Google Cloud Launches New Data Solutions for Manufacturers

This news is a bit old dating from the first of May. Its relevancy maintains its freshness—another look at the major IT companies looking for market in manufacturing. This holds personal interest in that once again I am not invited back to an IT company user conference because they tried a manufacturing vertical without success. (I could have told them, but that story will hold for another place and time.)

Google Cloud has co-developed Manufacturing Data Engine and Manufacturing Connect. These solutions are said to enable manufacturers to connect historically siloed assets, process and standardize data, and improve visibility from the factory floor to the cloud. Once data is harmonized, the solutions enable three critical AI- and analytics-based use cases–manufacturing analytics & insights, predictive maintenance, and machine-level anomaly detection.

Key points:

  • Ford, Kyocera, and Phononic among early customers to enhance data transparency and optimize production with new manufacturing-specific solutions
  • Cognizant, C3 AI, GFT, Intel, Litmus, Quantiphi, SoftServe, Sotec, Splunk, among partners supporting the new solutions

Manufacturing Data Engine and Manufacturing Connect, available today, help manufacturers unify their data and empower their workforce with easy-to-use analytics and AI solutions based on cloud infrastructure.

This continues the discussion I made yesterday about DataOps. The rapid move to data organizations and technology in manufacturing continues to amaze me.

Manufacturing Data Engine is an end-to-end solution that processes, contextualizes, and stores factory data on Google Cloud’s data platform. It provides a configurable and customizable blueprint for the ingestion, transformation, storage, and access to factory data. It integrates key Google Cloud products, including Cloud Dataflow, PubSub, BigQuery, Cloud Storage, Looker, Vertex AI, Apigee, and more, into a manufacturing-specific solution.

Manufacturing Connect is a factory edge platform co-developed with Litmus Automation that quickly connects to, and streams data from, nearly any manufacturing asset and industrial system to Google Cloud, based on an extensive library of more than 250 machine protocols. Deep integration with the Manufacturing Data Engine unlocks rapid data intake into Google Cloud for processing machine and sensor data. The ability to deploy containerized applications and ML models to the edge enables new dimensions of use cases.

Once data is centralized and harmonized by the Manufacturing Data Engine and Manufacturing Connect, it can then be used to address a growing set of industry-specific use cases.

Data holds no value unless it can be analyzed and visualized.

Manufacturing analytics & insights, which helps manufacturers quickly create custom dashboards to visualize key data—from factory KPIs such as Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), to individual machine sensor data. Integrated with the Manufacturing Data Engine, engineers and plant managers can automatically set up new machines and factories, enabling standardized dashboards, KPIs, and on-demand drill-downs into the data to uncover new insights opportunities throughout the factory. These can then be shared easily across the enterprise and with partners.

GE Unveils MES, 3D Visualization, Accelerator Tools, Energy Competency at ARC Forum

GE Digital held multiple meetings at the recent ARC Forum discussing a number of advancements. Executives talked frankly about the coming break up of GE corporate with a positive spin on Digital landing with the Energy group. I’m not a financial analyst, but this restructuring seems to meet with widespread approval. Perhaps with a new CEO at Digital and new organization we’ll see even more from it. Following are summaries of four announcements from last week.

Proficy Plant Applications Upgrades

GE Digital announced the latest version of its Manufacturing Execution System (MES) Proficy Plant Applications, part of the Proficy Smart Factory portfolio. New features in the 2022 version include expanded discrete manufacturing capabilities developed through co-innovation with existing customers as well as a better user experience for the modern connected worker.

Customer results with Proficy Plant Applications have included saving 45 minutes per shift, per line, per business unit at one of the world’s largest consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies; 3X increase in throughput for an automotive battery manufacturer; and 80% reduction in downtime at a pharmaceutical company.

The new discrete features include extending support for serialized and lot-based discrete manufacturing such as job shops and complex discrete environments. These extensions include the ability to support the execution of very large lots plus the flow of complex routes that include optional, parallel, and mutually exclusive operations. Proficy Plant Applications has also expanded the scope of discrete to include complex receiving inspection rules as well as linking them to non-conformance.

Implementation speed of the Proficy Plant Applications solution has been improved with a new low-code Data Flow Editor, easing integration with other systems, and modelling complex logic. These capabilities allow faster installs and upgrades including seamless ERP integration with approximately 20 out-of-the-box messages for MES-ERP communication.

Proficy Plant Applications is also designed to empower the modern Connected Worker and operating teams with easy, flexible access to their manufacturing data for better decision making. The software provides a contemporary Web User Interface (UI) with widgets as embedded in out-of-the-box screens and available for custom screen development in the software’s no-code development environment.

Available on-premises and in the cloud, the software includes four modules: Efficiency Management, Production Management and Tracking, Quality Management, and Batch Analysis. Proficy Plant Applications is used at thousands of diverse manufacturing sites around the world including top food and beverage, non-food consumer packaged goods, automotive, pharmaceutical, aerospace, chemicals, heavy equipment, and other manufacturers.

GE Digital Partners with Visionaize to Provide 3D Visualization Capabilities to APM

GE Digital announced a technology partnership with Visionaize, a provider of world-class operational 3D Digital Twin solutions. This technology is designed to help empower data-driven businesses with high accuracy visualization capabilities for operational use cases that can help to save time, reduce cost, and improve safety. Visionaize’s V-Suite Starter can be incorporated into GE Digital’s APM Mechanical Integrity software designed to help streamline maintenance activities and improve worker efficiency across asset intensive industries.

While industrial companies can choose to review data and information in any number of formats including plant blueprints, Piping and Instrumentation Diagrams (P&ID), and Isometrics through various means of CAD/CAM software solutions, the implementation of V-Suite Starter is designed to allow users to view real-time and historical asset data on the 3D model to deliver timely and valuable insights at the point of action. The 3D visualizations of key asset information combine “see it, model it, and understand future behavior” to help asset-intensive companies solve key challenges associated with asset downtime, quicker time to resolution, maintenance costs, and workforce productivity.

Visionaize integrates 3D plant models with APM Mechanical Integrity to provide data-driven visualization of key APM Integrity attributes by color coding the model to filter out noise and focus on what matters most. The ability to dynamically visualize and contextualize data for operations and maintenance activities help make inspectors, planners, maintenance technicians, corrosion analysts, and Risk Based Inspection (RBI) analysts more efficient and effective in their daily jobs.

Utilizing 3D visualization in GE Digital’s APM solution can help improve worker safety and productivity with situational awareness and less time spent in hazardous environments. An accurate 3D model is designed to allow recovery planning even before workers can access the site itself to facilitate faster time to resolution. And it can help to optimize maintenance programs with more efficient scheduling to accelerate planned and unplanned downtime activities.

GE Digital Launches Accelerator Tools to Help Energy Companies Accelerate Digital Transformation

GE Digital announced its new Accelerator product line adding best-in-class software tools to help empower companies in asset-intensive energy industries to quickly configure its Asset Performance Management (APM) and other offerings. GE Digital Accelerators are designed to enable faster time to value, scale APM to a wider range of assets, and help enterprises gain financial value at both their facilities and across the enterprise.

GE Digital’s first set of Accelerators includes an extensive library of predictive analytics, asset management strategies, and standard health and reliability processes. These can be applied to the entire energy value chain, from oil & gas to power generation — ranging from renewables like wind and solar to more traditional gas power and nuclear production assets. 

Energy companies have used asset management practices for decades on the highest criticality equipment, ensuring high availability to meet the demands of their customers. The increasing complexity and scale of industrial facilities, along with the need for market flexibility, requires applying asset performance practices to a much wider array of equipment, using more advanced digital technologies. Accelerators will help energy companies expand asset management processes without consuming more time and resources building custom configurations and health monitoring techniques. 

GE Digital Achieves AWS Energy Competency Status

GE Digital announced that it has achieved Amazon Web Services (AWS) Energy Competency status. This designation recognizes that GE Digital has demonstrated deep expertise leveraging AWS to build, implement, and integrate technology that transforms complex business and operational systems to help accelerate the energy transition. 

GE Digital’s Asset Performance Management (APM) solutions for both Power Generation and Oil & Gas industries were the basis of receiving the AWS Energy Competency status. These software solutions are designed to help optimize the performance of industrial assets to increase reliability and availability, to minimize costs, and reduce operational risks. For power generation, this is an imperative as plants must be able to reliably respond to more dynamic operating models as more and more renewables are added. 

To receive the AWS Energy Competency Partner status, AWS Partners undergo a rigorous technical validation process, including a customer reference audit. The AWS Energy Competency provides energy customers the ability to more easily select skilled partners to help accelerate their digital transformation with confidence.

Software At Center Stage of Rockwell Automation Event

Taking the third trip to Orlando in four weeks, I felt that I should know the TSA agents by first name. Rockwell Automation held its annual software training and bash formerly RSTechEd now called ROKLive. Not only was this the first after a Covid hiatus, it also celebrated the recent addition of Plex Systems and its cloud-based MES platform. 

Plex was acquired some nine months ago. This event offers the Plex community some continuity while bringing them into the Rockwell Automation fold. About 1,500 people attended filling the Loews Sapphire Lake resort in Orlando and its many meeting rooms for updates and lab training.

Rockwell CEO Blake Moret did not attend in person, instead sending a video for part of the opening keynotes. He talked of the company’s focus on helping customers along the path of productive, resilient, agile, and sustainable. He noted that Rockwell as a manufacturer itself knew the power of IT and OT working together. Rockwell’s strategy focuses include its core products, software & services, and industry focus.

Brian Shepherd, sr. Vice president software and control, emphasized these pillars under the “Connected Enterprise Production System”: optimize production, empower the workforce, manage risk, drive sustainability, transformation.

Rockwell Automation through acquisition has entered the 3D system emulation arena. However partner company Maplesoft representatives showed me its simulation application. It looks powerful. Also on the show floor was old standby Spectrum Controls showing a cool connectivity multi-port module that takes in serial protocols such as DF1 or Modbus and exports Ethernet. If you are constructing a connected enterprise, you will need connectivity devices.

I took a look at the future on the show floor and some follow-up sessions on FactoryTalk Hub and its Design Hub, an internal Rockwell development taking control design to the cloud. It will be more formally unveiled at Automation Fair later in the year, but this powerful cloud-based application brings benefits such as collaboration and version control to Rockwell’s Design Studio offering. Operate Hub, the Plex SaaS MES and operations offering, and Maintain Hub, the Fiix CMMS in the cloud complete the FactoryTalk Hub solution. Three years ago no one would imagine my writing about Rockwell and the cloud in the same sentence. Not only has the technology progress but so has acceptance of users.

Rockwell and Plex released a few news items.

Rockwell Automation Named a Visionary; Plex Systems Named a Leader in 2022 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Manufacturing Execution Systems

Analyst firm Gartner unveiled its MES Magic Quadrant. Included companies always rush to get the word out. Rockwell Automation announced it has been named as a Visionary for its FactoryTalk ProductionCentre and Plex Systems named as a Leader for its Smart Manufacturing Platform. Congratulations to each.

Plex Systems Announces Modularization of its Smart Manufacturing Platform to Scale with Business Needs

Plex Systems announced a new modularization approach for its Smart Manufacturing Platform to enable accessibility and scalability for digital transformation in manufacturing. This approach, enabled by Plex’s innovative cloud-native platform, more closely aligns with customers’ needs as they build their smart manufacturing technology strategy, including a focus on flexibility, quick implementation, and ease of entry with a path to grow.  

Three examples of the new modular solutions include:

• New Product Introduction and Management: Maximize profitability and increase competitive position by reducing time to market and decreasing development costs.  Companies can manage the product and program lifecycle – from concept to completion – and effectively track new and existing products, including updates, retirement, and obsolescence.

• Labor and Workforce Management: Optimize labor schedule and costs while preserving delivery schedules through effective labor management, clear skills-to-required production capabilities, reduction of onboarding time, and programs for employee health and safety.

• Advanced Quality: Proactively manage supplier quality and compliance with integrated continuous improvement toolsets and extend quality processes throughout the full supply chain to promote a holistic quality culture both inside and outside the four walls of the organization.

Plex Systems Introduces Machine Learning to Help Companies Improve Demand Forecasting Accuracy

Plex Systems also announced new machine learning capabilities for Plex DemandCaster Supply Chain Planning (SCP), enhancing forecast accuracy to improve customer service at lower levels of inventory coverage.

Plex DemandCaster Supply Chain Planning unites business functions within the organization with their planning variables to solve inventory problems quickly and proactively, helping planners easily interpret data with automated statistical forecasting while enabling a continuous planning and execution feedback loop. Now, the addition of machine learning for DemandCaster SCP advances the automation of pattern recognition and the application of correlated related data to improve forecast accuracy. Higher forecast accuracies cascade through the supply chain planning process by reducing the need to carry extra inventories to buffer against uncertainties. 

OPC Foundation Presentation Week

Every morning last week I listened to presentations from OPC Day–which was actually a week. Once again this year was a conference reporting on a vast amount of work done by volunteers from numerous companies that push forward the cause of interoperability in manufacturing/industrial data communications. Earlier this year, I visited the ODVA annual general meeting. This virtual conference by the OPC Foundation is well worth a listen.

There were two or three presentations on MQTT where speakers tried mightily to tread the line between simplifying and explaining how these are not competing technologies and yet evangelizing the benefits of OPC UA over MQTT versus Sparkplug B. The presentations were balanced for the most part. OPC UA is a substantial information model. MQTT is a lightweight transport protocol widely adopted by IT. Sparkplug B is a lightweight information model requiring some extra defining work by the integrators but keeps overhead low. Obviously, there is a place for each.

I’ve added a list of videos from the OPC Foundation YouTube channel for your viewing pleasure:

Day 1:
Day 2:
Day 3:
Day 4:
Day 5:

New MESA Model A Framework for Smarter Manufacturing

I was actively involved with the MESA International organization when it developed the last MES Model. The organization changed and I gradually slipped away. But it is still busy promoting MES (or MOM) software applications although they’ve adopted the term Smart Manufacturing. They have adopted a new model. I like this because it blows up any pretense of the old pyramid structure. But I’m not so sure that it simplifies the complexity of the offerings of the many and varied MESA supplier/members. Take a moment and study where manufacturing software may be heading. Or, maybe where it has gone.

MESA International announces the release of a new MESA Model: A Framework for Smarter Manufacturing. The new model intends to help define the current and future landscape of “smart” manufacturing and production. It considers concepts that have been a part of manufacturing and production forever but dives deeply into how these concepts are made “smart” by integrating related functions and incorporating new or advanced technology.

The MESA Smart Manufacturing Model integrates three related concepts: Lifecycles, Cross-Lifecycle Threads and Enabling Technologies. The Lifecycles represent business processes and value streams required in manufacturing that need to be optimized. The Lifecycles apply to all manufacturing and production enterprises, though they might vary in application across different industries or across enterprises with different levels of maturity. Cross-Lifecycle Threads help link together functions between different Lifecycles to achieve specific goals and ensure that Lifecycles operate cohesively rather than independently. The Enabling Technologies listed in the Model are just a few of the examples of modern technologies that enable the desired Smart Manufacturing outcomes.

MESA’s Knowledge Committee Chairman, Khris Kammer, stated about the new model, “For many years, industry has turned to MESA as a reliable source for actionable tools and guidance to maximize manufacturing and production operations through the use of software technology. In fact, it’s been almost three decades since MESA was created, and in that time, we’ve released three (now four) MESA models. Over those years, MESA models have been referenced in thousands of textbooks, articles, and technical journals. They have also been employed by manufacturers, producers and vendors to enable a common vocabulary and structure for discussions as solutions are designed and implemented. The newest MESA model will be the basis for ongoing efforts to develop additional written works, webinars, and other educational materials at MESA, and we expect that it will be used by countless other people and organizations in the ways that previous models have been referenced. We thank the many volunteers who have helped pull this model together, and we hope that others will join us to add additional content and context.”

MESA (Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association) International is a global, not-for-profit community of manufacturers, producers, industry leaders and solution providers who are focused on improving Operations Management capabilities through the effective application of Information Technologies, IT-based solutions, and best practices. To accomplish this, we:

• Enable members to connect, contribute, cultivate understanding, and exchange strategies to drive operations excellence.

• Collect, share, and publish best practices and guidance to drive greater productivity and the overall profitability of the manufacturing enterprise.

• Educate the marketplace on manufacturing operations best practices through the MESA Global Education Program.

GE Digital Proficy Historian Now On AWS Marketplace

GE Digital has been busy recently updating its manufacturing software. This news concerns making its Proficy Historian available on Amazon Web Services (AWS). Last January, I wrote about the latest update to Proficy Historian for 2022.

From the news release: GE Digital announced the availability of the world’s first cloud-native operational data historian available in the AWS Marketplace, Proficy Historian for Cloud. This cloud-based industrial data management software is designed to facilitate a more simplified and reliable movement of OT data to the cloud spanning from device level to enterprise.

The AWS Marketplace is a digital catalog that makes it easy to find, test, buy, and deploy software that runs on Amazon Web Services (AWS).

This operational historian provides secure encrypted OT data streaming to the cloud designed to reach up to 150,000 values per second per interface and to provide store and forward capabilities to protect against data loss if the cloud or network is unavailable. Advanced compression combined with proprietary file-based storage makes it cost effective to use in a cloud infrastructure. Because it is designed for the cloud, Proficy Historian for Cloud provides the benefits of cloud-based technologies including zero downtime upgrades, data replication, and high availability. Native interfaces to data lakes and other cloud-based analytics platforms combined with being deployed in the company’s virtual private cloud (VPC) enables more simplified data integration, shrinking time to value and reducing implementation costs.

GE Aviation uses Proficy Historian to manage OT data in 32 manufacturing plants. “Managing this amount of data is costly,” said Bill Andrews, Technical Product Manager, GE Aviation. “By moving from 32 distinct deployments to a single deployment of Proficy Historian on AWS, we can dramatically reduce management costs and downtime while improving value, scalability, and reliability.”

The company expects to reduce infrastructure costs by more than 20% and annual resources by $185K. The team will also improve system availability by eliminating more than a month of planned downtime and enabling a common data store accessible by thousands of enterprise-wide employees.