IMTS has been a huge show for many years. As you might expect from a trade show, the theme is broad. Exhibitors are a diverse lot. Things I saw indicating a new wave of technologies including machines designed to work with humans (so-called “cobots”) and various aspects of Industrial Internet of Things. Following are a few specifics.
Formerly the International Machine Tool Show and now the International Manufacturing Technology Show, the South Hall of Chicago’s McCormick Place is still filled with huge machining centers. The North Hall was packed with robotics, components, and other automation products. Much of this flows over to the East Hall where several aisles were devoted to Hannover Messe automation companies—my sweet spot. Even the West Hall was packed.
Beckhoff proclaimed, “Solve the IoT hardware, software and networking puzzle.”
The company introduced ultra-compact Industrial PCs (IPCs). These IPCs are Microsoft Azure Certified and can work just as easily with other major cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and SAP HANA.
Significant updates will span three key areas of the TwinCAT software suite: new HTML5-enabled TwinCAT HMI for industrial displays and mobile devices, important data processing expansions in the TwinCAT Analytics offering, and TwinCAT 3 Motion Designer, which adds a deep set of valuable tools to commission entire motor, drive and mechanical systems in software. Motion Designer can be integrated into the standard TwinCAT 3 software platform or it can be used as a stand-alone motion system engineering tool.
EK1000 EtherCAT TSN Coupler expands the industrial Ethernet capabilities of the EtherCAT I/O system to utilize TSN (Time-Sensitive Networking) technology. The EK1000 enables communication among high-performance EtherCAT segments with remote EtherCAT controllers via heterogeneous Ethernet networks.
Ideagen plc, the UK-based software firm, announced the acquisition of American quality inspection software provider, InspectionXpert. Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, InspectionXpert currently generates $2.8 million in revenue and will bring more than 1,000 clients including Boeing, Kohler and Pratt & Whitney to Ideagen’s existing customer base.
Speaking at IMTS, Chicago, Ideagen CEO, Ben Dorks, said: “As well as significantly enhancing our manufacturing supply chain product suite, the acquisition of InspectionXpert provides Ideagen with a fantastic opportunity for growth by broadening upsell and cross-selling opportunities, increasing our customer footprint and expanding our geographical reach.”
InspectionXpert’s products, InspectionXpert and QualityXpert, enable organizations in the precision manufacturing industry and associated supply chains to simplify inspection planning, execution and reporting and general quality through digitalization of paper-based processes.
InspectionXpert and QualityXpert will be integrated into Ideagen’s existing software suite, which will enhance Software as a Service (SaaS) revenues and provide excellent opportunities for future growth.
Energid released Actin 5, an update to its robot software development kit (SDK). Called the industry’s only real-time adaptive motion control software, it allows robotic system developers to focus on the robot’s task rather than joint movement and paths. It responds in real time to sensory input and directs the robot on the most efficient path while avoiding collisions. The robot motion is updated dynamically without requiring reprogramming, even in dynamic, mission-critical environments.
Forcam develops software solutions in the area of MES, IIoT, and OEE. It leans into the trend of developing platforms. Its platform is built with open APIs with the latest programming languages and tools. It supports Microsoft Azure Cloud, SAP ERP, Maximo maintenance/asset applications, and Apple iPads for input. The platform helps reduce integration time and expense.
I came across the Dell Technologies booth in the automation hall. The big news was a collaboration with Tridium and Intel for IIoT solutions.
The IIoT solution is built on the Niagara Framework, Tridium’s open technology platform, and combines software and consulting services to help customers begin the digital transformation of their businesses.
The Niagara-based IIoT solution built with Dell and Intel technology will comprise a complete hardware and software stack delivered as a finished solution for ease of adoption, and will encompass consulting services from subject matter experts to support implementation. The application layer of the IIoT solution is being developed and supported by Tridium and will expand over time with solutions designed for the telecom and energy sectors.
Humans are still essential for many manufacturing processes. Especially for assembly. But assuring the correct parts go in the assembly in the correct orientation is essential. Enter an augmented reality (AR) tool to help.
Light Guide Systems partnered with information technology company HP Inc. to release a tech tool an augmented reality (AR) dubbed Light Guide Stratus. Leveraging Sprout Pro computing platform by HP, Light Guide Stratus provides a flexible, adaptable benchtop platform for assembly processes.
Light Guide Stratus builds on the company’s initial product Light Guide Systems Pro, which launched in 2016. The Stratus system integrates the Sprout Pro directly into a bench structure to increase the display surface area and free up critical space on the workstation. This expanded workspace can be used to integrate new types of applications and tools for a particular assembly sequence.
“The launch of Light Guide Stratus is a testament to the growing demand for flexible and powerful AR guidance systems,” said Paul Ryznar, OPS Solutions founder, president and CEO. “We knew that Light Guide Systems Pro brought a critical level of functionality and flexibility to improve outcomes for nearly any industry. We expect Light Guide Stratus to address even more applications and become an integral part of assembly and manufacturing operations for companies in every space, from medical to auto to aerospace and energy.”
Light Guide Systems projects a digital operating “canvas” onto virtually any work surface to provide audio and visual prompts, guidance, pacing, and direction. Light Guide Systems Pro takes the tool to the next level by incorporating its proprietary software into the Sprout Pro PC platform. Light Guide Stratus takes user experience into account with a flexible and repeatable design that opens up the workspace.
“HP’s Sprout Pro with Light Guide Systems reduces training time and improves quality in manufacturing assembly through projection and scanning in an augmented reality platform,” said Louis Kim, vice president and general manager of Immersive Computing, HP Inc. “Light Guide Stratus demonstrates the flexibility of the Sprout Pro platform combined with Light Guide’s innovation and leadership.”
Quuppa introduced me to its unique location sensing technology at Hannover last April and I wrote about it here.
Today’s announcement concerns a partnership with Ubisense Group plc, a market leader in enterprise location intelligence solutions, as part of Ubisense’s strategy to integrate leading location and identification technologies with its open and sensor-agnostic SmartSpace software platform, enabling customers to create a truly enterprise-wide digital twin along the entire value chain of critical manufacturing activities.
Many of the world’s major manufacturers benefit from Ubisense SmartSpace systems which create a real-time, operational digital twin and use it to change factory behavior based on the locations of tools, people and work-in-progress. SmartSpace allows customers to integrate a broad range of sensing capabilities to address different use cases and a wide range of ROIs, and leverage existing location technology they may already be using. By working with Quuppa to support applications where the Quuppa Intelligent Locating System offers the best ROI, Ubisense also expects to extend the reach of SmartSpace further into the logistics, construction and healthcare markets.
Quuppa utilizes a unique combination of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and the Angle of Arrival (AoA) methodology, as well as advanced location algorithms that have been developed over the course of more than 15 years, to calculate highly accurate, real-time indoor positioning, even in the most demanding environments. The low-power system is a reliable, highly-customisable, scalable and cost-efficient solution for providing an accurate “dot on the map.” The Quuppa solution provides another powerful source of information to drive location-aware applications within Ubisense’s SmartSpace platform. It complements the many sensors already integrated with SmartSpace, including Ubisense’s own market-leading UWB location systems (Dimension 4 and AngleID), other third-party location sensors, third-party passive RFID tag readers, and barcode systems.
Dr. Andy Ward, CTO at Ubisense, said: “One of the key benefits of our SmartSpace platform is the ability to integrate a wide range of data sources to facilitate building sensor-rich, industrial-scale systems, allowing us to propose the right location sensor technology for each application. We’re looking forward to seeing powerful additional use cases develop as customers explore our joint capabilities with Quuppa.”
Thomas Hasselman, chief marketing officer at Quuppa, said: “The Quuppa Ecosystem—now more than 90 partners strong—continues to flourish, bringing the power of highly accurate, reliable and scalable location services to a growing number of companies across a variety of industries through our commitment to BLE technology. In partnering with Ubisense, we are delivering new opportunities to SmartSpace customers that are using location as a business driver.”
Moving additive manufacturing from plastics to metal and from hobbyist bench to the factory has attracted much attention. One of the problems with metal 3D printing (additive manufacturing) has been holding high tolerance for consistency. Velo3D today announced general release of its end-to-end metal additive manufacturing (AM) solution comprised of the Sapphire system, Flow print preparation software, and Intelligent Fusion technology. Together, the integrated solution solves some of the most difficult AM challenges including product design limitations, part-to-part consistency, process control and cost-effective manufacturing.
“Additive manufacturing has the potential to be revolutionary,” said Ashley Nichols, general manager at 3D Material Technologies (3DMT), a leading metal additive manufacturing services bureau. “Systems are getting bigger, but not delivering on the promises of metal additive manufacturing. Through a collaborative partnership, 3DMT and Velo3D are unlocking new applications, pushing the envelope of what is currently considered possible. We look forward to continued success, and to delivering on the promises of the potential of metal additive manufacturing.”
The Sapphire system is a laser powder bed metal additive 3D printing system designed for high volume manufacturing. Sapphire is capable of building complex geometries including designs with overhangs that are less than five degrees and large inner diameters without supports – something previously unheard of in the AM industry. To deliver superior part-to-part consistency, Sapphire’s integrated in-situ process metrology enables first-of-its-kind closed loop melt pool control. To maximize productivity, the Sapphire system contains a module that enables automated change-over with offline unpacking.
Flow Print Preparation Software
Flow print preparation software includes support generation, process selection, slicing and simulation of complex part designs to validate execution feasibility before the build. Geometrical feature-driven processing enables low angles below five degrees. In addition, deformation correction technology enables the user to produce parts without the need for iterations, achieving a first print success rate of up to 90 percent. Flow minimizes the need for supports, reducing typical support volume by 3-5 times, which removes or reduces the laborious post processing necessary with conventional approaches.
Intelligent Fusion Technology
Enabling an end-to-end integrated workflow, Intelligent Fusion is the technology that powers Flow software and the Sapphire system. Intelligent Fusion optimizes the AM process by combining thermal process simulation, print prediction, and closed-loop control during print execution.
“Four years ago, we set out with the bold vision of creating technology that could manufacture parts with any geometry to take additive manufacturing mainstream,” said Benny Buller, founder and CEO of Velo3D. “Our approach relies on creating deep insights in physics fundamentals, enabled by research, characterizing and understanding of core mechanisms, developing intelligent process control through software simulation and in-situ metrology. Today, Velo3D is working with some of the top OEMs and service bureaus creating parts that were once considered impossible.”
Velo3D systems are currently used by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and manufacturing service providers.
Who buys enterprise software applications, how and why? I ran across this article by a contact of mine, Gabriel Gheorghiu, Founder and principal analyst at Questions Consulting, with a background in business management and 15 years experience in enterprise software. I thought it would be most useful. I’m not an ERP analyst, but I have some background and training on the financial side of things. I think this analysis fits with other large-scale software acquisition projects, though, including MES/MOM, analytics, asset performance, and the like.
This will summarize some interesting points. I highly recommend reading the whole thing.
Before we begin, my brief take on enterprise software applications. How many of you have been involved with an SAP acquisition and roll out? How many happy people were there? Same with Oracle or any other ERP, CRM, MES, APM, etc. application. Why did using Microsoft Excel seem to go better?
Well, the big applications all force you to change all your business processes to fit their template. You build Excel to fit what you’re doing. It’s just not powerful enough to do everything, right?
Gheorghiu conducted interviews with 225 companies who were all looking for enterprise resource planning (ERP). The goal of this survey was simple – listen and learn from what these companies had to say about their individual decision-making strategies. We all agree that this is not a simple task. But we also agree that selecting the best ERP software is a critical factor for business success.
Here is why the research phase of this process is considered to be so vital:
- It has the greatest impact on all the subsequent phases and consequently, your final decision.
- Research begins at home – in other words, the first step is to determine your company’s specific and unique needs.
- Once your company has thought through and determined its software requirement, then and only then does the process to evaluate vendors and their offerings begin. This can be a very challenging step because many companies are not equipped with the time, knowledge, or tools to perform this step.
Buyer Profiles: Who’s Looking for ERP and Why?
One problem for analysis is that many are not doing business in just one industry. The breakdown of companies in our business sample, by industry, was as follows: manufacturing (47%), distribution (18%), services (12%), construction (4%), retail (3%), utilities (3%), government (3%), healthcare (3%), and other (10%). However, to complicate matters a little, 20% of manufacturers also manage distribution and some distributors include light manufacturing in their operations, like assembly.
“Companies looking to invest in business software may very well be addressing this additional challenge – looking for a comprehensive package that integrates all aspects of a business. ERP software systems are powerful and comprehensive but are not necessarily known for their agility and ability to accommodate many disparate functions.”
Gheorghiu identifies as a strong influencer consumerization, which changes focus from organization-oriented offerings to end-user focused products. “This was a highly significant turning point in the IT marketplace. By developing new technologies and models that originate in the consumer space rather than in the enterprise sector, software producers opened up the market to a flood of small and medium-sized businesses looking for more cost effective, and less complicated solutions to run their businesses.”
The consumerization of software (as noted above) has precipitated the move by many companies away from enterprise IT towards more streamlined and user friendly consumer-oriented technology. This change is equally relevant for ERP software and manufacturing companies have participated in this very significant development, albeit more cautiously and slowly than SMBs.
Most industries follow a “purposeful implementation” strategy, managing software adoption as a series of “sprints in a well-planned program” rather than insisting on the “all or nothing” approach.
For example, a small company looking to invest in software might decide to begin with an accounting system which can be used alongside point solutions and spreadsheets. As companies grow and their transactions become more complex, they may find that they have also outgrown their initial software selections.
The chart below provides a visual analysis of the mix of software that is currently utilized by our business sample:
Some relevant comments we extracted from our survey included:
- The CEO of a small services company mentioned that he was “tired of the hodgepodge of systems”
- A manufacturer considered their current arrangement to be “very siloed.” Reconciling the inventory balance is a “constant battle.”
Buyer Behavior: How are Companies Approaching ERP Selection?
The selection process is most successful when companies adhere to some basic selection rules: involve as many direct stakeholders as possible and keep business priorities and strategies firmly in mind when making the final decision.
A software change can trigger a vast administrative upheaval within the company. It is important to carefully analyze the business case for the change and whether it supports the level of disruption as well as the implementation time and spending that will be required. Even if the change may be entirely justified, a well thought out analysis is well worth the time and effort.
The Vendors in the Spotlight
According to our survey results, the chart below identifies the vendors under consideration by the companies surveyed. A majority of companies (53%) were not, for the moment, looking at specific vendors. However 47% of respondents had narrowed their search to specific vendors.
Who’s Involved in this Decision Selection Process?
Our sample results indicate that the people in charge of the selection process are distributed as follows: employees in the finance and accounting departments (23%), IT department employees (23%). The other important categories were independent consultants helping companies with the selection process (17%), operations managers (17%) and presidents or CEOs (12%). It is worthwhile mentioning that project managers and business analysts only made up 5% of the total.
By far, the most effective method of choosing a software is to employ a collaborative system whereby the actual stakeholders of that system (the end-users) have a direct voice in the decision outcome. As the front-line users of the system, their insight and knowledge is very valuable. Their input along with all the other stakeholders input will produce the best possible outcome of this process.
An ERP system is a major business investment and is best handled with the appropriate amount of time and diligence given to the process.
The advent of cloud computing has indeed radically changed the landscape for deployment of business software. According to a recent press release by Gartner, “by 2020, a Corporate “No-Cloud” policy will be as rare as a “No-Internet” policy is today”. In other words, cloud deployment will become the default by 2020.
Our survey results, in fact, support Gartner’s analysis. Ninety-five percent of companies responded that they were open to a cloud deployment model, while just over 50% were willing to also consider on premises ERP. Of this latter group of respondents, 65% of them were manufacturers and distributors. This makes sense of course, given that these industries made significant investments in hardware and IT personnel and may not be as ready or as willing to move to the cloud model.
As for the preference for cloud computing (as demonstrated by our responses), we argue that it reflects the very strong tendency in the market to opt for simpler, more streamlined and less expensive computing solutions. As more information and assurances of security and stability by cloud providers enter the marketplace, more and more businesses will be convinced that the many benefits of the cloud outweigh some of their remaining concerns. Gartner’s prediction that cloud will increasingly be the default option for software deployment looks to be right on course.
An important consideration for companies embarking on an ERP software selection process – the average lifespan of an ERP system is approximately 5 to 10 years. If we consider important factors like the investment of capital, time, and loss of productivity that the selection and replacement of an ERP system requires, perhaps all companies would be more willing to invest the necessary effort in this process.