GE Spins Off Embedded Computing Business

GE Spins Off Embedded Computing Business

This is interesting news. I’ve noticed GE doing much reorganizing around the former automation businesses. I actually thought Bernie Anger was going off in a different direction–perhaps with the software group. Instead, he’s leading the embedded computing business (the old SBS and VMIC businesses, if you remember way back when) off on its own.

For some time, marketing in the old GE Fanuc, now GE Intelligent Platforms, business has become quite differentiated. They’ve tried some agencies for PR. But the software side (including the Cimplicity and Intellution businesses which “merged” into Proficy) are seemingly subsumed into the huge investment GE is making corporately in software–note the ads it is running on TV recently. I never know what to call the division, group, or name when I write about it.

Here is the press release regarding the divestiture.

Abaco Systems, an industry-leading supplier of sophisticated, open architecture electronic systems for aerospace, defense and industrial applications, today announced its separation from the General Electric Company (“GE”), opening a new chapter in the company’s history.

“This is a momentous day for Abaco Systems,” said Bernie Anger, president and CEO of Abaco Systems. “Today, we start the next stage in our company’s future – pursuing a strategy focused on satisfying the needs of customers looking for high-performance embedded technology and systems that can withstand the harshest of conditions.  I am very proud of our team who has prepared us for this day, and extremely thankful for the support that we have received from our customers during the transition process.”
“As an independent embedded technology and systems company,” continued Anger, “we see real opportunity to take our extensive experience, mission-critical technology and the repeatable business processes we have developed to continue building a business that combines a commitment to technical innovation with extreme focus on customer service. The company is positioned to benefit from long-term market trends, including shifts towards open architecture, interoperable systems, smarter purchasing initiatives and technological modernization.”
Customers have been notified of the change in ownership and have welcomed the news of the new Abaco Systems. Feedback from customers has been extremely positive:
“Thanks for letting us know about the GE transition to Abaco Systems,” said Rance  Myers, Director of Engineering at Honeywell Aerospace.   “We’re looking forward to the continued relationship and working with Abaco as we progress forward on new projects.”
“SNC is a long-time customer of the GE team and is very excited that they are moving to this new phase in their business,” said Greg Cox, Vice President, CNS at Sierra Nevada Corporation. “It demonstrates the strength of this cohesive team and we look forward to working with them in their new structure.”
Veritas Capital, a leading private equity firm that invests in companies that provide critical products and services to government and commercial customers worldwide, acquired Abaco Systems from GE.  One customer noted the strength of the Veritas reputation:
“My staff was particularly pleased that Veritas acquired GE’s embedded computing business, because Veritas apparently has such an ‘active’ interest in the GE products,” said Dr. Mark Gaertner, Manager, Bomber Programs, Northrop Grumman Corporation. “That’s good for NGC and the USAF, because we need stability in our products and suppliers for programs that stretch out over the next 25+ years.  We look forward to continuing our relationship.”
“The good news for our customers is that, from day one, it is business as usual,” concluded Anger. “They will continue to deal with the people they have always dealt with, re-energized by an opportunity to really make a difference.”

Abaco Systems is a global leader in open architecture computing and electronic systems for aerospace, defense and industrial applications. Spun out of General Electric in 2015, we deliver and support open modular solutions developed to upgrade and enhance the growing data, analytics, communications and sensor processing capabilities of our target applications. This, together with our 700+ professionals’ unwavering focus on our customers’ success, reduces program cost and risk, allows technology insertion with affordable readiness and enables platforms to successfully reach deployment sooner and with a lower total cost of ownership. With an active presence in a significant number of national asset platforms on land, sea and in the air, Abaco Systems is trusted where it matters most.


GE Spins Off Embedded Computing Business

Automation Company Acquisitions

Acquisitions are always interesting news. They always signify something about the industry. Sometimes it’s consolidation in a mature industry. Sometimes it’s larger companies growing, adding technology, or adding talent.

In today’s news, there is some of each.Remember when the robot and vision markets were thriving—especially the small SCARA robots? Those days are long over. The price of vision systems plummeted. Just look at the capabilities of the camera and software in your smart phone.

The first announcement is that Omron is acquiring Adept Technology. The second is Emerson Process Management adding some interesting technology to its portfolio.

The only thing surprising to me is the acquirer, not the fact that Adept is being acquired. Those cards have been played a long time ago. Omron Corporation and Adept Technology, Inc. announced that the two companies have entered into an agreement whereby Omron will acquire Adept.

Omron plans to acquire 100% of the outstanding shares of Adept common stock through an all cash tender offer followed by a second-step merger. It will offer Adept investors $13.00 per share of Adept common stock, which represents a 63% premium over the closing price for Adept’s common stock on September 15, 2015. This values Adept at approximately $200 million. It will fund the tender offer through cash on hand.

The tender offer is expected to commence on or about September 23, 2015, and the transaction is expected to close on or about October 23, 2015. The closing of the transaction is subject to customary closing conditions, including at least a majority of shares of Adept common stock being tendered in the offer, expiration of the applicable waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976 and receipt of required foreign antitrust approvals. The transaction has been unanimously approved by the Boards of Directors of both companies.

Commenting on the acquisition, Yutaka Miyanaga, Omron Industrial Automation Business Company President, said, “We are delighted Adept Technology, a world leader in robotics, has agreed to join Omron. This acquisition is part of our strategy to enhance our automation technology and position us for long term growth. Robotics will elevate our offering of advanced automation.”

Rob Cain, President and Chief Executive Officer of Adept, added, “We are excited about the opportunity to join Omron, a global leader in automation. Together, our products will offer new innovative solutions to customers all around the globe.”

Following the transaction, Rob Cain will continue to lead Adept and will report to Nigel Blakeway, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President of Omron Management Center of America, Inc., Omron’s wholly owned United States subsidiary.

Emerson acquisition

Emerson announced it has acquired Spectrex, Inc., a leading manufacturer of flame and open path gas detectors. With this addition, Emerson Process Management will have the most comprehensive line of flame, gas, and ultrasonic leak detector solutions used for safety monitoring in the industry.

Spectrex will join the Rosemount portfolio of measurement and analytical technologies. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

For nearly 34 years, Spectrex has been the leader in flame and open path gas detection. It developed the world’s first ultraviolet-infrared (UV/IR) and triple infrared (IR3) flame detectors and was first to introduce xenon flash lamps in open path detector design, increasing detectors’ resilience to atmospheric conditions while reducing power consumption. These innovative advancements in safety monitoring provide a powerful solution for customers in the oil and gas, petrochemical, chemical and power industries.

“We are very excited about adding the Spectrex product line to our flame and gas detection portfolio,” said Tom Moser, group vice president of Emerson Process Management’s measurement and analytical technologies. “Emerson is committed to helping our customers protect their employees, facilities, and the environment, and we are now better positioned to serve that need.”

Spectrex and its staff are located in Cedar Grove, N.J., with sales and technical support offices in Houston, the United Kingdom, and Taiwan.

GE Spins Off Embedded Computing Business

IoT Ready Automation Controller and Process Performance

Schneider Electric LogoThere were two other announcements at the Schneider Electric Global Automation Conference last week. One ties to the Industrial Internet of Things and the other to helping process control systems work better, longer.

PAC for IoT

First is a high-end Modicon M580 Ethernet programmable automation controller (ePAC). It features hot standby functionality (HSBY), native Ethernet, and embedded cybersecurity in its core. Schneider claims it as the first PAC built for the Industrial Internet of Things, but there have been many controllers with built-in Ethernet released over many years.

The built-in cyber security is interesting since that is the claim to fame for the recently announced Bedrock Automation controller. Obviously, this is a trend worth noting. And a future comparison of how each of those achieves its goal should become a to do item for follow up.

“We’re excited to introduce major innovation in automation with the new Modicon M580 ePAC,” said Jose Bonomo, vice president, offer management, Hybrid Systems, Schneider Electric Industry Business. “Cutting-edge functionality allows us to drive true customer benefit with a future-proof solution designed to meet the most pressing industry challenges.”

Additional features include reinforced cyber security through the AchillesTM Level 2 and ISA Certifications; native time stamping solutions; extension of architecture change during the run; and new topology capabilities.

Advanced system management

The company also has acquired LimeWare, a provider of system analysis and auditing software for Schneider Electric‟s Foxboro Evo process automation and I/A Series distributed control systems. The acquisition provides foxray software to help customers pinpoint and address critical industry challenges.

“Acquiring LimeWare and its foxray software is an integral part of our strategy to help our customers improve their operational integrity and operational insight, while future-proofing their operations,” said Gary Freburger, president of Schneider Electric‟s process automation business. “With additional investment in our flagship process automation offerings, we have even more power to address critical challenges around safety, reliability and efficiency. The ability to more easily tackle pain points, while driving value across the entire process automation chain, is one of the big ideas we are discussing with our customers in Dallas this week, and it remains a major differentiator for our process automation business.”

LimeWare was founded in 2006 and is headquartered in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Its foxray system management software complements the functionality of Schneider Electric‟s Foxboro Evo and I/A Series process automation systems. The solution offers additional capability for configuration management, alarm management, operator action analysis and overall documentation. It includes:

  • Change tracking with a complete change management workflow process;
  • Graphics visualization of the control block loops;
  • Integrity checks to solve all DCS configuration issues;
  • Scheduled reports;
  • Alarms and operator action management and tracking;
  • I/O and FBM spare reserve and tracking;
  • An advance query engine that can quickly fetch any DCS information.

“foxray software is the go-to tool for working with our control system database on a daily basis,” said Scott McWaters, process control engineer, Hunt Refining Company. “From easily locating and reserving spare I/O to improved troubleshooting and insight with the „where used‟ function, system health reporting, operator action reports, alarm history, inhibited alarm tracking and many other functions, foxray has greatly increased our efficiency. The software has been instrumental in our recent alarm rationalization efforts, and the alarm shelving tool will be used to help cut down on the number of call outs to our on-call engineers for nuisance alarm silencing. This contributes to our overall confidence in the integrity of our operation.”

LimeWare and its offerings will be fully integrated into Schneider Electric‟s process automation business and will continue to be managed by its existing executive team.

People, Connections, Technology—Schneider Automation Conference

People, Connections, Technology—Schneider Automation Conference

Freberger 0415Day 2, or my first full day in Dallas at the 2015 Schneider Electric Global Automation conference, was packed with sessions, meetings, and dinner.

Keynotes at a user conference are always a mixed bag. Usually there is a well-known author or leader to give a motivational message. Usually the CEO gives a state-of-the-company address. And then there are product announcements.

Gary Freberger, who leads the automation business, gave just a short update mostly dwelling on the market size of the business that resulted from combining the Foxboro/Triconex process automation business with the Modicon business that already existed within Schneider. Schneider Electric now has far more market clout than before. My take is that this could have a subtle change in industry dynamics in the future.

Connection and Behavior Change

Koulopoulos 0415Tom Koulopoulos, chairman and founder of Delphi Group, a Boston-based think tank, gave the “author/leader/motivational” keynote. He was also promoting his new book, The Gen Z Effect. Like many technologist speakers I’ve heard, he watches his kids and extrapolates to the entire generation.

However, he left us with two very important thoughts. First, it’s not about the technology. It’s about changing behaviors. And those of us who have implemented automation in our lives know that unless it changes the behaviors of the operators, it will not work.

The second thought is that beyond human behavior, it’s about connections. He posits that connections have brought us to this point over the last 300 years and connections will take us forward.

Then he left us with a little flow chart of what is happening:

Real-time analytics–>Predictive analytics–>Business Intelligence

This really does reflect where we are moving with Industrial Internet of Things and contemporary manufacturing strategy.

Solve World Hunger

Martin 0415Peter Martin, Schneider vice president (and one of several visionaries), always presents well. This year his presentation was better than usual. There were essentially two main points—let’s go back to our roots as control engineers while expanding the scope of what we’re controlling, and let’s recognize the value of control engineers and be aware of what we can contribute to the world.

He began by discussing an early science project which had way too large of a scope. The teach kept saying, “Peter, don’t try to solve world hunger.”

Well…fast forward to today. Martin also left us with a little flow chart of sorts:

Use our control expertise to solve problems of energy generation and transmission –>

Half-a-million children die each year due to tainted water; desalination is an energy problem; solve energy problem leads to solving water problem –>

If we can build a PGA golf course in Dubai through solving the water problem, we can build gardens in Africa. So we could solve world hunger –>

We can also solve environment by solving energy. In India, a petrochemical plant grew a mango forest to absorb carbons –>

Solve environment problem leads to solving world health.

I have known Peter for more than 10 years. One of his consistent themes is that engineers are undervalued—and they often under value themselves.

By golly, we could solve world hunger. We could miss the opportunity of a lifetime by thinking too narrowly.

Our day jobs

Automation is the platform upon which we build control. We need to do a few things.

Plants organize with an asset topology. Automation uses a technological topology. We need to reduce the complexity of the automation topology and make it align better with the plant topology. But the installed base is an anchor holding us back. “So, migration becomes really exciting.”

By enabling personalized automation, we no longer eliminate people. We begin to use people to their fullest extent. Forget the lights-out industry talk.

“Have we pushed the limits of control to the furthest extent? We have a long way to go. Discipline of control engineering is just beginning. We must improve efficiency in a safe manner. Business has shifted from highly transactional to real-time. And historically we have separated plant floor from business. Business results get to operations too late to react. We have moved to a real-time control problem because the time constraints of business have shrunk. We need real-time business control as well as real-time process control.”

“I’ve been told that the age of the control engineer is over; No, the age of the control engineer is just beginning. We’ve just changed what we’re controlling. Look at maintenance, asset performance, reliability, it’s all changing in real-time. If we measure in real time and apply real-time control, then we can manage it. Efficiency, reliability, profitability, security, safety, environment. And forget calling people ‘labor,’ but instead call them ‘production managers’ for that is what they really are. Let’s just enable them.”

Martin concluded, “Challenge us to create value-driven innovation across all domains. Keep our eye on our value.”

Schneider Electric Automation Conference and Tricon Release

Schneider Electric Automation Conference and Tricon Release

First afternoon and evening done at the Schneider Electric Global Automation Conference.

When the Schneider Electric acquisition of Invensys was announce about 18 months ago, I predicted that the companies of Invensys would thrive under stable organization and financing—something that Invensys never had.

Well, it was either that, or Schneider would tear things apart and sell off pieces. And there havebeen rumors of just that scenario. The result seems to be the former. I’m sure the planning analysts that Schneider surely has looked at all the scenarios. But everything seems intact.

Schneider has actually bumped Foxboro/Triconex research and development spending by 25% over an already increased amount under the last gasp of Invensys.

And here is one result. The first announcement of the conference. A thoroughly updated Tricon safety system. Of note is the item that this is the first TUV certified safety and security system.

Updated Compact Industrial Safety System

tricon cxTricon CX, released today, is a compact system for safety and critical control applications in the oil and gas, power, refining, chemicals, pharmaceutical and biotech industries, where safe operations are critical and reliable operation is paramount. A certified ISA Secure system, the high-integrity and highly available Tricon CX ensures operational integrity, protecting against inherent risk and hazards, as well as external threats such as cyber-attack.

image“Safety and security have always been a top concern for our industrial clients, but now new threats, such as cyber-attack, have challenged the traditional approaches they have taken to protect and secure their people, property, communities and the environment,” said Mike Chmilewski, vice president, process systems offer management, Schneider Electric process automation business.

“Therefore, our clients demand the highest levels of safety and security to keep them safe and ensure the systems they rely on are immune to external threats. Our high-performance, future-proof Tricon CX safety system does just that. With more performance and capability, it can help clients maximize productivity, reliability and security while minimizing risks and the likelihood of business interruption. It’s another example of why Schneider Electric is uniquely positioned to power the big ideas our clients need to solve their most critical issues.”

The latest addition to Schneider Electric’s Triconex line of safety-instrumented systems, the Tricon CX is smaller, faster, lighter and more powerful than previous safety solutions. Its advanced functionality enables online upgrades without operational interruption. Additionally, the compact design allows for a number of new features including:
• Reduced form factor by 50 percent
• 67 percent reduction in weight
• Lower power consumption
• Advanced monitoring and control capabilities, including:
• Supervised DI/DO with advanced line-performance diagnostics
• Fast analogue inputs with integrated HART
• 1ms SOE digital input
• Choice of direct termination or external termination panel
• 300 percent increase in controller tag capacity
• 5 times increase in peer-to-peer performance
• ISA Secure EDSA level 1
• New automated test and verification of safety logic

“The Tricon CX safety system will enhance Schneider Electric’s current safety portfolio, and ARC believes its increased capabilities will enable new and existing customers to expand existing systems, replace obsolete systems or implement new systems,” said Larry O’Brien, vice president, process automation, ARC Advisory Group. “Its ability to handle upgrades without interrupting the operation should give users confidence in their ability to continue to draw additional value from their investments down the road.”

In addition to leading technology and solution sets, Schneider Electric’s process safety offer includes more than 650 safety engineers who provide a suite of services that help clients better manage their operations. These services include:
• Safety Instrumented Functions Management services
• Process safety consulting services
• Functional safety learning services

Process safety consultants also provide technology paths to help future-proof Triconex technology investments and ensure systems adhere to the latest safety standards.

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