helping industrial companies orchestrate digital transformation projects across their enterprise. The Intelligence Hub gives operational technology (OT) domain experts a no-code application to curate and contextualize industrial data according to standard data models.

Intelligence Hub version 3.3 also introduces tighter integration with AWS IoT SiteWise. The Intelligence Hub’s modeling engine and the IoT SiteWise connector have been refined and enhanced for working with hierarchical asset structures. These improvements simplify the user experience, reduce effort, and provide a single, no-code approach for composing and delivering asset-model hierarchies to IoT SiteWise as well as hydrating them with industrial data. 

MaterialsZone Develops Data-Driven Materials Informatics

I’m catching up on December press releases. Many go a little afield of my normal topics, but with the changing market I tend to go where tech trends take me. This relates to a deeper use of data and data analysis for materials development.

MaterialsZone and Kafrit Group, a global masterbatches and compounds producer, announced their long-term commercial agreement enabling Kafrit Group to better utilize their data to develop improved products and provide an unparalleled customer experience to its clients.

Here is typical press release language that hits every buzz word in the lexicon that basically says here is a data analysis platform targeted to materials product development. (Sorry, but people who know me know my low tolerance for this use of language.) Despite the wording, if you are working in this area, sounds like it’s worth checking out.

MaterialsZone has developed a unique Materials Informatics Platform, leveraging data and harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning, enabling companies such as Kafrit Group to augment their internal capabilities and increase collaboration. Not only does the platform aggregate, enrich, and standardize data, but it also enables materials and data scientists to gain insight and knowledge on developing and improving products faster and at a reduced cost.

IT Infrastructure Integration Company Offers AI Implementation Tips

Indiana-based Matrix Integration has been asserting itself as the AI integration partner of choice for your IT needs. I get a lot of these sort of releases. This one seems to offer a few quality tips.

“We have been leveraging AI tools in our strategic partner software suites for clients for several years. Customers turn to us for support in fine-tuning the automation capabilities within these suites to make critical decisions in their infrastructure,” said Tim Pritchett, engineer operations manager at Matrix Integration. “As time and resources continue to crunch in maintaining your IT systems and security, AI tools can be leveraged to protect your data and get the most benefit out of what you already own.”

Because AI becomes a more commonly built-in component of many managed software suites, here are the top three issues business should consider as AI becomes more universal:

  • Data quality matters. Whether businesses are using AI to generate content (such as drafting communications with customers) or analyze production efficiencies, high-quality data is necessary to train AI models. Already, biased inputs in large-language models like ChatGPT have led to biased outputs that could damage a company’s reputation on a great scale. In the case of data analysis, inaccurate or damaged data fed to an AI model will lead to unusable outputs.
  • Data security isn’t guaranteed.  Companies will need to consider how they will secure their own data, as well as data supplied by clients. This requires asking questions and developing transparency and trust with cloud services providers as well as AI vendors. For example, many businesses provide customer-facing chatbots run by AI. For example, imagine that customers type sensitive or personal data (e.g., bank account numbers) into a chatbot. Or, as another example, a business supplies internal data to AI models to generate proprietary operations solutions. Is that data safe once it gets uploaded into a cloud-based AI application? Can it be used by other customers of that AI vendor?
  • Humans are key for AI to work properly. Right now, much of AI seems to be a “black box” – most people understand the inputs and outputs but are unfamiliar with how learning algorithms work and how they handle data. For example, Microsoft 365 security tools through Defender, Sentinel, or the Purview compliance portal all do an excellent job of leveraging AI to make decisions and inform IT administrators on the best decisions to make in a scenario. However, experienced security professionals can still play a key role by fine-tuning these notifications and building automation for these tools.

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