How DCS Vendors see their IIOT future

Engineers around the world are looking at how to benefit from various IIOT offerings: the survey below covering the approaches being adopted by some of the major DCS vendors was first published in South Africa, in the Technews South African Instrumentation & Control Journal, February 2017. Next month a similar article will cover the approach of some of the specialist suppliers to the process industries.

The last year saw all the major DCS and process control systems suppliers re-assess their business positioning, in the face of the turndown in capital spending as a result of the continuing recession and fall in commodity prices, led by oil. Their problem is that their main business cycles between feast and famine, as it is dependent on investment project business. Harry Forbes of ARC Advisory Group notes that automation companies will do nearly anything to protect their installed user base, because that’s where they believe future revenues will come, and come more easily than winning projects. So the way to survive the famine is to provide on-going services to these asset owners, to maintain the business relationship, and be better positioned when capital investment returns. Plus they stop competitive suppliers gaining a foothold via similar service contracts.

The current area of interest for most manufacturing plants is IIOT, and so the automation vendors have been focusing on this, plus Big Data and analytics, offered by remote ‘cloud-based’ services. The different suppliers come from different market positions, and so their approaches, while offering the same, are tailored in different ways.

Emerson Automation Solutions

Peter Zornio of Emerson expressed his very clear view of this market back in April at their Global User’s Exchange in Brussels. Emerson is involved in the IIOT: this does not include the ‘Smart Cities’ that Siemens and ABB talk about, nor Industrie 4.0, which extends from production back up into design concepts – IIOT is just ‘Manufacturing’. I believe Emerson also recognise that their process control systems cannot be a part of IIOT, they must be fenced off, with firewalls etc, to prevent cyber-security worries, and blocked from external inputs. But this does not stop them transmitting information outwards, and the whole Emerson approach of ‘Pervasive Sensors’ – their major new topic for 2015 – is now an important feed, into IIOT analytics.

The resulting offering is a cloud-based service developed in co-operation with MicroSoft, using their Azure IoT Suite of cloud services. Having worked with MicroSoft for over 20 years, their Windows 10 IoT technology will be incorporated into both the DeltaV and Ovation control systems and in data gateways to serve plant data to the Azure IoT Suite. Emerson will then provide the data analysis services that feed back information and recommendations to the relevant plant personnel, for example about plant performance or equipment maintenance. Zornio described this as a remote service similar to the ‘Monitoring Centre’ typical of the electricity generation industry, or the ‘iOps centre’ typically described in the oil and gas industry – which shows the areas of focus for the Emerson control system business.

Since then, Emerson restructured their widely separated divisions, Process Management and Industrial Automation, into one business, Emerson Automation Solutions, under newly appointed president Michael Train. This brings in some of the factory automation aspects covered by the old Industrial Automation Division, and extends the potential for the same IIOT monitoring into other areas of the manufacturing plant, such as power supplies, packaging and even discrete manufacturing. However, as part of their restructuring, Emerson has sold off significant parts of what was their Industrial Automation business, bringing in significant amounts of cash. In December the Network Power business, serving mainly data centre and telecommunications customers, was sold to Platinum Equity for $4Bn: the business will be rebranded ‘Vertiv’. Then, just this month, the deal to sell the alternators, drives and motors businesses known as Leroy-Somer (France) and Control Techniques (UK) to the Nidec Corporation was finalised: their combined annual sales were $1.7Bn, but of more relevance now to Emerson, the resulting cash payment received from Nidec is $1.2Bn. So Emerson Automation Solutions has probably earmarked part at least of that $5.2Bn of cash for some interesting, relevant acquisitions, maybe in this IIOT services area.

Rockwell Automation

Rockwell Automation has a totally different customer profile, perhaps the reverse of that described for Emerson, having great strength in factory automation, food processing and discrete process control in general. Their product portfolio is strong on motor control, actuators, energy management etc, using Ethernet based systems and controllers, which give simple interfaces to remote data systems. Steven Meyer of SAIC reported that the Rockwell South African MD Barry Elliot commented at the Electra Mining Show that the challenge is ‘to do more with the assets the organisation already owns’. He added that “In most cases the data already exists: our challenge is to implement systems that enable us to turn this into actionable information to streamline productivity and efficiency”. Just what the customer audience wanted to hear.

In November Rockwell launched their ‘FactoryTalk Analytics for Machines’ cloud application, based on – the MicroSoft Azure cloud enabled capability – yes, them again! OEMs using Rockwell/Allen Bradley controllers on their machinery can embed a FactoryTalk Cloud gateway device, to interface to this Rockwell remote analytical service.  Back at corporate level, the new Rockwell CEO is Blake Moret, and his attention is also on developing the oil and gas process systems business that was actually doing well in Rockwell, but is smaller than that of rivals like Emerson: so he has acquired Maverick Technologies, one of their system integrator customers. First this give Rockwell access to the Maverick five years of experience in supplying remote operations support as a service. Second, Walt Boyes of the Industrial Automation Insider has pointed out that Maverick has craftily recruited many otherwise retiring process experts from such companies as Dow, DuPont, ExxonMobil and other first tier companies, amassing a couple of hundred very valuable grey heads with continuous process management expertise. These are very useful for remote service support and advice, supplied even from their retirement homes!

ABB and IoTSP

Maybe ABB will have an alternative approach? ABB has a concept described as the Internet of Things, Services and People (IoTSP). They last year joined the Steering Committee of the Industrial Internet Consortium, an organisation founded by AT&T, Cisco, General Electric, IBM, and Intel in 2014. Then in September they recruited Guido Jouret as their ‘Chief Digital Officer’ – he was at one time the General Manager of the Cisco ‘Internet of Things’ division. October, however, brought them back into line with Rockwell and Emerson, when their new ABB Ability offering was announced as standardised on MicroSoft Azure, “expanding the ABB leadership in energy and the fourth industrial revolution”: ABB will take “full advantage of Azure services such as Azure IoT Suite and Cortana Intelligence Suite to capitalise on insights gathered at every level from device, to system, to enterprise, to cloud”. Although ABB say they have had many years of successful collaboration with MicroSoft, from the website it appears Ability is a new venture – looking for applications in transport infra-structure, digital power substations, fleet management services, Smart buildings etc.

Yokogawa

Yokogawa started 2016 with two acquisitions, first ‘Data-as-a-Service’ provider Industrial Evolution Inc, who provide cloud-based plant data sharing services, followed by KBC Technologies, who specialise in offering oil and petrochemical production plants the advanced software needed for process optimisation and simulation. These two were combined to create their new Industrial Knowledge Division. Executive vp Satoru Kurosu commented that “Key strategic objectives of Yokogawa’s Transformation 2017 plan are to expand the solution service business, focus on customers, and co-create new value with customers through innovative technologies and services”.

They then followed up with a strategic investment in FogHorn Systems Inc, a Silicon Valley specialist in fog computing – said to be the solution to faster processing of IIOT data present in the cloud. At the year-end, Yokogawa made a further significant investment into IIOT technology, first with a $900k investment into Bayshore Networks, who specialise in cybersecurity, and have developed the Bayshore IT/OT Gateway for use in the cloud, separating IT Departments from OT (Operational Technology) infrastructure networks. More than that, Yokogawa announced the establishment of a new Architecture Development Division in California, to pursue the development of the core technologies needed to establish the robust and flexible architecture required to improve operational efficiency and productivity when using the IIoT. Their aim is to expand this US engineering centre to over 50 staff in the next five years.

In February 2017 Yokogawa published their own release describing how these businesses will work together, and introducing another co-operation with Telit IoT Platfoms LLC, who are said to offer “offers unmatched expertise, resources, and support to make IoT on-boarding easy – reducing risk, time to market, complexity, and costs for asset tracking, remote monitoring and control, telematics, industrial automation, and predictive maintenance across many industries and vertical markets worldwide”. The most interesting aspect of their approach is that they seem to be moving towards “Plug-and-play” technology expanding to enable sensors to automatically join and adapt to plant networks, plus cloud reporting and condition monitoring, making the plant engineer’s job a lot simpler!

Obviously Yokogawa have major ambitions to develop and offer IIOT cloud data services with the best in technology and cybersecurity, all with a reduced customer detailed input.

Developments in South Africa

With so many major suppliers stepping up to offer cloud based IIOT data analysis and reporting services, what do the plant managers do? Steven Meyer’s report on the recent conference on the topic organised by the African branch of the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association highlighted the recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report showing that South African companies plan to spend around R6Bn per year, until 2020, to implement the ideas of the fourth industrial revolution. In a keynote speech, local PwC director Pieter Theron made the telling comment that companies will need to find the right collaboration partners in order to improve their business efficiency through the technologies of the fourth industrial era – very few have the capability to go it alone.

These comments ring true for many large businesses all around the World: and it is clear that there are several interesting potential partners for these potential IIOT users to evaluate!

The Future for the IIOT

Technews in South Africa has recently published their 2016 Industry Guide to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT). The whole publication is available on line, despite being a massive 60 page publication, with many and varied articles on this all-pervading topic. This Annual Supplement to the SA Instrumentation and Control magazine draws on example applications from Europe and the USA, as well as from suppliers who provide the technology capability. This industry guide can be downloaded from the SAIC Archives, on http://www.instrumentation.co.za/archives.aspx.

The challenge the Editor, Steven Meyer, gave me, was to comment on the future direction of the ‘Internet of Things’, so inevitably I turned to some of the new gurus of the industry, who seem to be given the label “Futurists”, or “Trendwatchers” – and it is a growing discipline!

What these guys say

The latest trend evident in the presentations at conferences and corporate presentations, such as those organized by automation suppliers like Emerson and Yokogawa, is for a look into the future, and speculation as to what is to come in the next 15 years. Apart from the information about their new products, and new applications of their systems enabling better automation, these conference organizers also now offer a presentation from a “Trend-watcher” or “Futurist”. Inevitably basing their arguments on the way technology has grown, in relation to computing power, mobile phones, and the Internet, these presentations try to explain the IOT, Internet Of Things, of today – to then discuss what the IOT will really provide, and what will be accepted as normal, in ten years’ time.

Richard van Hooijdonk, a ‘Trendwatcher’

For the Yokogawa European conference, their Trendwatcher was Richard van Hooijdonk, from the Netherlands. A well-known Radio lecturer, Richard is also a lecturer at the Nyenrode & Erasmus University (maybe they made a new subject area for him?). Entitled ‘Trends 2030’, his presentation linked the IOT with the growth of robots; with wearable and injected (into the body) electronics; with ‘Big Data’; with 4D printing and with cybercrime.

NARIM Congres 2015 foto: Robert Tjalondo; www.rockinpictures.com 2015

Richard van Hooijdonk, Trendwatcher

Van Hooijdonk backs up what he says with his actions, at least enough to make us stop and think. He has had an RFID code implanted into his arm, which not only establishes his body with an IP address, but provides the access code to the electronic lock on his apartment, so that he is recognized and the door is unlocked when he turns the door knob. The unit also is programmed with the number for his Bitcoin account. While admitting that the injection process was not painless, his whole approach was that such technology will become smaller and cheaper, with future volume application. So the injections will be less painful, at least!

Personal sensors vs robot automation

Probably everyone in the audience understood and could relate to different parts of Richard’s view of the major future developments likely. Certainly I could understand the function of some wearable electronic systems that monitor heart rate, temperature and blood pressure, etc, but lost the plot when this device was also bio-chemically analysing data from an internal pill or pills that circulate around and analyse the blood and other fluids, to look for symptoms or diseases that need treatment, and then automatically call the Doctor!

However I could relate to the emphasis placed on robot automation, which particularly included advanced drones that can now use optical imaging to identify sections of fields or crops which need spraying with insecticide or seeds or fertiliser etc: the drones are self-programmed to fly over the field in a regular search pattern. Automated and self-checking robots for window cleaning, lawnmowers, carpet cleaning and floor polishing, litter picking and hoovering are all about to take over such manual jobs. Robotics will then take over other duties, like planting out seedlings and watering individual pots in garden centres. In the kitchen the fridge will know when it has run out of specific items like eggs, milk and butter, and order them automatically from the grocer, on a schedule.

Relating this to IOT

In terms of automation the IOT offers the interlinking between multiple devices, pieces of home equipment for example: the alarm clock rings, after having consulted your schedule, weather and traffic reports, to decide when you need to be awake: the curtains open, or alternately the lights are switched on, the bath is filled and the coffee pot or kettle switched on to brew a drink. But these actions may not have to be programmed, the devices themselves, and other sensors, will have been fed into a big ‘consequences’ database in the cloud somewhere, that uses pattern recognition to learn repeated sequences, and can then take over and run these sequences automatically. This ‘Big Data’ processing facility, using pattern recognition, creating artificial intelligence that can process all this data, is a necessary adjunct to the simple sensors – we can’t look at all that mass of information ourselves. Such data processing can be seen in a small way already, when the supermarkets collect your purchase pattern information, and use this to predict when you will buy these same goods again: if you don’t buy them when the computer thinks you should, it can send you a reminder, or even a special offer, to tempt you back to the store. Alternatively, look for a price for a flight on-line: suddenly adverts for that flight appear on every web page you access, and alongside your emails that mention keywords like ‘holiday’.

Jack Uldrich, a ‘Futurist’

The Emerson European User Group conference on the other hand, brought Jack Uldrich over from the USA. Jack started life as a naval intelligence officer, and developed an ability to talk American almost as fast as my brain can translate the words being used. He now describes himself as a Futurist, and consults for many major investment groups, plus is a regular guest on CNN and CNBC. In his website (jackuldrich.com) he presents a paper describing the ten ways IOT will “Open up a Future of Opportunity”.

DSCN3125 uldrich at emerson conf.JPG

Jack Uldrich, a Futurist, looking over his own shoulder?

Jack sees the alarm clock wake-up routine quoted above as the simplest use of IOT: a more comprehensive view is that sensors in your pyjamas, mattress, home lighting systems and the kitchen monitor everything from your diet to your sleep pattern, and tell you to modify your behaviour to improve your lifestyle – for example tell you to reduce the caffeine intake after 6pm, and tell your bedroom lights to slowly get brighter as soon as you come out of REM sleep – whatever that is!

I leave you to read the rest of the paper: but Uldrich takes IOT with Big Data as just one of the major triggers for change. The other factors he lists are Social media, robotics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, AI and renewable energy, which will all coalesce to focus on the intelligent automation of our lives.

New opportunities  

Jack Uldrich sees some major business entrepreneurs emerging as a result of the technology changes around us already, identifying Spacex in satellite launchers (the re-useable ones that now land on ocean barges); Tesla new designs of electric cars, and their plans to develop a 0.5 million units a year production facility for the required car batteries by 2020; GE producing 3D printed aero-engine parts (such as turbine blades) by 2020; and Deloitte recently moving into an office building in Amsterdam that can use IOT sensors to automatically reduce energy consumption by 85%. Richard van Hooijdonk also pointed to disruptive new ideas overturning established markets, mentioning Uber in taxi services; BnB in renting holiday houses; Spotify in music; and Netflix in taking over the video rental market digitally.

These Trendwatchers/Futurists do have a place in business. In fact, van Hooijdonk teaches companies how to anticipate and deal with major changes that might disrupt their business, by creating their own internal disruption team. In this way they may avoid the fate of Kodak, Blockbuster, and Proctor & Gamble. There are obviously many profitable careers opening up in presenting trendwatching lectures, some forecasting IOT scenarios for the future.

But what about the IOT?

Gartner, a leading information technology research and advisory company, forecasts that 6.4 Billion ‘things’ will be connected to the Internet by end 2016, up 30% from 2015, and that this number will reach 20 Billion by 2020. These devices will generate a market for service spending of USD235 Billion in 2016, so this spend will be approaching USD1000 Billion worldwide by 2020. Admittedly only around a third of these connections will be in business operations, two thirds will be in consumer areas. But the major market demand will be for services, where businesses employ external providers to design, install and operate their IOT systems. In reality this means processing the information available using Big Data techniques, to allow the client to get on with his own business, yet benefit from new technology. “IOT services are the real driver of value in IOT, and increasing attention is being focused on new services by end-user organisations and vendors,” said Jim Tully, vice president and analyst at Gartner.

So the attention Gartner speaks of can already be seen coming from the major automation suppliers, who are offering 24/7 services to analyse the data available from industrial internet based sensors, or from plant sensors connected over a VPN link via the Internet. The GE, Emerson and Yokogawa companies of this world see their customers using their products, but that these products have far more capability than the customer can absorb, so they need to be the supplier who provides the expansion and development services. Otherwise someone else will jump in and pinch the client’s attention, and the work.

We already have GE supporting their aero-engines with wear and condition monitoring systems, then extending this to their compressors and pumps on LNG liquefaction plants, with teams of GE people monitoring and reporting back to their clients. These teams might only be in three or four places around the world, all linked by the internet, but they can control their maintenance staff on site. These guys are directed to the machine or plant area that needs attention: and the whole contract is no longer measured in man hour charges, but in percentages of the plant output capability, when the equipment availability is maintained above X%. Similarly we see automation companies developing similar contracts, where they use the IOT inputs to enable plant performance improvements, so that a South African plant benefits from operational experience learned from a similarly linked up Canadian plant: and the payment is a proportion of the performance improvement.

There are opportunities also for specialists to develop expertise in their own specific areas, eg for machine manufacturers to link all their own machines worldwide, and be the leaders in offering the most efficient, reliable widget production machinery: but eventually these will be linked into a major supplier of widget production and business services.

The IOT benefit will come from collaboration and learning, matching patterns and experience from knowledge gained elsewhere: it needs AI, which could be ‘artificial intelligence’, or may be ‘Automated Intelligence’ – and it will come from Big Data, from multiple small sensors, interconnections, and collaboration!

Yokogawa invests into Silicon Valley fog computing

 

Yokogawa Electric Corporation announces that it has invested in FogHorn Systems Inc, a Silicon Valley start-up that is a leading developer of fog computing* technology. Yokogawa aims to foster development of fog computing technology through its investment in this company. In so doing, Yokogawa hopes to expand the range of solutions that it provides.

Due to the continued growth of cloud computing services and the huge number of devices that have access to cloud resources, there is a growing concern over issues such as network congestion and data processing delays. Fog computing is gaining traction as a technology solution to this problem.

Co-Investors with Yokogawa

FogHorn Systems, a pioneer in the development of software for fog computing applications with outstanding expertise in this field, has attracted the interest of various companies that are promoting IoT. Led by March Capital and GE Ventures, the company has succeeded in raising $12 million in funding from multiple investors, including Yokogawa, Robert Bosch Venture Capital GmbH, and Darling Ventures. There is also a group of investors who invested in the company prior to this round of fundraising. Yokogawa’s stake in the company is worth $900,000.

Yokogawa offers a wide range of control solutions that help its customers improve the safety and efficiency of their operations and make the most effective use of their assets. These solutions include field instruments, control systems, manufacturing execution systems (MES), and management information systems. Industrial IoT (IIoT) technology is making rapid inroads in the control field, and it is expected that fog computing’s enablement of real-time and distributed processing in edge computing applications will significantly accelerate its adoption.

Through this investment in FogHorn Systems, Yokogawa will gain access to the latest fog computing technologies and will also make available its knowledge and expertise in process control and plant operations that will help this company further refine its fog computing technology. Yokogawa aims to make use of fog computing to strengthen the solutions that it provides.

‘Process Co-Innovation’ from Yokogawa

Yokogawa has drawn up a long-term business framework and formulated a vision statement that reads: “Through ‘Process Co-Innovation’ Yokogawa creates new value with our clients for a brighter future. ‘Process Co-Innovation’ is a concept for an automation business that will utilize all of Yokogawa’s measurement, control and information technologies. Accordingly, Yokogawa will seek not only to optimize production processes but also the flow of material and information within and between companies, including their value and supply chains”.

Yokogawa is committed to working with customers to create value through the effective use of IIoT, a key to ‘Process Co-Innovation’. Tsuyoshi Abe, Yokogawa vice president and head of the company’s Marketing Headquarters, said of this investment: “Highly reliable and stable communications are an essential requirement in manufacturing and many other fields. Fog computing is a breakthrough that helps to enhance the use of cloud resources. It is also expected to provide Yokogawa many more opportunities to utilize IIoT in its control business. In line with our corporate brand slogan of ‘Co-innovating tomorrow’, Yokogawa will use FogHorn’s technology to develop new solutions and create new value in collaboration with its customers and partners.”

* Fog computing:

Fog computing is an architectural concept for the realization of edge intelligence and the suppression of communications with the cloud by establishing a ‘fog’ distributed computing layer between the cloud and devices in the field. Fog computing eliminates communications delays and fluctuations by locating the processing of certain data near the field devices that generate the data and sending only essential information to the cloud. As such, there are high expectations that this technology will lead to a number of new IoT applications.

Water Use Cut 75% at IoT Connected Farm

Avocado trees monitored around the clock by a Spirent Communications system are given water only when needed; the farmer uses soil moisture meters, IoT technology, LoRa WAN communications and cloud computing to control the irrigation, reducing his annual water consumption by 75%.

It takes 74 gallons of water to produce one pound of avocados, and drought-stricken California produces 95 percent of avocados grown in the United States. Nearly all are grown in Southern California, in a five-county region that straddles the coast from San Luis Obispo to San Diego. Like the rest of the state, the southern coastal region is locked in a drought and largely cut off from the flow of surface water from the state’s big irrigation projects. Avocado groves have been hit badly with sky-high water costs and reliance on water pumped from underground aquifers.

Water consumption is regulated in California with the state entering its fourth year of drought resulting in water regulators imposing sweeping and draconian restrictions on the use of water. The State Water Resources Control Board has even urged Californians to let their lawns die.

Some avocado farmers in California feeling the heat have turned to new methods in growing avocados such as higher density planting which enables some to produce twice as much fruit for the same amount of water. But a new initiative from Spirent Communications in bringing about connected avocado farms might just be the perfect solution to make further inroads into lowering spiralling water costs.

Useful day-job expertise

It just so happens that Kurt Bantle is a senior solution manager at Spirent Communications and at home has some 900 young avocado trees planted in his “back garden” in Southern California. Within his work remit, which is to develop Spirent’s IoT offering, he decided to experiment into how avocados could be grown using less water through soil moisture monitoring, by using this as an input to automate the irrigation, using a just-in-time approach.

Bantle divided his farm into 22 irrigation blocks and inserted two soil moisture measurement units into each block. The units contain a LoRa (www.lora-alliance.org) unit for narrow band data communication to a LoRa gateway which has a connection via a broadband cellular uplink.

The gateway also contains an Oasis (a partner company with Spirent) re-programmable SIM which becomes the enabler in remote water provisioning. All soil moisture data from the avocado trees is collected in a cloud and visualised by a presentation layer. When a tree needs to be watered, the solution turns the sprinklers on automatically to get the correct level of soil moisture for each tree. It then turns them off when the correct moisture levels are reached. The connected trees are monitored constantly day and night. In all Bantle spent $8200 for LoRa stations, gateway and cellular backhaul, moisture sensors, and irrigation valve controllers.

“Avocado trees typically take 4 acre feet (1 acre foot = 326000 gallons) of water per acre per year. This is not only to supply the needed water, but also to leach the salts which build up in the soil,” says Bantle: “The soil moisture sensors let me drastically reduce water usage by telling me when to water and how deep to water to push the salts past the bulk of the rooting zone. The majority of the roots are in the top 8 inches of soil so there is a sensor there and one at 24 inches so I can see when I’ve watered deep enough to get the salts out of the rooting zone”.

The previous annual cost of watering his 900 trees was $47,336. By connecting this IoT technology, his annual bill dropped to £11,834, a 75% reduction. The hardware investment was recouped in the first 6 months.

“The case study showed a water usage reduction by 75%, but the usage will climb as the trees get bigger. The goal is to reach a 50% reduction of water usage when the trees are fully grown. By keeping the salts in check along with keeping nutrients supplied, stress on the trees is reduced and they are able to have better crop production,” says Bantle.

Future Consequences: both positive and negative

The downside for Bantle in harnessing the power of IoT to reduce water consumption was that he was placed under state surveillance for suspected meter tampering, when his water consumption reduced so dramatically.

The connectivity solution provided by Spirent together with its IoT ecosystem partners for avocado trees applies to every other type of vegetable and fruit farm, which would include almonds, olives, apples, oranges and tomatoes.

IoT technology pioneer Spirent Communications plc is leading the charge with its open eco-system partners such as Oasis Smart Sim through its connectivity and embedded subscription business and recently showed various such connected solutions at the IoT World exhibition.

Spirent’s Embedded Connectivity solution will be launched during 2016 in a phased manner so that the commercially available solution conforms to the corresponding GSMA specification releases.

Spirent conclude with the message that the Internet of Things (IoT) is destined to touch every aspect of human endeavour making factories smarter, supply chains intelligent ….and now farms such as this first IoT connected avocado farm more water efficient, saving farmers vast amounts of water (and therefore money) in the avocado growing process.

The original story from Spirent was first published by WaterActive.co.uk in their July issue.

Invensys acquires Indusoft

*See the subsequent Invensys release in another post today*

No press release as yet but a newsletter from Indusoft reports an “Exciting Future” now that “Indusoft is now an Invensys company”. Indusoft, based in Austin, Texas, is a supplier of industrial software, such as HMI/SCADA systems. The newsletter, in typical newsletter style, does not give that much information, but as yet nothing has appeared on the Invensys website…..

The text reads:

“It is with great pleasure, and much excitement that we announce Invensys’ acquisition of InduSoft.This partnership was created to work on the strength of both Invensys and InduSoft to serve customers worldwide, and form a stronger framework for developing and supporting the InduSoft products that you know and love.

We aim to offer the fullest range of industrial software solutions on the automation market, and this partnership will supply InduSoft customers with a highly focused platform for HMI applications, interfaces for embedded devices, and intelligent systems, while providing expanded support and better customer relationships. This is an unprecedented opportunity to combine the strengths of both InduSoft and Invensys and work in collaboration with one another, while focusing on each of our core competencies.

The InduSoft team will continue to work together to develop and support InduSoft Web Studio, InduSoft EmbeddedView, and InduSoft CEView. For current users of InduSoft Web Studio, the result of this partnership will be an expansion of global support, as well as the continued development and support of the InduSoft products our customers have used and relied upon for more than a decade.

Our customers and partners are hugely important to the success and growth of InduSoft. As a company, InduSoft has always held customer support, best-of-breed software, and a protection of customer investment as priorities. It was important when discussing this partnership with Invensys to ensure that we could serve and benefit you. We’ve listened, and we’ve worked to ensure that you have the largest number of automation solutions available.

Current InduSoft customers can expect the same level of dedication to support and development as before, and will be able to enjoy the benefits of this acquisition, such as a wider array of products to choose from, and the opportunity to scale up or down for every level of automation. If you currently use InduSoft Web Studio products for high-end SCADA applications, you will continue to have a stable, high-quality platform with a full range of capabilities for industrial automation.

The acquisition of InduSoft by Invensys promises a strong future for the industrial market, and InduSoft is fully committed to developing the most powerful industrial software solutions for machine builders, OEMs, the embedded market, and industrial automation. With the support of Invensys, InduSoft users can look forward to a future full of possibilities.”

Rockwell shows good results in 2012

In November, at the start of the week of their 2012 Automation Fair event in Philadelphia, Keith Nosbuch, chairman and ceo of Rockwell Automation, announced record sales and earnings for FY 2012: he summarized this by saying “We delivered solid results in a challenging environment this year.”

Sales at $6259m were up 4% over the previous year, and organic sales growth was 6%: income at $5.13 per share increased 7%. Nosbuch also commented “While growth rates continued to moderate [in Q4] due to a difficult economic environment, once again every region delivered organic growth. Operating margin expanded by one point [to 18.1%] while we continued to invest for growth. Our EMEA region had a great year with 6% organic growth in the face of a recession.”

The EMEA comment is significant, particularly for US investors worried about Europe, since it contributes 20% of the Rockwell group turnover: good results there were important. Geographically Asia-Pacific is 15% of sales and Latin America 8%, with the rest from the USA and Canada. Obviously the investor community liked what he said, with the share price rising 10% to $78 immediately, and then continuing up to $84 by the calendar year end.

Commenting on the outlook for Rockwell, Nosbusch said, “The sluggish global economy and a weaker solutions backlog are headwinds as we enter fiscal 2013. While we do expect sales to increase next year, the growth will likely be more weighted to the second half. While we can’t control the economy, I believe we are well-positioned to outgrow the market with our innovative technology, domain expertise and thought leadership.”

21st Automation Fair

Rockwell’s 21st annual Automation Fair this year was attended by over 9200 people, attending the seminars, training sessions and industry fora: there were more than 125 exhibitors in the associated exhibition. Separate User Group meetings were held to focus on process solutions and safety system engineering. Around 30 PlantPAx users shared their experience in applying PlantPAx in their automation systems: a major topic discussed was the increasing emergence and use of virtualization technologies in the process industries.

A separate global forum for trade media and analysts, entitled ‘Manufacturing Perspectives’, explored the leading news topics and current trends in manufacturing technology and automation.  A major discussion point covered how cloud solutions can enable flexible manufacturing without compromising security; and explored the potential effects of mobility on manufacturing technologies and practices.

Blake Moret, svp for control products and solutions, presented an analysis showing where the current Rockwell cloud computing users had applied the technology to best effect. The major benefits have been found in services and process analysis tasks that are not real-time requirements, and typically predictive maintenance and energy management services have used cloud computing services effectively. Other systems that offer good potential include operations intelligence, and monitoring systems for environmental or health and safety studies. Rockwell suggest that local control systems will feed production data to cloud services for further analytics and operations intelligence.

This article first appeared in the Industrial Automation INSIDER newsletter for January 2013

Dropbox security breach revealed

Dropbox’s Vice President of engineering has admitted that the spamming of many of the cloud service provider’s clients in recent weeks has been traced to an employee password re-use breach: Cryptzone says this highlights the dangers of using the same password for both business and personal usage.

“Most governance experts – ourselves included – will tell you to use different passwords for different systems, but this case is one of those “wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee” moments for IT security professionals, as it shows the need to also keep passwords separate for work and personal internet activities,” said Grant Taylor, European Vice President of Cryptzone, the IT threat mitigation specialist.

“We would go further and argue that people should not be using Dropbox for many business purposes. CISOs and compliance managers would be horrified to know that confidential data was being moved out of the organisation’s sphere of control. Free services by their very nature don’t have the features to facilitate corporate control and management.”

The problem here, the Cryptzone European VP says, is that members of staff, particularly the young, tend to blur the lines between work and play – and whilst it is perfectly understandable for them to use the convenience of a service like Dropbox to access work files at their leisure, their managers need to explain that when it comes to corporate data, such practices simply are not acceptable in today’s regulatory environment.

If corporate information is moved to personal accounts in contradiction to corporate policies, you’re dead in the water as far the boss is concerned. Apart from disciplinary action for the individual, their employer could be looking at investigation from regulatory bodies possibly resulting in severe fines. So when seeking to improve work/life balance, don’t just think convenience, think risk, he says.

Dropbox says it has plans to roll out additional security measures that should help users protect their Dropbox accounts even if users (or employees, assumedly) lose account passwords, including two-factor authentication (Dropbox says this will be coming “in a few weeks”), and new automated mechanisms to help identity suspicious activity, as well as a page that lets users examine all active logins.