Automate-ProMat 2019: Industrial IoT Supplier Complexity and How to Resolve

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By Dan Shey | 2Q 2019 | IN-5484

The Automate and ProMat 2019 shows demonstrate that the Internet of Things (IoT) and related technologies are becoming more relevant to the industrial markets. However, as has already been seen in IoT up to 2019, deciphering the supplier and technology options will become the next challenge faced by Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and enterprises as they attempt to leverage the benefits that IoT can bring to industrial markets.

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IoT's Growing Presence


Automate and ProMat have collocated for several years now when held in Chicago. Automate brings together manufacturers and system integrators across robotics, metrology, software, controllers, and other areas, showcasing new innovations and technologies. ProMat covers the manufacturing market, exhibiting some of the larger manufacturing equipment vendors and with more emphasis on distribution and supply chain operations.

Two things were striking about this year’s event. The first was that the show, while well attended, did not seem to grow much from past years. (Advertised attendance from the conference organizers continues to be “over 20,000.”) This should not be viewed as a negative because the breadth of technologies being applied to industrial markets is growing, so this event will continue to have relevance. But the show may want to reconsider its timing because Hannover Messe, with attendance of more than 200,000, was the week before.

The second was how the Internet of Things (IoT) was becoming a bigger message for many Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and service suppliers. Technology adoption goes in waves. At CES 2019, artificial intelligence was the technology with the greatest marketing presence. For the industrial markets, as demonstrated at Automate/ProMat 2019, the influence of Industry 4.0, which promotes development toward smarter and connected equipment, is clearly beginning to take hold.

General Trends Driving Build versus Buy in IoT Solution Enablement


The major themes discovered at Automate/ProMat highlighting the IoT’s growing importance in industrial markets include:

  • Subsystem equipment suppliers (motor, actuator, compressor suppliers, etc.) are just beginning to think about connectivity and building smart equipment
  • Not all system OEMs are on the IoT bandwagon
    • Example: Forklift OEMs are letting rental companies and enterprises connect their forklifts for monitoring location (primary app) and other monitoring such as battery power levels
  • More controller/PLC vendors getting into the IoT platform business—newer companies discovered included Fatek, Wago, and SMC
  • Lots of visualization software providers for monitoring processes, but offering differing levels of value
    • Dashboarding only (plug into single PLC)
    • Dashboarding plus sensors (cover single process stage, designed for a single operator/group (e.g., Factrac))
    • Dashboarding plus sensors plus sensor installation (covering multiple process segments up to entire production line (e.g., Honeywell Intelligrated))
  • IoT platform ecosystem is expanding
    • Controller/PLC suppliers
    • Industrial software suppliers
    • Sensor suppliers

Supplier Diversity and Offer Complexity: The Next Challenge in Industrial and What to Do about IT


Industrial firms of all stripes have multiple options for starting their IoT journey; however, the breadth of both suppliers and technology choices, which continues to grow, presents a major challenge. ABI Research offers a few recommendations for developing awareness around the IoT opportunity.

  • Tap the OEMs: More and more OEMs are offering IoT solutions that at a minimum allow a remote monitoring capability. Many times, the solution can be easily implemented and tested to understand the data characteristics and hence the value of the IoT solution. OEM-led solutions can be very equipment specific, which can be good if the particular piece of equipment is the machinery that drives the majority of productivity of the business or of the production line. However, targeted, single-machine IoT solutions will not provide a holistic view of the entire production line. OEM-led solutions should be considered initially to help the enterprise learn about IoT, its benefits, and its constraints.
  • Find the Unbiased Third Party: For any enterprise, IoT solutions should be considered holistically for impact across the entire business. There are a few supplier sectors that can give insight on the entire IoT solution stack, particularly on solution enablement options that will be less biased toward a certain service or hardware solution component.
    • IoT Gateway Suppliers with IoT Platforms: These include companies like Sierra Wireless, MultiTech, and Cradlepoint that offer both gateways for connecting equipment to the cloud, but also an IoT platform for monitoring the gateway and directing traffic to the cloud, data center, etc. Since they have built their own IoT solutions for their gateways, they will have insight on other suppliers that can assist in building an IoT solution.
    • Device-to-Cloud IoT Platform Vendors That Do Not Offer Hardware: Companies like Telit, PTC, and Cumulocity have experience in industrial markets and experience not only with hardware suppliers but also with cloud, app developers, and system integrators.
    • System Integrators That Have More Experience on Cloud and Backend Systems: This group should be able to provide expertise on building an end-to-end solution from device integration to backend system integration. The larger ones are Accenture and T-Systems, but there are smaller ones with good engineering talent such as KPIT or Happiest Minds. The cloud suppliers such as AWS and Microsoft are an option as well. However, there are two challenges with working with them for IoT solution enablement. They have an extensive portfolio of capabilities, from onboarding devices to analytics and app development services, which can be overwhelming for some companies to assess. Another challenge is their business model is about locking in a customer to their data storage and integration services.
  • Consider IoT Solutions That Include Sensor Connectivity: The manufacturing environment consists of activities in building operations and manufacturing operations. Building operations include Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC), people transport, and ingress/egress points. Within manufacturing, there are areas of creation (molding, cutting, welding, etc.), assembly, and transport (raw materials, WIP, and final product). All of these activities involve multiple machine OEMs and/or no sensing capability for a particular activity. More and more IoT platform suppliers are starting to work with sensor OEMs (e.g., Relayr) to enable a broader monitoring capability and thus the proper context to address process challenges. At Automate 2019, several sensor OEMs were marketing their IoT services. One company, called SICK Sensors, offers a full IoT solution that includes sensors and the application for monitoring conveyance lines.


Companies Mentioned