Siemens Spotlight on Innovation

Siemens Spotlight on Innovation

I flew to Orlando May 22 as a guest of Siemens along with a select few other “influencers” to be introduced to a number of innovation projects fueled by Siemens technology. We met at the Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts in downtown Orlando (did you even know there was a downtown?), which itself is filled with Siemens equipment. There are few companies in the industrial area which I cover that have the vision and execution that Siemens is exhibiting right now.

By the way, there is a fantastic little taco place in downtown Orlando. Email or DM on Twitter, and I’ll share the name. Greg Hale of ISSSource.com and I had dinner there Wednesday. We agreed—among the best tacos we’ve had.

Barbara Humpton, CEO Siemens USA, led with an overview. Siemens has made a greater than $1B investment in R&D in the US with 7,000 engineers churning out 700 inventions per year.

She introduced former stunt man and motorcycle racer turned CEO Mike “Mouse” McCoy, CEO & Founder of HackRod. McCoy built on a foundation of Siemens PLM and SolidEdge CAD. He added a gaming engine. He was able to use VR for design reviews, interference checking, and simulation during the design process. We followed along with design and review of a new motorcycle. A few parts required somewhat exotic materials. Oak Ridge National Labs printed the parts from the design files downloaded from HackRod. The design teams were in Ventura, CA and Princeton, NJ with input from Munich, Germany. Collaboration was not a problem.

Beginning of design until component parts shipped to Orlando—2 weeks. The parts arrived Tuesday. McCoy and a partner assembled the motorcycle on Tuesday evening and wheeled (not drove) it onto the stage Wednesday about 1:30. Not bad? Heck, in my early career, we couldn’t have done a foam-core mock up in that time frame.

One thought McCoy left us with. “We need to talk STEAM, not just STEM—science, technology, engineering, arts, math.” It is now possible for artists and designers to be an intimate part of the team going from art to finished product quickly. 3D printing from PLM files. Way cool.

How about a high school mechanical design student given a project to provide a lighter prosthetic foot for an Army vet? Humpton introduced 18-year-old high school student Ashley Kimbel who had undertaken just such a project. She worked with the veteran to analyze his current “foot” looking for areas where weight could be eliminated. Then she had to learn how to fabricate and manufacture the device. We saw films of the veteran running with Ashley proving out the new prosthetic.

This is a long way from projects I had as a 17-year-old senior. Education and technology have come a long way in a lifetime. Oh, and her future? She wants to work in bioengineering designing and 3D printing organs. She will be working on that during her tenure at UAB. She is going to make a difference for many people.

I have many more ideas and conversations to capture. This will serve for now.
Check out #SiemensInnovates

Siemens Spotlight on Innovation

Misunderstood Manufacturing

Humans get strange ideas in their minds that cannot be shaken by facts and truth. Such as any new idea for improving efficiency, effectiveness, and profitability of manufacturing will cost people their jobs.

It is part of popular mythology that automation puts people out of work. This idea is so prevalent that even MIT economics professors run math to try to prove it. (See previous post.)

Then I interviewed Bob Argyle, co-founder and CCO of Leading2Lean, who mentioned “People say Lean cuts jobs, but it actually saves jobs.”

Leading2Lean is a Lean-based company that has developed an implementation software that engages plant floor workers and changes the way they approach their jobs by delivering real-time actionable IoT data and methods that reveal the root causes of production bottlenecks. This allows everyone to problem-solve and create a sustainable culture of continuous improvement.

I related to Argyle that when I put together the first issue of Automation World back in early 2003 I wanted to interview a Lean expert. The gentleman asked why I would interview him since automation was antithetical to Lean. I told him that I thought there was a place where each could use the other. Hence, the Leading2Lean software.

Argyle gave me the history of his Lean journey beginning at AutoLiv, a supplier of air bags to the auto industry. The customer sent a “sensei” to teach Lean methodology–also known as the Toyota Production System. Responding to my automation comment, Argyle said, “Sensei never said computers are bad, but he taught us to improve the process before adding computers. Use automation to reduce process waste.”

Just what I was taught in my first computer applications class in 1977. Know your process first, then improve the process, then add digitalization.

Use data to capture critical data, Argyle told me. And use automation appropriately for the right thing to do in the particular process. Use it to remove waste, and for safety, quality, and efficiency.

We had to cut the interview, but they offered some specific customer stories that detail the benefits of the integration of computers and Lean.

Siemens Spotlight on Innovation

Industrial, Cloud, AR, Subscriptions

I am often asked about what industrial digital transformation really means and about technologies such as cloud, edge, AR/VR, and so forth. This press release from AVEVA promised to answer much of that—until I sat down to parse it and figure out what to write. After editing out close to half of the document which was laced with buzz words—revolutionary, innovative, digital transformation, (BINGO), I think I have boiled it down to its essence. The essence is actually pretty good and didn’t need all the fluff to build it up. (I go here, because in my old age, I’m tired of fluff. Why not just tell us what you have? It’s probably pretty good!)

First, the cloud. AVEVA Connect, a cloud-based digital transformation hub, enables customers to seamlessly access AVEVA’s software portfolio, enabling digitalization of design, build, operations, and maintenance processes across a wide range of industries. Over the past year, AVEVA Connect has launched eight new cloud-enabled offers, more than 75 updates to its digital services including the launch of cloud Operator Training Solution (OTS), visualization, and condition management capabilities, and grown to support over 5,500 daily users.

Second, the AR/VR and OTS. Total OLEUM has implemented AVEVA’s cloud- based operator training systems. No real details were added by the PR people regarding benefits, but they worked in the words, revolutionary, innovative, benefitted. Evidently Total is happy with the training results. When I’m asked about AR/VR (augmented reality and virtual reality), my response is that it’s great for training.

Third is not a technology but a pricing plan. AVEVA’s new subscription program, AVEVA Flex, includes “advanced HMI visualization, operations control and information management, manufacturing execution, and asset performance capabilities. With subscription-based, feature-rich software tiers, AVEVA Flex offers a broad range of flexibility in the purchase, design, and utilization of industrial software solutions.” What this sounds like to me is a repackaging of Wonderware’s pricing modal to bring it in line with the latest industry trends. Without knowing pricing details, it sounds like the company is on the right track.

Among the first to take up the new AVEVA Flex subscription program, Giovanni Borinelli – General Manager from Italian Steelmaker NLMK Verona, said: “For us to compete in today’s volatile market, we need a trusted partner who can help us master our digital transformation. The technical and commercial flexibility that AVEVA Flex provides is fundamental to that change and will help us remain agile and successful into the future.”

Siemens Spotlight on Innovation

Don’t Be Replaced By AI

There are linchpins; and there are cogs.

I’m not talking mechanics. It’s about people.

Some people fit in. They find their place in an organization or team. They do the quiet, repetitious work. Work that can eventually be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI). Or by robots.

Humans have a brain. Organizations, teams, companies need people who use their brains. They become vital to the cause. They are linchpins.

I’ve had very few mentors in the flesh. But I’ve had many mentors through the books they wrote. Seth Godin has become one of my mentors. He wrote the book on Linchpins.

Go find a way to make yourself valuable. Make a difference wherever you are. Don’t be replaced by AI.

If you keep butting against walls where you are, leave. Find a place where you can make a difference.

Another of Seth’s phrases applies–Go raise a ruckus!

I bring this up by way of introducing a way that many of you can raise a ruckus and raise your value. It’s called contributing to open source projects. These project contribute greatly to the advancement of the state of the art in many areas. The poster child, of course, is Linux. But there are many more.

Last week I wrote about an open source project that was the subject of a press release from one of the contributing companies concerning OPC UA over TSN. From the news release, it sounded promising. I went to the Web sites of the company–a software firm in India–and also the sponsoring organization–Open Source Automation Development Lab.

It all looked interesting, even though I had not heard of either one before.

A twitter conversation ensued with a reader who really dives into these projects. Turns out to be not so hot. The OSADL does not use GitHub–today’s standard repository for open source development. It has a few projects, some of which have not been updated since 2008. Nothing appears usable at this point.

I reviewed the companies involved in this project and in the OSADL generally. None seem to be taking a deep dive.

I know that the OPC Foundation has a new working group for Field Device communication of OPC UA over TSN. It has just organized as of a few months ago. I’m waiting for response from the working group leader for an update.

I’m also on a Facebook group concerning open source OPC UA. It has occasional conversations.

Maybe someone can raise a ruckus by prodding this German group OSADL to move to GitHub and grow. OPC Foundation is OK, but groups like that take a long time for specifications given the jockeying of various member companies to assure that each does not lose any competitive advantage when the standard if finalized. (Sorry, I had personal experience on these things, including having been chair of one once.)

And, I apologize for taking the shortcut with the press release on OSADL rather than exploring a little more deeply. Thanks to my reader who did.

Let me know if you see anything on the horizon.

Siemens Spotlight on Innovation

AI Module Provides Predictive Analytics

Don’t get all worked up over the hype of a dystopian future about Artificial Intelligence (AI). We’ve been using pieces of it for many years. I had a junior programmer in the late 80s who was going off to become an expert in AI as our company was shutting down.

Much of AI we’re using falls into the voice assistant category. We’re seeing this pop up in the industrial space. I don’t want an always listening (and recording?) device in my house. Not sure if we want one in manufacturing. But, there are uses. Users had best figure out security, though.

The other pieces of AI usually involve some sort of machine learning. The program brings new data in, upgrades its algorithms, and provides better outputs—whether predictive analytics or alerts or process improvements.

Rockwell Automation has had a project for several years code named Project Sherlock. I’ve written previously here. It combines voice assistant along with predictive analytics. Engineers first showed it off with a smart phone. Now the company has added it as a module to its PLC line in classic Rockwell Automation fashion.

The new FactoryTalk Analytics LogixAI module, formerly known as Project Sherlock, uses artificial intelligence (AI) to detect production anomalies and alert workers so they can investigate or intervene, as necessary.

Many existing analytics technologies require deep expertise in both data science and industrial processes. But this add-on module for ControlLogix controllers reduces that burden by doing the job of a data scientist. It fits directly into a control chassis and streams controller data over the backplane to build predictive models. It can continuously monitor a production operation, detecting anomalies against its derived understanding.

“The FactoryTalk Analytics LogixAI module makes predictive analytics more accessible to help more workers make better production decisions,” said Jonathan Wise, product manager, Rockwell Automation. “The module learns your ControlLogix application and tells operators and technicians when things are changing in unexpected ways. This can help them get ahead of product quality issues and protect process integrity.”

For example, the module can help operators spot performance deviations in equipment like mixers that could affect product quality or lead to downtime. It can also be used as a virtual sensor. Instead of workers taking a reading, like the humidity of a packaged food product, the module can analyze variables from line assets like sprayers, dryers and burners to predict a measurement, virtually.

Workers can then be notified of problems by configuring alarms on a human machine interface (HMI) or dashboard. Future features of the module will go further, helping workers focus their problem-solving or automate the optimization of a process.

The FactoryTalk Analytics LogixAI module is the newest addition to the FactoryTalk Analytics portfolio from Rockwell Automation. The portfolio includes FactoryTalk Analytics for Devices, which learns about an automation system’s structure to tell workers about problems with individual devices. The LogixAI module expands on this by learning about an automation system’s application and helping identify anomalies with its overall function.

Both products work individually, but each will benefit the other in future iterations. The FactoryTalk Analytics platform aggregates multiple sources of data, so workers can discover new insights. FactoryTalk Analytics for Devices and the LogixAI module will both be data sources for the platform going forward.

Siemens Spotlight on Innovation

Epicor Unveils AI-Based Virtual Agent

There is so much hype around Artificial Intelligence (AI) that I sometimes want to discount it. However, here is yet another (see last week’s post) example of what AI can really accomplish. This industry-specific application of artificial intelligence technology simplifies interactions with ERP systems, automates tasks, and facilitates faster operations.

Epicor Software, a global provider of industry-specific enterprise software, has announced the release of Epicor Virtual Agent (EVA), its new enterprise-wide digital agent designed to help users work smarter and accelerate pace of operations across the business more easily.

“EVA will enable customers of all sizes, regardless of their operating model, to increase productivity, work smarter, and grow their business in whatever direction they want in today’s Industry 4.0 ecosystem,” Scott Hays, Senior Vice President, Product Marketing, Epicor Software.

Developed to execute tasks and recommend, predict, and adjust actions within set parameters, EVA appears on-screen as a virtual

assistant that users can access via text or voice. Along with cognitive skills such as text and voice, EVA transforms data into visual information creating an intuitive experience to complete actions on native devices. Powered by Natural Language Processing (NLP), users can access EVA from their mobile devices and the agent will deliver targeted information to help them make better, faster decisions.

Beyond the request/response conversational experience, EVA also uses artificial intelligent (AI) capabilities to proactively deliver alerts and carry out targeted actions based on combinations of events, market statistics, and historical data. Designed to extend and support the workforce, EVA can contribute timely insights that improve accuracy, problem-spotting, and can even forecast and automatically adjust production or distribution levels in-line with customer demand.

“New forms of interacting with business software solutions are a key to accelerating the pace of operations and improving the exchange of data and information,” said Hays. “Having an intelligent agent at hand will help companies become more agile and responsive to unexpected events and rapidly changing customer demands.”

According to industry analyst firm Gartner more than 50 percent of all people collaborating in Industry 4.0 ecosystems will use virtual assistants or intelligent agents to interact more naturally with their surroundings and with people by 2022. IDC predicts that by the same year, task-level intelligent applications (apps) that augment human efforts will account for 30 percent of the enterprise apps market. According to IDC, by 2027 the advances in unsupervised and reinforcement machine learning will enable cognitive/AI systems that can detect and sense their environment, learn independently, and make decisions on their own or provide humans with constraint-optimized recommendations.

“With EVA, you interact naturally with your ERP system,” comments Hays. “It’s as easy as just talking or typing to a colleague. This makes the breadth and depth of the industry-specific functionality and information available inside the system directly accessible to a larger audience, boosting productivity and efficiency, and giving the company an improved return on their ERP investment.”

Developed using AI services from Microsoft Azure, EVA can be added to all sizes and types of Epicor ERP implementations—on-premise as well as in the cloud. This ensures customers of any size, including small and medium-sized companies, can take advantage of innovative technologies that will help them grow their businesses.

“As consumers we’re already familiar with conversational technology, EVA will be easy for users to start working with straight away. Furthermore, thanks to its machine learning component, the more you use EVA, the better it will work for you,” said Hays. “We are confident that using an artificial intelligence-based agent that has deep industry-specific applications will make their enterprise systems more predictive, adaptive, and proactive. EVA will enable customers of all sizes, regardless of their operating model, to increase productivity, work smarter, and grow their business in whatever direction they want in today’s Industry 4.0 ecosystem.”

One use case highlighted by Epicor was manufacturing. Using EVA to detect an anomaly early on in a production machine that, if left untouched, could lead to unplanned downtime and sub-standard product quality. Data from machines and IoT sensors, combined with Epicor ERP, provides a virtual nervous system that delivers AI-driven alerts from EVA to a mobile device. With just a few clicks on the device, the production manager can confirm suggestions from EVA to schedule preventive maintenance for a machine and shift production to other available machines.