7 Tech Investments Critical To Building ‘Intelligent Factories’

Raghav Saghal, President of Nokia Enterprise, Nokia, wrote a blog post on the World Economic Forum site positing seven critical investments for post-Covid intelligent factories.

The problem began with the Covid-19 outbreak disrupting supply chains and business continuity plans. Other challenges included running essential functions and business continuity plans for normal operations, giving workers safe physical access to sites and coping with a much-reduced workforce, and ensuring the timely support, supply and successful delivery of essential equipment.

We’ve been talking digital transformation and adopting digital technologies. Here Saghal draws some lessons.

Those looking to build resilience into their own manufacturing processes, must invest in capabilities that bring forth the best of IT and OT convergence. To this end, Nokia leveraged the following capabilities:

1. Guaranteeing resilience. Uninterrupted, low-latency connectivity of mobile assets and devices is key to delivering reliable digital communications. This was achieved using our own Digital Automation Cloud, a simple and secure private wireless network platform, and enabler to all other technologies. 

2. Gaining clear, real-time visibility across operations – without having people physically present on-site. We achieved this by recreating in-the-field conditions using exact replicas in lab environments leveraging “digital twins,” helping us test adjacent technologies and anticipate problems before they occurred.

3. Delivering real-time data visibility and visualization. We used automated data tools from our partner ecosystem to manage the huge amounts of data being analyzed every day.

4. Ensuring vital collaboration and decision-making. We used remote collaboration tools including for voice, video and instant messaging to maximize collaboration between and within global teams.

5. Knowing the location of critical assets on the shop floor. Beam telepresence robots on shop floors, steered by staffers at home, allowed for remote views, inspections and surveillance at ‘sending’ and ‘receiving’ factories.

6. Connecting to machines on the shop floor. Standalone surface mount technology (SMT) machines were accessed by experts using telepresence, remote access and collaboration with site-based and home-based workers using remote control application software to enable programming and Nokia’s visual and X-ray inspection.

7. Creating and sharing manual assembly steps. To guarantee quality control, we used virtual reality training to help employees learn assembly steps. 

While the digital transformation journey and business continuity plans for an asset-heavy industry is different than what’s needed for information-based, light-asset industries, planning is still key. In our case, pre-existing technology and workforce investments drove success, empowering and augmenting staff with the leadership, creativity and digital skills needed to successfully execute on existing business continuity plans.

To achieve the digital control and self-orchestration needed to stay buoyant and competitive – both in normal times and post-COVID – network reliability, performance, and predictability must be dramatically elevated across all assets and ecosystems with mission-critical networks and industrial automation solutions. 

Then, and only then, can information and operations technologies converge to deliver enterprise 

Another Well Done Virtual Conference—Ignition Community Conference

Just to keep my perspective in balance, I attended a national soccer referee instructor virtual training. It was terrible. The presenters were not familiar with the technology and the presentation was incoherent.

Therefore, what a joy to attend another well done industrial technology conference. The Ignition Community Conference sponsored by Inductive Automation was Tuesday Sept. 15, but you can click the link and see the presentations for a while. I attended two other conferences (unfortunately not the Apple one) and therefore ran out of time to watch more today. But, I’ll be back to catch other presentations.

Chief Marketing Officer Don Pearson always has a relevant quote to serve as a theme for the conference. “Let’s stop trying to predict the future; let’s build it!” Stop and ponder.

The Ignition platform has greatly expanded over the years without losing the core ideas founder Steve Hechtman first explained to me in 2003. Built upon IT-friendly technology with a core strategy of unlimited licensing, the result is a robust HMI/SCADA offering that is affordable. [Note: Inductive Automation is a sponsor, but I’ve been a fan since long before that happened.]

They call it a “community conference” because they consider themselves, their customers, and their partners as a community. And when they gather physically (and even virtually), the people all act like a community. I always enjoy the conference feeling.

Hechtman discussed how the executive team met at the very beginning of hearing about the pandemic to begin preparing for remote work. Among other things they bought a lot of laptop computers. As things went along, they discovered that overall everyone was more productive working remotely. This will become a new way of life for most at the company. 

Preparing for business in the Covid environment, they improved the support function and added more people. They improved remote training–and a significant number of customers would prefer to continue remote training although many still wish to return to in-person classes when it’s possible. 

Speakers extolled the stories returning about how people are using the Maker edition unveiled in June. Ignition Perspective is another key new product that serves as a base for the main product Ignition 8.1. 

Key themes included filling out the promise of IoT broached back in 2016, mobility, remote control, large enterprise solutions, and working with AWS and Azure. Inductive has come a long way.

Ignition 8.1 is a release that will be supported five years. Its development them was refining version 8.0 released last year. It’s vision is based on Perspective. They worked to make it the best visualization platform. Perspective makes it easier to create in a variety of platforms–including the new Workstation edition. It’s now not only Web-based, but also has this Workstation edition to enhance speed. They have developed an easier-to-use and improved symbol library. They’ve added first-party Docker support. Plus a Quick Start application to help people new to the platform to get configured and ready to use.

Be sure to visit the ICC website and examine all the use cases and partners.

An IIoT Solution for Smart Manufacturing

I doubt that there exists a useful pure Industrial Internet of Things (IioT) solution. Simply putting a number of devices on an IP network solves little. However, combining IIoT with data analytics and visualization offers useful solutions to managers and engineers. Even better is the current trend toward making these solutions easier to install. This solution says it has all that.

Litmus, the Intelligent Edge Computing company, announced a partnership with Oden Technologies, a company helping manufacturers make faster and better decisions through machine learning and advanced analytics. Together, Litmus and Oden offer a turnkey solution for Smart Manufacturing including out-of-the-box data acquisition from any machine, advanced analytics, and machine learning to drive greater production efficiency.

Litmus Edge data intelligence platform collects, normalizes, and analyzes high volumes of live data from industrial assets making it available to OT and IT systems via edge-to-enterprise integration.  Oden provides big data compute engine and machine learning, real-time, and predictive process metrics.

“We can get customers up and running by connecting to any machine and collecting data in minutes, then integrate that data with Oden so customers can see proven predictive and prescriptive applications to deliver value in under 30 days,” said John Younes, co-founder and COO of Litmus. “Litmus provides intelligence at the edge, and Oden provides the cloud-based analytics and machine learning necessary to predict and prevent problems, then prescribe actions that lead to better business decisions.”

Litmus Edge is deployed at the Edge with more than 250 pre-built drivers to connect to any PLC, CNC, sensor, robotic system, or SCADA/MES/Historian with no programming, then processes and normalizes the data automatically. Litmus feeds clean data to the Oden Industrial AI Platform, which offers real-time metrics and reporting along with predictive quality, performance optimization and other automated insights. Litmus Edge then runs those machine learning models back at the assets for continuous improvement and closed loop control back to the assets.

“With Litmus + Oden, customers can create a complete source of truth for all production data,” said Willem Sundblad, Cofounder and CEO of Oden Technologies. “We are excited to partner with Litmus to deliver increased operational visibility and automated insights that help customers reduce waste, optimize performance and maximize profitability across the factory floor.”

Pricing for Litmus + Oden is based on the number of manufacturing processes and the number of sites deployed.

Aveva Prioritizes Cloud Strategy

The usual summer provides little news after the June rush of conferences. This year I think AVEVA alone could have kept me supplied with news and thoughts. There were at least two digital events. Twice I was up (well, actually my normal time) early for a 6 am breakfast roundtable discussion. Not complaining. It was all good.

While I have watched an IT company pivot to an “as-a-service” company after cloud became quite common, in the OT world cloud has just become a “thing.” And here we are thinking about AVEVA’s embrace of the cloud. I could say “about time”, but in the industrial world we tend not to rush things. So, here is an update on the company’s “Cloud-First” strategy.

AVEVA has unveiled ‘Cloud-First’, a key component of its long-term software portfolio strategy to focus on providing core services in the cloud to ensure high uptime and availability, user management, and the flexibility to try new solutions. The strategy includes the introduction of scenario-driven integration between products for rapid time to value.

To operationalize this strategy, AVEVA has also announced advances to AVEVA ConnectAVEVA Unified Engineering, and AVEVA Insight Guided and Advanced Analytics.

AVEVA Connect, designed to securely host AVEVA software solutions in the cloud, currently enables more than 1,900 customers and over 25,000 users. Cloud computing facilitates improved user management across all assets as well as the capability to monitor usage of subscription credits across the entire AVEVA software portfolio.

“The new normal has required a shift in business focus and imperatives,” said Ravi Gopinath, Chief Cloud Officer and Chief Product Officer, AVEVA. “Moving forward, businesses will witness reduced capital investments, changing working processes, a heightened need for visualization tools and much greater agility and responsiveness across the value chain to minimize value leaks and optimize production to maximize profit opportunities.  Organizational focus has shifted to demand increased flexibility, much more real time collaboration, intelligent applications and a more streamlined user experience. AVEVA Connect will serve as a ‘one stop shop’ for all these requirements.”

AVEVA Unified Engineeringdelivers a collaborative data-centric environment with a single source of accountability across the engineering lifecycle. Multi-discipline teams across owner operators and EPCs can now collaborate to execute greenfield and brownfield projects with high traceability in a secure cloud environment that can be set up in days to accelerate time to value and reduce total installed cost.

AVEVA Insight Guided and Advanced Analytics are now available in the Cloud for advanced pattern recognition to augment automated analytics and condition monitoring. The solution enables customers to start on a predictive analytics-based Asset Performance strategy without the need for complex modelling or data science. This solution allows the user to create easy-to-deploy models targeting specific assets, providing reliable anomaly detection with minimal configuration.

From operating information analysis and low-code application development to complex engineering visualization, AVEVA Connect’s functionality allows easy trials for new capabilities.

‘Cloud-First’ includes the introduction of scenario-driven integration between products for rapid time to value. Later this year, AVEVA will also introduce software development kits to enable partners to provide their solutions within the AVEVA Connect platform in order to increase the range of capabilities available to customers.

“The shift to the cloud isn’t a matter of choice but something that must aggressively be pursued. The tremendous advantages of deployment and ownership costs, the ability to flexibly consume purely based on need and the removal of localized barriers to allow unprecedented levels of work efficiency and collaboration mean that we will continue to add to the rich domain content of our portfolio, because this is not just about technology, but about the realities and specifics of our customer’s business,” concluded Gopinath.

Development Platform for Real-time Events

In a normal summer, I am wondering where my next topic for something to write about will come from. This, of course, is anything but a normal summer. On the other hand, despite travel restrictions and office restrictions and the like I have been flooded with information. Meaning, I’m catching up on news from June. My bad…

I first heard of the real-time agile developer platform from VANTIQ three years ago when I was at Hannover exploring the beginnings of the EdgeX Foundry from Linux Foundation. Then in June I was pitched a news release from it where it had partnered with RoviSys to create Covid safety apps for such facilities as manufacturing, healthcare, and more. As the PR account executive told me, “Real-time tech enables these facilities to detect and respond to, say, an infected worker or an accident – in seconds, not minutes or hours.” The partnership applications detect and contain Covid-19.

Beyond this application (detailed below), I talked with CEO and founder Marty Sprinzen about the company and the technology. I didn’t get a deep dive, but they essentially blend IoT and AI (how about that for buzz words in one sentence) to achieve an abstraction above the IoT such that others can develop cool apps. Such as this work with RoviSys. A company to watch, for sure.

RoviSys is an independent, global provider of comprehensive process automation, systems integration, and building automation solutions. Together, the companies will build applications—based on VANTIQ’s real-time, event-driven architecture—to track people’s movements and body temperatures to monitor environmental health. By pinpointing potentially infected individuals in real time, response teams can rapidly isolate people and execute critical mitigation protocols, from disinfecting contaminated areas to facilitating hospitalization for infected persons.

RoviSys brings domain expertise and reach in the chemical, petrochemical, power and energy, data center, building management, water and wastewater, paper and wood, utilities, and oil and gas industries. “Our customers need tools that help get operations back up and running as soon as possible,” said Bryan DeBois, Director, Industrial AI at RoviSys. “But ensuring employee safety is crucial. Reliable solutions are going to require real-time monitoring systems that can safeguard everyone in the workplace. The relationship between RoviSys and VANTIQ to rapidly build these mission-critical applications and systems for the industrial space is important today and in the foreseeable future.” 

VANTIQ recently launched its Back-to-Work Accelerator product, which enables software developers to rapidly build real-time applications for safeguarding workplaces against the spread of COVID-19. 

“Getting people back to work during COVID-19 means that we have to track people in time and space, leveraging IoT sensors, thermal imaging and other applicable technologies,” said Sprinzen. “We’re excited to work with RoviSys to build customized applications for specific industrial needs, using the VANTIQ platform to enable lightning-fast development for real-time, real-world environments.”

VANTIQ enables customers to build next-generation applications that combine real-world data and real-time events. Their agile development environment allows complex applications to be created in weeks with minimal coding, taking full advantage of artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and edge computing. VANTIQ powers a broad array of applications for smart cities, smart buildings, oil and gas, telecom, healthcare and other industries. VANTIQ was founded in 2015 by technology veterans Marty Sprinzen and Paul Butterworth, co-founders of Forte Software. 

Founded in 1989, RoviSys is a leading independent provider of information management solutions, manufacturing automation solutions, control systems integration, building automation, and enterprise and industrial networks. The company is distinctly qualified to deliver solutions that drive productivity, improve product quality, increase asset utilization and integrate technology for the chemical, petrochemical, life science, consumer packaged goods, glass, metals, power and energy, data center, building management, water and wastewater, paper and wood, and oil and gas industries.

NI Announces SystemLink Enterprise Software

Helps enable seamless test operations and data management across an entire organization

It begins with data and it’s all about data. “It” being improving production and profitability and safety. It doesn’t end with data, though. A system is required. Part of the system is software that gathers, analyzes, visualizes data.

NI began with data—test and measurement. It just kept growing. This week it announced the enterprise version of SystemLink software. By standardizing the way data is shared and analyzed, the new enterprise version enables increased visibility and control of test systems across an entire organization. In this way, SystemLink software serves as an important bridge between engineering and manufacturing departments in their efforts to improve overall operational efficiencies and drive digital transformation initiatives.

NI, in its release information, acknowledges data can be an organization’s greatest asset when used to make more informed decisions. It can also be a drain on time and resources when it creates incompatible silos. SystemLink software connects test workflows to business performance, linking people, processes and technology across the enterprise, from engineering to production to the field.

Engineers save time through focus on quickly spotting patterns and proactively addressing issues before they become a problem. “Freeing up engineers to focus on the work that has the largest impact for their organization is smart business,” said Josh Mueller, VP of Experience at NI. “But it is also one of the core components of our company mission — elevating and empowering the engineer.”

Cree Lighting, a leading manufacturer of indoor, outdoor and consumer lighting, has implemented real-time data monitoring and display, post-test analysis and factory management tools using SystemLink software. “SystemLink enables our production floor to step into the future. It equips us with the visibility to respond to market conditions more quickly while optimizing our team’s production efforts all around the world,” said Ian Yeager, test engineering manager at Cree Lighting. “Now, I spend less time managing deployments and post-processing data and more time using the built-in tools to take care of low-hanging opportunities and improve efficiency for my team.”

The new version of SystemLink software is NI’s first hardware-agnostic systems and data management tool. The announcement of enterprise support underscores NI’s enterprise software strategy to help customers accelerate digital transformation efforts by coupling test operations with advanced product analytics enabled through its recent acquisition of OptimalPlus. By unlocking the value of test data and allowing more groups across an enterprise to work together, NI is helping connect the bold people, ideas and technologies required to push our world forward.