Inductive Automation Expands Again, Buys Land for Two New Buildings

How about some good news? Based on many conversations within the industry, I’ve longed pegged Inductive Automation as a growth company among a field perhaps not so active. Here is more evidence of solid growth for the company—and most likely also for this type of software.

Inductive Automation announced March 17 it has purchased land near its headquarters, with plans to construct two new buildings. The significant expansion comes 2 ½ years after its previous expansion, when the company purchased a building that allows it to grow to 285 employees. With the two new buildings, Inductive Automation will be able to triple its number of employees. The company will continue to use its current building, which is only 350 feet from the new site. Groundbreaking for the first new building is scheduled for September.

Inductive Automation makes industrial automation software that’s used in virtually every industry, in more than 100 countries. The company’s strong revenue growth is driving the need to expand. For the last 10 years, Inductive Automation’s revenues have grown, on average, 55 percent each year.

That phenomenal growth has been due to the popularity of the company’s key product, Ignition by Inductive Automation. Ignition is an industrial application platform with numerous tools for building solutions in human-machine interface (HMI), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Ignition software, along with its unlimited licensing model, is allowing organizations to build the systems they really want.

“We’re very excited to be expanding again,” said Don Pearson, chief strategy officer for Inductive Automation. “Most industrial organizations are trying to pull more data from the plant floor, so they can analyze it and make better business decisions. With Ignition, they can access data, analyze data, and control processes better than ever before. All this leads to a much stronger bottom line. Our customer base is expanding rapidly because we provide the tools that help people do all this in a very cost-efficient manner.”

Hitachi Vantara Acquires What’s Left of Containership

Suddenly the subject of “containers” has moved from the realm of IT into the realm of manufacturing IT (aka OT). One company held a press conference at the decidedly OT-oriented ARC Forum last February. If you are new to containers, check out Kubernetes.
Kubernetes (K8s) is an open-source system for automating deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications. It groups containers that make up an application into logical units for easy management and discovery. Kubernetes builds upon 15 years of experience of running production workloads at Google, combined with best-of-breed ideas and practices from the community.
The complex dance among several of the IT suppliers regarding manufacturing IoT has been fascinating. Dell jumped in, but following a less-than-stellar-result from its EMC acquisition has pretty much jettisoned anything to with IoT. HPE has shuffled things and people, but it remains a player bringing together its edge computing and wireless technologies showing signs of life. The third one I’ve worked with is Hitachi Vantara. This recently formed subsidiary of Hitachi has some solid technology and market awareness. It is another one to watch.Speaking of Hitachi Vantara, the wholly owned subsidiary of Hitachi that focuses on building hardware and software to help companies manage their data, it has announced acquiring the assets of Containership, one of the earlier players in the container ecosystem, which shut down its operations last October.

Containership, which launched as part of the TechCrunch 2015 Disrupt New York Startup Battlefield, started as a service that helped businesses move their containerized workloads between clouds. It then moved on to focus solely on Kubernetes.

“Containership enables customers to easily deploy and manage Kubernetes clusters and containerized applications in public cloud, private cloud, and on-premise environments,” writes Bobby Soni, the COO for digital infrastructure at Hitachi Vantara. “The software addresses critical cloud native application issues facing customers working with Kubernetes such as persistent storage support, centralized authentication, access control, audit logging, continuous deployment, workload portability, cost analysis, autoscaling, upgrades, and more.”

Hitachi Vantara says it will continue to work with the Kubernetes community. Containership was a member of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. Hitachi never was, but after this acquisition, that may change.

IIoT versus MES, Is It A Battle?

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or Manufacturing Enterprise Solution (MES), that is the question. Actually, I didn’t know that it was a question, or an either/or. I’m thinking false dichotomy.

As you might imagine, I receive a ton of emails from a variety of marketing and PR people promoting one thing or another.  Recently, a message arrived from Brock Solutions highlighting just that question. Since I know several people at Brock, including the man whose name is on the building, so to speak, and since I respect the organization, I bit.

Here is the pitch: Many of our manufacturing customers have multiple plants around the world. And it’s safe to say that each of those plants are different. Some plants come from acquisitions. Some have been around forever. And some plants are brand new. 

Inevitably, this mix of sites also means a mix of technology at the operational layer. As you may know, there is no easy answer to manage this. Watch our video to see how we help manufacturers evaluate MES vs. IoT using a standard criteria.

They then sent me to a vlog (video blog). This is, of course, a little promotional at the end. But some good issues are raised about evaluating your business, your technical needs, your application needs and fitting a solution to the need. It’s worth a watch. Only 5 minutes.

Digitalization or The Practice of Leadership

Gasp! Signs of common sense begin to pervade the discussion of digitalization and its cousins–connected (everything?), digital twin, cyber-physical, and so forth. Meaning that it’s all about leadership.

Suppliers constantly develop or enhance technologies within products. But I’m betting that just about all of you already have more digital data than you know what to do with. I’m betting most of you already have some products and connectivity–and have had for 15 years or longer.

What is always lacking is the will, the ingenuity, the, yes, leadership, to use all of this to its most beneficial effect.

Leadership doesn’t just appoint someone to head an exploratory team. It sets vision and expectations about how a new business model can send the company on a growth and success trajectory.

Leadership sees data as an asset and asks how it can be used to further goals of profitability, process uptime, improved quality, faster time to market, better/faster customer service, supply chain smoothing, and more.

Leadership organizes and motivates people to forge new paths into the economy.

Simply compiling digital data is a waste of time and resources. Leadership treats it as a foundation for success.

Open Manufacturing Platform Expands

I’ve received a couple of news items about something called the Open Manufacturing Platform (OMP). I have searched in vain for a website–maybe a GitHub or Linux Foundation or something. This is sponsored by Microsoft, so no surprise that it is built on Microsoft Azure. I guess the open part is open connectivity to Azure.

I had a brief chat in Hannover a couple of weeks ago and picked up this press release. The companies putting this together have added members. Just a few right now. Like always, I adopt a “wait-and-see” attitude to see how this develops.

In brief:

  • Anheuser-Busch InBev, BMW Group, Bosch Group, Microsoft, ZF Friedrichshafen AG named OMP steering committee members
  • OMP was established in 2019 as an independent initiative under the umbrella of the Joint Development Foundation
  • First working groups created: IoT Connectivity, Semantic Data Model, Industrial IoT Reference Architecture and Core Services for Autonomous Transport Systems
  • The first appearance of the Open Manufacturing Platform

The Open Manufacturing Platform (OMP) has expanded, with new steering committee members and new working groups established. OMP is an alliance founded in 2019 to help manufacturing companies accelerate innovation at scale through cross-industry collaboration, knowledge and data sharing as well as access to new technologies. The OMP was founded under the umbrella of the Joint Development Foundation, which is part of the Linux Foundation.

Original members The BMW Group and Microsoft welcome Anheuser-Busch InBev (AbInBev), Bosch Group and ZF Friedrichshafen AG as steering committee members. The OMP steering committee has approved a number of working groups to focus on core areas important to the industry, including IoT Connectivity, semantic data models, Industrial IoT reference architecture, and core services for ATS (autonomous transport systems).

Common approach to industry challenges

The expansion of intelligent manufacturing is driving new efficiencies and increased productivity, as well as revealing new challenges. Within the industry, legacy and proprietary systems have resulted in data silos, making operation-wide insight and transformation daunting. As common challenges across the industry, they often require a high degree of investment for modest returns within any one organization. The OMP has been developed to address this, where manufacturers and their value chains come together to identify and develop solutions that address these non-differentiating problems. It brings together experts across the manufacturing sector — including discrete and process manufacturing, transportation and consumer goods, industrial equipment, and more.

“Our goal is to drive manufacturing innovation at scale, accelerate time-to-value and drive production efficiencies by jointly solving mutual challenges, based on an open community approach. The OMP helps manufacturing companies unlock the potential of their data, implement industrial solutions faster and more securely, and benefit from industrial contributions while preserving their intellectual property (IP) and competitive advantages, mitigating operational risks and reducing financial investments,” said Jürgen Maidl, Senior Vice President Production Network and Supply Chain Management at the BMW Group.

Scale innovation through common data models and open technology standards

The OMP operates under the umbrella of the Joint Development Foundation (JDF). The JDF is part of the Linux Foundation and provides the OMP with infrastructure and an organizational framework to create technical specifications and support open industry standards. The OMP supports other alliances, including the OPC Foundation and Plattform Industrie 4.0, and leverages existing industry standards, open source reference architectures and common data models.

“Through the open collaboration approach that is the cornerstone of OMP, manufacturing companies will be able to bring offerings to market faster, with increased scale and greater efficiency,” said Scott Guthrie, Executive Vice President Cloud & AI at Microsoft. “Solutions will be published and shared across the community, regardless of technology, solution provider or cloud platform.”

The heart of OMP: working groups to address common manufacturing challenges

“Comprised of members from across the manufacturing industry, the collaboration framework and heart of the OMP are its working groups. We are very excited to join in a moment where our manufacturing facilities are becoming increasingly connected, and we are looking for innovative ways to make use of the treasure trove of data that is being generated,” said Tassilo Festetics, Global Vice President of Solutions at AB InBev. The OMP initial first working groups will focus on topics such as IoT Connectivity, Semantic Data Model, IIoT Reference Architecture and Core Services for ATS (autonomous transport systems). Initial focus areas include:

The OMP steering committee will support industry efforts to connect IoT devices and machines to the cloud. It is one of the first steps to digitize production lines and leverage cloud-connected Industrial IoT applications.

“Today, it is all about analytics and predictions but without data no analytics and without connectivity no data. Modern devices can easily be connected via the OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA). Connecting machines and applications to the cloud that have been in production for decades comes with bigger interoperability challenges as various standards and interfaces must be addressed to interconnect these historically developed legacy systems (‘brownfield approach’). The working group IoT Connectivity will focus on providing industrial-grade edge and cloud functionalities for the integration and management of OPC UA devices in brownfield environments,” said Werner Balandat, Head of Production Management, ZF Friedrichshafen AG.

Another OMP working group focuses on semantic data modeling: Machine and manufacturing data are crucial for industrial companies to optimize production with artificial intelligence (AI). However, managing data in a common format across multiple sources with constantly evolving semantics is a real challenge.

“Data is the raw material for Industry 4.0 and a prerequisite for optimizing production with the help of artificial intelligence. At OMP, we are developing a semantic model that makes data understandable and illustrates its relations and dependencies. Users no longer receive cryptic, incomprehensible numbers and characters, but production-relevant information including their context. This semantic data structure ensures improvements along the entire value chain and makes AI-based business models possible on a large scale,” said Dr.-Ing. Michael Bolle, Member of the Board of Management, Robert Bosch GmbH.

Achieving a Digital Supply Chain

One of the companies I met with a couple of weeks ago at the Hannover Messe Preview in Germany was SALT Solutions AG and its subsidiary SALT Software GmbH. The company is a systems integrator that also has developed a platform with micro services to bring together its service offering.

SALT will be partnering with SAP at its stand and also with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) at its stand. Demonstrations at each stand will be showing how companies can quickly and easily digitize their Supply Chain by means of digital processes, Digital Twins, and modern technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Robotic Process Automation, and Cloud Computing. Visitors will experience how they can control a complete production process independently thanks to intuitive technologies and a high degree of automation.

Partnership With SAP

One feature is a live demonstration called “E-Bike: Make-to-Operate” at the SAP Stand (Hall 17, Stand A42). This demo shows all the process steps in the manufacture and operation of an E-bike, from production and control (“Make”) to monitoring and control of operation by processing and interpreting sensor data (“Operate”).

Visitors can intuitively control all process steps themselves in the live demonstration: Graphic detailed planning, production, and handover of the finished E-bike as a Digital Twin to the SAP Asset Intelligence Network (AIN). The SAP AIN as part of the SAP Digital Manufacturing Strategy is a virtual space in which ride and status data of the E-bike are collected and analyzed and which allows all parties involved, the manufacturer, the operator, and service providers, to have access to all data relevant to them in a central location.

In practice, this scenario offers the possibility, for example, for the E-bike rider to be recommended to visit nearby E-charging stations if the data analysis shows that the battery charge is no longer sufficient to reach the destination.

Predictive maintenance can be planned automatically when transferred to a production scenario: A specific maintenance requirement can be derived from sensor data. In order to determine the ideal time for the next maintenance order, the system includes all relevant data such as the current production plan and independently sets the date to production-free time, e.g. on the weekend to minimize production disruptions.

In the live demonstration, special focus is placed on the process orchestrator, SAP Shop Floor Designer (SFD). In production, the focus is on the end-to-end process with its numerous individual steps, which companies in the future will design completely in advance. The entire process runs digitally, and the design decides which functionalities are to be carried out at each point in the production process. While manufacturers used to be tied to the functionality of one or more systems, SAP SFD makes tools from all systems available such as ERP, MES, BDE and others.

Digital Supply Chain Demo With HPE

The second live demonstration “D4S: The complete digitization of a complex Supply Chain, from the supplier to your own company to the customer and beyond existing system boundaries” will be seen at the Hewlett Packard Enterprise stand (HPE, Hall 15, Stand E64). This demo shows how the digital Supply Chain runs based on the SALT Business and IoT platform Data for Services (D4S). In the live demonstration, processes, objects, and data are synchronized and orchestrated via D4S in a model factory in independently interacting, networked Digital Twins.

The central role of process design in D4S can be taken on by the Process Engine. This ensures that the complete set of functions from all different systems such as ERP, MES, or BDE is available at all times in the production process, and additionally the systems of customers and suppliers are also included, including the logistics and production facilities.

D4S makes the interaction of the signals between all systems involved and also the Digital Twins possible and therefore a meaningful, interrelated action and reaction across the entire system – finally, the entire process runs automatically and efficiently after just one input.

In practice, SALT Software GmbH decides based on the customer’s business model which Digital Twins and their signals should be meaningfully created and exchanged in order to enable optimum process execution.

SALT Solutions AG employs more than 600 experts in Dresden, Munich, Stuttgart and Würzburg.

SALT Software GmbH, a subsidiary of SALT Solutions AG, was founded on January 1, 2020 and has 40 employees.

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