RSTechED 2013--Rise of the Information Engineer

Mike Pantaleano, business development manager for Rockwell Automation, asked at the beginning of his presentation, "Who will implement all of these new digital technologies in manufacturing?" The Information Engineer will.

Citing examples from the RSTechED keynote presentation from CTO Sujeet Chand along with the book "Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation," by James McQuivey, Pantaleano looked at the rapid changes coming with mobility, virtualization, security. Someone must be tasked with implementing all of these technologies.

His answer is the Information Engineer--a person who combines electrical engineering and information technology knowledge and experience. The person filling this role needs to have several key traits. Collaboration ability is first. This is the ability to focus on customers both inside and outside the organization discovering their needs for data and how they use the system. The person must be adaptive bringing the right technology solution to the problem, understanding that customers don't always ask the right question and so adapting ideas and technologies to what the real needs are. Finally, an innovative approach is crucial. Sometimes this is best started with small, stealth innovations and then growing.

Such people exist now. Pantaleano profiled three existing IEs and the work they've done merging IT and controls. These were Wade Burns with Consol, Justin Molenda, Nestle Marysville, Ohio, and Curt Hastings, Ball Corp. A common thread across all their work was building on past successes. Hastings added when searching for new candidates, he is looking for someone with an analytical background, who understands business, is not intimidated by technology, and a customer service orientation.


Record Attendance Hears Connected Enterprise Story at RSTechED

More than 2,000 people, a record number, gathered in San Diego for the 16th annual Rockwell Software user conference and education event RSTechED. Even though this event kicks off a world tour that will eventually reach 5,000 customers, people came from 41 countries to this one.

The theme of the conference is The Connected Enterprise. It's interesting to see the progress that Rockwell has made over the last few years as it has methodically assembled the pieces of connectivity.

IP Advantage

The backbone of the connected enterprise is EtherNet/IP, the CIP series of protocols that are able to enable Ethernet TCP/UDP/IP connectivity without special silicon ("standard, unmodified Ethernet"), and what they now call Industrial IP. Check out the Web site. It is part of an education program called IP Advantage. The idea is that it's not just Ethernet, but the protocol suites based on IP (Internet Protocol) that is the key enabling technology.

Sujeet ChandChief Technology Officer Sujeet Chand delivered the first keynote presentation laying out the technology foundation and rationale for The Connected Enterprise.

Inflection Point

Charting a brief history of technology through the Industrial Age and as that changed from steam to electricity, he said that the Information Age is still nascent. (Something I've also read from McAfee and Brynjoffson of "Race Against the Machine" fame.) Since it is still developing, we have not reached the inflection point of the technology. Chand believes that 2013 will see the inflection point of the Information Age in manufacturing.

The key problem for manufacturing leaders right now is how to wring value from the huge investments they have made in ERP systems to connect their enterprises. Chand said that many are now focusing on outcomes: faster time to market, lower total cost of ownership, improved asset utilization and enterprise risk management. The keys to achieving the outcomes lie in being smarter, more productive, secure and sustainable. Technologies pushing this include mobility, the cloud, big data/analytics, fact-based decisions. Or, as he summarized, the manufacturing technology is becoming collaborative, virtual, secure.

People Use It

Frank KulaszewiczSenior Vice President Frank Kulaszewicz discussed how IT and operations are coming together with EtherNet/IP as the enabler. He mentioned a couple of products with enhancements coming to RS Studio 5000 and a new secure product coming from Rockwell's collaboration with Cisco--the Stratix 5900 UTM. Leveraging off a discussion about how Toyota has used FactoryTalk Vantage Point (MES product) for improved operations, he discussed how customers are starting to put together all the technologies Chand discussed for improved operations.

I've attended many sessions over the past 15 years, and I find patterns interesting. Rockwell never has gone for the "Wow" factor in presentations such as this. Its speakers always methodically lay out the path, technologies and use cases and leave you with the feeling that things just work. It's just logical.


My 130th Podcast-Gary on Manufacturing

I recap a talk I did in May where the audience asked of these technologies I discuss are "real." I assured them that they are--and that there are people actually using them with great benefit for improving manufacturing and production operations.

I also compare people discussing the technologies sometimes to the fable of the blind men describing the elephant where each described what an elephant was based upon what he happened to touch.


Introducing Ayla Networks an IoT Technology Enabler

Ayla Networks Founders Friedman and CaceresConnections. That is the topic that most interests me currently. Therefore the name of my new Website--The Manufacturing Connection. Devices in the plant or factory are connected by ever-expanding means to each other, to the control system and to the operations management layer.

We've been talking about the Internet of Things (or M2M, or Industrial Internet, or Pervasive Internet) for a long time. What we need is more of the binding that brings stuff together. Recently I talked with David Friedman, one of the founders and the CEO of Ayla Networks, a company that just emerged from stealth mode with a couple of announcements. I think that what they are doing is significant to manufacturing and production (and a lot more, as well).

Friedman pointed to the backgrounds and experiences of the founders, "We know what it takes to do the software to bind the IoT together," he told me. "We also worked with hardware leaders, software preloaded in chips that people need to do this. It's a technology and business model of service as a component to get rid of the monthly fees."

The company announced a round of financing and a significan first customer.

Platform and financing

Ayla ProductIn the first news, Ayla formally unveiled the Ayla Platform, which allows manufacturers and service providers to transform thermostats, appliances, lighting and other everyday products into interactive connected devices quickly, easily and economically. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company also announced that it has raised $5.4 million in Series A financing led by investors Voyager Capital and Crosslink Capital.

“We are at the beginning of a major evolutionary step for the Internet,” said Friedman. “We have built a platform that eliminates the hurdles involved in building great connected devices and bringing them to market. We have also created a business model with key partnerships to deliver on this vision.”

The company’s platform seeks to simplify and accelerate product development for manufacturers while enhancing usability from the consumer’s perspective, leading to greater overall satisfaction and lower costs for everyone. The efficiency by which the company can provide its service also minimizes the cost of connectivity so that consumers can start to enjoy great connected products without high ongoing monthly service fees.

The Ayla Platform consists of three distinct components, each working seamlessly together to provide a rich, secure, and highly flexible path for manufacturers to rapidly deliver Internet-connected products to market. These components include production-class Ayla-enabled Wi-Fi modules and IP gateways, Ayla’s cloud service for managing devices on behalf of manufacturers and consumers, and Ayla application libraries.

Ayla has created these components to work together so manufacturers do not have to write any networking, security, or connectivity protocols in their devices. Similarly, Ayla customers do not have to write any code to use the cloud service: a powerful UI is used to configure “virtual devices,” and the platform takes care of the rest.


Ayla has forged an ecosystem that includes world-class elements from leading companies such as Broadcom Corporation, STMicroelectronics, and Amazon Web Services. Ayla’s technology supports a wide variety of standards and platforms, including Android, iOS, Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Linux and others.

With Ayla’s technology, devices are available at all times, yet minimize the amount of bandwidth and energy required they consume. Hardware solutions and application interfaces can be configured for specific devices but also leverage common design elements to save money and reduce integration challenges. Smooth surfaces and ‘clean’ industrial designs will emerge as smart phones and apps replace buttons and switches to control appliances.

The founders of Ayla Networks all have deep expertise building solutions, technologies, and companies serving the Internet of Things. Adrian Caceres, Ayla’s head of engineering and another co-founder, previously worked at Amazon’s Lab126, where he was technical lead for the networking capabilities of the Amazon Kindle. Philip Chang, GM of Greater China previously helped establish a presence for ZeroG Wireless in China, and has been founder and executive at several early networking companies. Thomas Lee, a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University who has helped create companies such as Matrix Semiconductor, is also a founder.

First Customer

The next news is that it is collaborating with SINA to bring a new generation of connected devices and interactivity to consumers in China.

With more than 500 million registered users worldwide, SINA is the most recognized Internet brand name among Chinese communities globally. SINA’s digital media network also includes (web portal) (social networking) and (mobile.)

The first device to come out of the collaboration is the SINA Wi-Fi Weather Station which provides SINA customers with targeted, up-to-date weather information and forecasts for their home, office or any other place of interest where one of the devices is located. The key is the cloud: SINA’s personal weather stations feed location-specific information about temperature and precipitation to a cloud-based service that SINA customers can access through smart phones and other devices. Ayla’s cloud platform for the Internet of Things provides the technology and foundation to seamlessly and securely link the weather station to SINA’s services.

Once things can be easily connected to rich cloud-based services, the possibilities for what comes next are almost limitless. Appliances, lighting, thermostats and a broad array of other consumer electronics can all communicate together and through the cloud to provide a social network for things. Formerly mundane devices will offer a rich new way for users to interact with them.


Getting Things Done

I have studied and implemented many time management and action list systems over the course of my career. The best I've found is Getting Things Done from David Allen.

Since I'm a "digital native" of sorts, I have looked for some sort of digital assistant for implementing my GTD practice. All of us who have implemented automation or a new software application in business or manufacturing know that it must be easy and intuitive to use or it just won't be used. (I saw $50K worth of vision equipment I had installed in the trash one day at one of my customers. Long story, but lesson learned.) What I'm using now is a program called Nozbe (affiliate link).

Michael Sliwinski, the developer of Nozbe, has published a "Productivity Course" where, in 11 short videos, he explains his take on the GTD practice. It's a course that could be worth hundreds to attend, but it's on the Web for free. Many good ideas there.

Step 1 - "Inbox"
Step 2 - "Projects"
Step 3 - "Next Actions"
Step 4 - "Mobility"
Step 5 - "Collaboration"
Step 6 - "Contexts"
Step 7 - "Reference Material"
Step 8 - "Weekly Review"
Step 9 - "Email"
Step 10 - "Get It All Done"

Here are a few thoughts I pulled out to remind myself of some good ideas.

  • If an action item actually includes more than one step, make it a "project", defined as something that takes more than one task to accomplish. Then add the several action items it will take to accomplish the task.
  • Nozbe allows for syncing with Evernote, so he just adds "projects" for notes and research material and syncs with Evernote in order to have everything in one place.
  • Keep the daily priority list short.
  • Within Nozbe, you can set recurring things for dates. Say there is something you want to do daily (write a blog post...) or weekly (meet with yourself to review progress), you can do that so that it will pop up in your Next Action list.
  • I use mind maps to think about things. Sliwinski uses mind maps to define his personal strategy and then uses it in his weekly review.
  • Schedule a time to meet with yourself once a week for maybe as long as 2 hours.
  • Process email, do not check it. He processes first at noon, and then hourly, using the David Allen 2 min. rule (if you can answer in two minutes or less, then do it right then. If it's a task, forward to Nozbe to add to the task list.
  • He works in 25 minute chunks of time, followed by a 5 min break. Personally, I often work in somewhat larger chunks of time. Often as long as 90 minutes. But whatever suits you. Remember the break. Brew a cup of tea. Take a short walk. Something to refresh the mind and body.