Automation and Industrial Innovation Funding News

Automation and Industrial Innovation Funding News

Automation, Innovation, Funding news from Rockwell Automation, IoT Partners Research, Dell EMC IoT, Schneider Electric Ventures

Rockwell Automation

I started going to Automation Fair in 1997. This is the first year I have missed. I could be in any of four different venues this week. Used to be that Rockwell had the week to itself. No longer. I am not there because I don’t like Rockwell. Business considerations are taking me a different direction. Tomorrow I’ll be speaking on IoT, data, solving business problems at the Industry of Things World-East forum in Orlando. I thought about a huge tour of three cities. Then I thought again.

I posted news from Rockwell Automation yesterday about its recent collaboration with PTC. I haven’t seen anything newer coming out yet from my sources.

ABI Research

In its recent analysis ranking 547 companies on their IoT service capabilities, ABI Research, a market-foresight advisory firm providing strategic guidance on the most compelling transformative technologies, finds that partner programs and their member companies are continuing to mature in their IoT offerings while simultaneously decreasing the average number of members per partner program.

In fact, 65% of listed organizations received a high IoT maturity grade, which is nearly 2½ times the number of organizations that received a high maturity ranking when ABI Research first analyzed these IoT ecosystems back in September 2015. Partner program parents such as Amazon Web Services, Dell, and IBM are aligning themselves with fewer, higher-value partners who can better help end-users navigate the convoluted IoT ecosystem.

Partner program parents need to ensure that their partners can effectively address the current major needs of the market while also addressing high-growth niche vertical markets, with companies like Dell and AWS showing that it’s possible to address these changing market dynamics without being encumbered by hundreds of partners. AWS’ IoT Competency program ensures that its partners have a high-depth of IoT expertise to meet end-user needs, while Dell’s IoT Solutions Partner Ecosystem is focused on having both technology and services partners who can address specific use cases.

The three most targeted verticals within these partner program ecosystems have consistently been healthcare, manufacturing, and energy applications, but over the past three years, there has been a remarkable increase in the number of partners offering solutions targeting the digital signage, wearable, and smart building markets due to end-user demand.

FogHorn Partners With Dell EMC OEM Solutions

Speaking of partnerships, this came in today. FogHorn, a developer of edge intelligence software for industrial and commercial IoT applications, announced a collaboration with Dell EMC OEM Solutions to deliver end-to-end Industrial IoT (IIoT) edge computing solutions. This collaboration allows industrial and commercial customers to leverage the power of the edge quickly with an out-of-the-box solution for their Industrial IoT (IIoT) deployments – providing real-time insights to streamline operations and improve business outcomes.

By integrating FogHorn’s Lightning edge computing technology to solutions from Dell EMC, industrial and commercial customers now have access to preconfigured gateways and other devices that simplify IoT deployments. These “edgified” solutions allow clients to deploy edge computing at various end-point locations quickly, wherever the power of edge computing is needed.

Schneider Electric Ventures

Schneider Electric, who also has an event this week, has announced “Schneider Electric Ventures”, which identifies, nurtures and supports innovations that will make a major contribution to future sustainability and energy efficiency. Several major projects are underway and ready to be deployed.

‘Schneider Electric Ventures’ nurtures tomorrow’s transformational and disruptive technologies according to the press release.

The company spends €1 billion a year on R&D; and EcoStruxure, its IoT-enabled, plug and play, open, interoperable, architecture and platform is at the cutting edge of connected energy management and industrial automation.

A few months ago, the company created “Schneider Electric Ventures”. The mission of this initiative is to identify, support and nurture companies and entrepreneurs whose innovations will transform the way we live and work, how we produce and consume energy, and how we run buildings and factories.

Schneider Electric Ventures supports innovation through:

  • Funding
  • Incubation
  • Partnerships

At its Innovation Summit North America, Schneider Electric announced some projects developed by “Schneider Electric Ventures”. These projects include:

  • eIQ Mobility, a start-up and spinoff from Schneider Electric Incubator, which enables and accelerates electric mobility at scale by providing “Electric Fleet as a Service ” to large commercial fleets.
  • Clipsal Solar, a business venture for on-grid and off-grid solutions for residential and commercial applications in Australia, where 1.8 million homeowners have installed solar panels to help manage their energy bills. The market is forecasted to grow with additional 134,000 homes by 2021.
  • Greentown Labs Bold Ideas Challenge in partnership with Greentown Labs, focused on fast-tracking entrepreneurs with the mentors, team members, grants of $25,000, and business and technical resources they need to launch successful ventures.

Through its different investment vehicles, Schneider Electric also made equity investments in six companies:

  • Sense, the leader in load disaggregation technology
  • Element Analytics, a leader in industrial big data analytics
  • Habiteo, a 3D specialist for new residential housing
  • QMerit, the “Uber” for contractors & MRO spend
  • KGS, a predictive engine for just-in-time maintenance
  • Claroty, the leading Cybersecurity company for industrial OT networks

Schneider Electric has committed to invest between 300 and 500 million euros in the coming years, in incubation projects, partnerships with entrepreneurs, and specialized funds, and welcomes ideas from innovators and entrepreneurs eager to turn their ideas into reality.

Automation and Industrial Innovation Funding News

Festo Manufacturing and Distribution in the US

The Festo International Press Conference has taken me on manufacturing and technology tours to Germany and Hungary in the past. This year’s event was a short drive down Interstate 75 to Cincinnati, Ohio. Here a large international press contingent toured its new $70 M state-of-the-art distribution and manufacturing center.

assembly-2The facility features a highly automated order picking system unique to the manufacturing industry in North America and only comparable to the highly sophisticated warehouse systems of the strongest retail brands. With these new premises Festo is now able to triple its capacities: This allows for more flexibility, improved services and offers plenty of space for future growth.

Excellent growth prospects

The center is designed to allow for the speed and flexibility needed to accommodate Festo’s future growth in the NAFTA market (US, Canada and Mexico). The RSC will also support the expected growth in Mexico, which is becoming a recognized hub for the automotive industry. The new center has Foreign Trade Zone status, which makes it faster and more efficient to support customers in the US, Canada and Mexico from a central US location.

logistics-2With a storage capacity of 65,000 bins, the highly automated warehouse system – implemented by Witron, the leading designer and supplier of fully automated warehouse and logistics systems – features seven high-performance picking stations and the capability to pick and pack 1,000 items per hour. “As regional and US sales continue to grow, this Regional Service Center will provide a strong product supply backbone for the North American market with best in class supply chain performance“, said Yannick Schilly, Head of Product Supply NAFTA

yannick-schillyand RSC Mason.

Festo Value Production (Lean)

The facility features an implementation of the Festo Value Production system (FVP). This system is based on closely involving employees in defining standards and continuously improving processes and technical solutions. Great emphasis is placed on consistent communication as well as the visualization of objectives and results. It is thus possible to produce globally over 30,000 products with countless variants and deliver tailor-made solutions to customers all over the world within a matter of days.

The Regional Service Center features both an assembly area and the warehousing/picking area. When assembly is completed, the finished product is transported to the Regional Service Center (RSC) for shipment. All components in a system are grouped by barcode, packaged for shipping, and then shipped out to schedule.

“Our customers in North America expect top quality ‘made by Festo’, with guaranteed supplies and next-day delivery at prices in keeping with local market conditions. At the same time, energy efficiency, environmental protection and occupational safety are becoming increasingly important. The Regional Service Center in Mason/Ohio will secure our regional supplies to the North American market for the years ahead,” concludes Dr. Dirk Erik Loebermann, Chief Operation Officer and Member of the Festo Management Board.

Training and Apprenticeship Program

didactic-4Festo has established a separate group, Festo Didactic, which provides training and apprenticeship programs both for Festo products and systems as well as for automation in general. In Mason, Didactic has partnered with Sinclair Community College and five companies in the Cincinnati tri-state area (Art Metal Group, Clippard Instruments, Festo Inc., MQ Automation, Nestlé) to create a two-year Mechatronics Apprenticeship Program to help employers develop the skills that are missing in the workforce today by combining theoretical education, hands-on training, and on the job training. The apprenticeship is designed to help individuals learn advanced manufacturing skills as well as earn an associate’s degree in mechatronics.

The first cohort of the program includes 11 apprentices who are training for careers as maintenance technicians, automation specialists, service technicians, and manufacturing technicians. The program uses the German apprenticeship model of dual education, where apprentices learn in a classroom and maintain a steady job.

Every week each apprentice spends one day at Sinclair Community College for classes, one day using state-of-the-art equipment at the new Festo Learning Center in Mason, and three days working at their respective employers. The apprentices are able to take what they learn in class, practice it at the Festo Learning Center, and then use that new knowledge and skill in a real-life work environment. “In terms of educational modality, the apprenticeship model couldn’t be a better fit for manufacturing,” says Vice President for Regional Centers at Sinclair Community College Scott Markland.

The Festo Learning Center is a unique part of the program. The Center is designed to meet international standards for production facilities and labs. It provides the apprentices a training facility where they can work with instructors on high-end Festo workstations that simulate a work environment and corresponds to their classroom curriculum.

Industry 4.0

For manufacturing companies in high-wage countries, Industry 4.0 provides an opportunity for remaining competitive on a global scale. “We are talking here about the transformation of industrial manufacture into a fully networked, flexible production system. To remain competitive, we must take the initiative with our characteristic spirit of inventiveness and give shape to this new development”, says Prof. Peter Post, Head of Corporate Research and Technology of Festo AG & Co. KG.

This transformation in the world of production is founded on digitalization, a crucial element in the merging of the virtual and real worlds. Prof. Post sees great potential here: “Digital refinement will give rise to increasingly intelligent products. In future, the individual elements of an overall system will be able to communicate with each other and autonomously control and regulate themselves. They are the core of industrial digitalization and support the production process through enhanced functionality – from classic aspects such as productivity and quality on to increasing individualization.”

dr-michael-hoffmeisterTo optimally leverage these new capabilities of intelligent products, cooperation needs to be established with many systems and business processes. “Together with our partners in Industry 4.0, we’re currently defining the new language of Industry 4.0. The German ‘Plattform Industrie 4.0’ with its widespread members from office and shop floor, as well as from standardizations and associations, works on joint reference models and international standards. This will allow for engineering the digital work stream in a kind of plug&play manner! The intelligent devices will describe themselves and will autonomously find the right collaboration partners”, details Dr. Michael Hoffmeister, representing the portfolio management software of Festo AG & Co. KG. “In the future, digitizing these virtual added values of a component will be as important as manufacturing the physical part”, he says.

Being one of the main drivers of standardization within Industry 4.0, Dr. Hoffmeister points out, how important worldwide collaboration is: “We’re working technically closely together with our colleagues from the Industrial Internet Consortium. Our business scopes are complementing each other and our architectures are mapping together”.

Festo Customers in the Region

We toured two customer plants in the area. HAHN Automation and Storopack.

HAHN Automation is one of the leading manufacturers of special machinery for automated production. Its main customers are the automotive industry and its suppliers. “We have a firm focus on customer proximity, since that is the only way we can ensure our quality standards and guarantee intensive project support,” says John Baines.

This strategy has borne fruit, as shown by the successful cooperation with customers located within three hours’ drive of Cincinnati. The nationwide list of customers reads like a who’s who of the industry: from BMW to BorgWarner, Brose, Continental or Mitsubishi, HAHN Automation’s customers include most of the industry’s global players. Another practical point is the closeness of its own facilities to Cincinnati Airport, which is just ten minutes away. This also explains why the company is developing and supplying its site in Mexico from its US factory.

Modular cell concept

HAHN Automation’s main concept is the MasterCell. A MasterCell can either be used as an automatic single workstation with manual component placement or combined into technologically sophisticated automation systems. The modular system design is based on the principle of fast and cost-effective expansion in line with demand as production quantities increase. In the MasterCell modern robots as well as leading-edge assembly and testing technology are used, making it suitable for challenging assembly and testing processes.

The benefits for customers include the standardized cell structure, ease of handling and operation, ergonomic design, high quality, high availability, short delivery times, great economic efficiency, flexible degrees of automation and high levels of customizability.

Festo automation components play an important role in the MasterCell concept: from the modular automation platform CPX/MPA to pneumatic drives from the standard product range and pneumatic grippers, HAHN Automation uses key products from the automation specialist. These are used in almost all assembly cells.

Packaging Material

Packaging material is a typical throwaway product. Packages arrive, are opened, the goods are removed, and the filler material is thrown away. “Hardly anyone – apart from Storopack – thinks about how important it is to select the right protective packaging products in the right quantity and quality for a particular application,” explains Daniel Wachter, President of Storopack for North America in Cincinnati, Ohio. Incorrect or inadequate filler material can damage goods in transit, while excessive or incorrectly inserted protective packaging material can significantly reduce productivity at packing stations in distribution centers.

blown-film-lineStoropack produces – among other things – its AIRplus film rolls to supply to distributors and customers throughout the world. During the primary process, plastic granulate is formed into basic plastic film at blown film lines. This is then wound onto rolls by winding machines. These machines are equipped with standard cylinders DSBC which allow the rollers of the winding machines to be correctly aligned, depending on the load.

On configuration lines in the secondary process, the film is configured to the required dimensions and perforations and packed as finished AIRplus rolls. Stamping tools are used to seal and perforate the infinite plastic film to form air cushions of specific widths and lengths. These lines are also equipped with pneumatic cylinders DSBC, as well as rotary cylinders DSNU-PPS, compact cylinders ADN and short-stroke cylinders ADVC, controlled in each case by individual valves CPE 14.

Automation and Industrial Innovation Funding News

Industrial Internet Testbed Announced

Developing testbeds for testing development of technology extensions seems to be hot right now. The Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition has a couple going in conjunction with US government money. There is a bid out from the US government for development of some more, also related to energy efficiency.

The Industrial Internet Consortium announced its first energy-focused testbed: the Communication and Control Testbed for Microgrid Applications. Industrial Internet Consortium member organizations Real-Time Innovations (RTI), National Instruments, and Cisco, are collaborating on the project, working with power utilities CPS Energy and Southern California Edison. Additional industry collaborators include Duke Energy and the power industry organization – Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP).

I recently saw where an analyst positioned the IIC with the German Industry 4.0 initiative–while ignoring the US Smart Manufacturing group altogether. These advanced manufacturing strategies are showing some growth. Both of these have commercial technology companies solidly behind them. I would think that they will have more impact in the long run than SMLC. But we’ll see.

Here is some background from the IIC press release. “Today’s power grid relies on a central-station architecture not designed to interconnect distributed and renewable power sources such as roof-top solar and wind turbines. The system must over-generate power to compensate for rapid variation in power generation or demands. As a result, much of the benefit of renewable energy sources in neighborhoods or businesses is lost. Efficiently integrating variable and distributed generation requires architectural innovation.”

The goal of the Communication and Control Testbed is to introduce the flexibility of real-time analytics and control to increase efficiencies in this legacy process – ensuring that power is generated more accurately and reliably to match demand. This testbed proposes re-architecting electric power grids to include a series of distributed microgrids which will control smaller areas of demand with distributed generation and storage capacity.

These microgrids will operate independently from the main electric power grid but will still interact and be coordinated with the existing infrastructure.

The testbed participants will work closely with Duke Energy, which recently published a distributed intelligence reference architecture, as well as SGIP to help ensure a coordinated, accepted architecture based on modern, cross-industry industrial internet technologies.

The Communications and Control framework will be developed in three phases that will culminate in a field deployment that will take place at CPS Energy’s “Grid-of-the-Future” microgrid test area in San Antonio, Texas.

The initial phases will be tested in Southern California Edison’s Controls Lab in Westminster, CA.

US Government Continues Acting on Smart Manufacturing

US Government Continues Acting on Smart Manufacturing

SMLC 300 X 125 pixel adLast month, the Obama administration announced another smart manufacturing initiative through a “Notice of Intent to Issue FOA.” That is a “Funding Opportunity Announcement.” This follows another initiative in which the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition was awarded funds to develop several test beds.

In government-speak:

DE-FOA-0001262: Notice of Intent to Issue FOA entitled “Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation Institute on Smart Manufacturing: Advanced Sensors, Controls, Platforms, and Modeling for Manufacturing” (DE-FOA-0001263)

The purpose of this Notice of Intent is to provide potential applicants advance notice that the Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO), on behalf of the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), intends to issue a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) entitled “Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation Institute on Smart Manufacturing: Advanced Sensors, Controls, Platforms, and Modeling for Manufacturing” (DE-FOA-0001263).

This Notice is issued so that interested parties are aware of the EERE’s intention to issue this FOA in the near term. All of the information contained in this Notice is subject to change. EERE may issue a FOA as described herein, may issue a FOA that is significantly different than the FOA described herein, or DOE may not issue a FOA at all.

NO APPLICATIONS WILL BE ACCEPTED THROUGH THIS NOTICE. Please do not submit questions or respond to this Notice of Intent. Prospective applicants to the FOA should begin developing partnerships, formulating ideas, and gathering data in anticipation of the issuance of this FOA. It is anticipated that this FOA will be posted to EERE eXCHANGE early in the year 2015.

FOA Documents

This announcement was accompanied by a release from the White House tying funding to enhancing US manufacturing export capability. The announcement reads:

[On December 11, 2014], at a meeting of the President’s Export Council (PEC), President Obama announced nearly $400 million to help improve the competitiveness of American businesses and workers by spurring new manufacturing innovations and giving America workers additional opportunities to improve and expand their skill sets for middleclass jobs.

To help support new advancements in manufacturing, the President will announce more than $290 million in public-private investment for two new Manufacturing Innovation Hub Competitions. The announcement fulfills the President’s 2014 State of the Union pledge to launch four new institutes this year, for a total of eight institutes launched so far, and puts the Administration past the halfway mark on the President’s original goal of creating 15 manufacturing innovation institutes supported through executive action.

In addition, the President will announce $100 million to expand apprenticeships for American workers – a proven training strategy for workers to learn the skills that employers need for American businesses to grow and thrive in a competitive global environment. Apprenticeships are also a path to the middle class – 87 percent of apprentices are employed after completing their programs and the average starting wage for apprenticeship graduates is over $50,000.

During the meeting, President Obama will also highlight the continued need to reform and simplify our tax code and the importance of opening up new markets abroad for American-made goods and services through tough, fair new trade agreements.

The PEC, chaired by Jim McNerney, President and CEO of Boeing and vice-chaired by Ursula Burns, Chairman and CEO of the Xerox Corporation, is the principal national advisory committee for exporting.  The Council advises the President on government policies and programs that affect U.S. trade performance; promotes export expansion; and provides a forum for discussing and resolving trade-related problems among the business, industrial, agricultural, labor, and government sectors.

Last year, the United States exported $2.3 trillion dollars of goods and services, an all-time high, and today, exports support more than 11 million American jobs across 300,000 businesses. Manufacturing, in particular, is the engine behind our exports and innovation – contributing the majority of the nation’s exports and nearly three-quarters of its private-sector R&D. And American manufacturing is more competitive than it has been in decades, growing nearly twice as fast as the economy overall and adding 764,000 jobs since February 2010.

At the same time, businesses looking to move production to the United States consistently cite the skills of America’s workers, the most productive workforce in the world, as the reason for rooting jobs and investment here.  These announcements build on that competitive strength by investing in manufacturing innovation and upgrading the skills of American workers through the proven model of apprenticeships.

Manufacturing Institutes

Manufacturing institutes serve as a regional hub, bridging the gap between applied research and product development by bringing together companies, universities and other academic and training institutions, and Federal agencies to co-invest in key technology areas that encourage investment and production in the U.S. This type of “teaching factory” provides a unique opportunity for education and training of students and workers at all levels, while providing the shared assets to help small manufacturers and other companies access the cutting-edge capabilities and equipment to design, test, and pilot new products and manufacturing processes.

Department of Energy-led Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute

A third of the nation’s energy consumption goes into manufacturing. New smart manufacturing technologies – including advanced sensors and sophisticated process controls – can dramatically improve energy efficiency in manufacturing, saving manufacturers costs and conserving the nation’s energy.

The Department of Energy will lead a competition for a new public-private manufacturing innovation institute focused on smart manufacturing, including advanced sensors, control, platforms, and models for manufacturing.  By combining manufacturing, digital, and energy efficiency expertise, technologies developed by the institute will give American manufacturers unprecedented, real-time control of energy use across factories and companies to increase productivity and save on energy costs.

For energy intensive industries – like chemical production, solar cell manufacturing, and steelmaking – these technologies can shave 10-20% off the cost of production.  The new institute will receive a federal investment of $70 million that will be matched by at least $70 million in private investments and represents a critical step in the Administration’s effort to double U.S. energy efficiency by 2030.

 

The US Congress Meets Energy Efficiency

The US Congress Meets Energy Efficiency

Steven Nadel, Executive Director of the ACEEE: The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy sent an update about the work of the recent Congress relative to energy efficiency from his blog. Below is his report.

Over the weekend the 113th Congress largely wrapped up its work. It looks like this Congress will pass just over 200 bills, the lowest number since World War II. However, before leaving home for the holidays, Congress took action on several bills that will affect energy efficiency:

  1. Congress appropriated money for the rest of the 2015 fiscal year for most federal departments. Included was $1.93 billion for the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, an increase of nearly $25 million from the previous year. The advanced manufacturing office and weatherization assistance programs received increases of 11% and 9%, respectively, while the buildings, vehicles, and federal energy management programs received small cuts.
  2. Energy efficiency tax incentives will be extended for another year. The tax extenders package includes provisions on energy-efficient commercial buildings, new homes, and various residential energy-efficiency retrofits (e.g. heating, cooling and water heating systems, insulation, and windows). These provisions all expired in Dec. 31, 2013 and the provision extends through Dec. 31, 2014, allowing these credits to be claimed in 2014. The Senate proposed updating some of the qualification levels, but the House decided to keep the current qualification levels. The Senate is expected to accept the House bill. Information about these credits can be found at energytaxincentives.org. The new Congress will have to decide whether to extend these again to cover 2015.
  3. The Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2014 came close but was not enacted. This bill was introduced by Representatives Welch (D-VT) and McKinley (R-WV) and passed the House of Representatives earlier this year. The Senate version was sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) and includes four provisions from their more comprehensive energy efficiency bill. The Senate sought unanimous consent to enact the bill but a few conservative senators objected and thus the bill will need to be reintroduced next year. The bill promotes energy efficiency in rental property, promotes commercial building energy-use benchmarking and disclosure, adjusts efficiency standards for “grid-connected” water heaters, and promotes energy efficiency in federal data centers. ACEEE led work on the benchmarking and disclosure provision and played a substantial role in several of the other provisions.

Overall, a disappointing two years for Congress. Hopefully, the 114th Congress that convenes in January can accomplish much more.