Big names in the industrial IoT, especially industries such as oil refining and pharmaceutical sales, got an emboldened competitor with the announcement of a strategic partnership between Rockwell Automation and PTC. The deal sees Rockwell giving $1 billion to PTC, a Rockwell executive joining the PTC board, and an agreement to bundle together five software products from the companies into a package for manufacturing clients.
The $1 billion sounds like the big news, but it’s going to be used to buy back PTC stock so the company can complete a series of financial transactions that will result in Rockwell becoming the third-largest shareholder of PTC, says CEO Jim Heppelmann. The bigger news is how this deal provides a clear view of what industrial manufacturing needs for the next iteration of connected factories and automation.
This deal allows PTC to sell its three most relevant industrial IoT acquisitions to a larger base of manufacturers with Rockwell’s help, ushering them further down the Road to Reliability. Rockwell is a big supplier in process and hybrid manufacturing, industries that may not be as familiar with PTC because they didn’t need design software. Rockwell’s software also rounds out the offering with a hearty dose of analytics, while PTC’s ThingWorx and Kepware handle the basic lifting that has to happen if you want to put your plant online.
The Vuforia AR piece is a bit early in the industry, but Heppelmann says that companies are currently using it to train workers in manufacturing plants and to help workers on service calls get the information they need. For example, a worker leveraging AR would use a tablet or heads-up display to see information about the object currently in front of them. So if the tablet is centered on a machine, information about the individual parts or diagrams on how to fix them might be superimposed over the image on the tablet’s screen.
Given all of these pieces, the deal provides a sense of what the industrial IoT wants in terms of platforms and services. Factories have long had sensors relaying information into analytics programs. What’s changing now is both how that information is gathered and how it is used and presented.
Technology is progressing rapidly that things like a free standing jib crane are being made to make the factory workers jobs easier. These pieces of equipment are also being used to provide companies data on their products and give them ways to become more efficient. A machine in a factory likely has some type of sensor and data flow associated with it. However, it is rarely connected to the internet, and the data doesn’t get aggregated with other factory data. When factories try to connect all of their machines to get data in aggregate they need to bring the many types of data to a central software program. This can happen if companies connect their machines to an intranet or internet and if the manufacturer does the hard work of turning the individual data from each machine into something that other machines can interpret. ThingWorx makes it easy to get machines online while Kepware handles the many different types of data present in factories.
Other companies in the industrial internet are trying to create the same sorts of systems. Honeywell and Emerson are both trying to get machines online and then get data derived from machines made by different manufacturers into one place. Siemans is also offering factory automation software. All of these companies are signing partnerships with firms ranging from database providers like SAP to the machine manufacturers themselves. The goal is to get machines talking to each other.
From there, companies need analytics tailored to their industries. This is where Rockwell’s software comes into play. And looking ahead, the Vuforia software provides ways for employees at manufacturing firms to take action on the information that all of these connected machines can share. Next week, Honeywell is hosting its user conference, where it will likely share its own interpretation on these elements of an industrial IoT suite.
What’s striking about all of this is how much of a background role we’re seeing the big tech firms take on the industrial IoT side. While ThingWorx has connectors that link back to Amazon Web Services and companies such as Emerson help their clients send data back to Microsoft Azure, the software and services for the industrial IoT remains in the hands of the big industrial players.