Clean Energy Manufacturing: Which Vendors Are Best Provisioned to Provide End-to-End Automation Coverage?

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By James Prestwood | 3Q 2023 | IN-7084

Clean energy manufacturing (solar, utility-scale battery, wind) has seen a massive surge in growth in 2023, with 83 new or expanded plants in the United States. This, coupled with a still tight manufacturing labor market provides a fertile breeding ground for deploying automation solutions. For newer manufacturing verticals, end-to-end ecosystems that can be deployed through one vendor are extremely valuable. This ABI Insight evaluates three significant players in this market, their product coverage, and portfolio strengths.

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Clean Energy Manufacturing Is Driving Massive Growth in Facility Construction


In August 2023, the American Clean Power Association released its report on clean energy investing in America, highlighting the massive influx of capital investment in the sector this year. The market has received US$270 billion, resulting in 83 new or expanded manufacturing facilities split between solar manufacturing (52), utility-scale battery storage (14), wind power (11), and offshore wind power (6). Examples include Canadian Solar’s new US$250 million manufacturing facility in Texas, which has a planned output of 20,000 solar panel modules per day; Hanwha Qcells’ US$2.5 billion expansion of capacity in the United States, spearheaded by a new facility in Cartersville, Georgia that will manufacture solar panel components; and Revkor Energy Holdings and H2GEMINI Technology Consulting’s joint development of a heterojunction solar cell and module manufacturing plant in Utah, which has secured 1 million square feet of building space. Battery manufacturing has similarly taken the market by storm, attracting deep interest from technology vendors, and other clean energy manufacturing markets are likely to receive similar attention as investment grows.

Growth in Manufacturing Jobs Still Faces the Same Issue—Not Enough Qualified Labor


The American Clean Power Association’s report zeroes in on the 29,780 new manufacturing jobs that are being created by investments in new production facilities. While this is an economic benefit, the reality is that the manufacturing market already struggles to fill the job openings it has. ABI Research previously addressed the issue of low unemployment rates (see ABI Insight “Manufacturing Faces Massive Labor Shortages; Industrial Automation Technologies and Sustainability Are Key to Overcoming Them”) back in February, and the market has not seen improvement since then. The average U.S. manufacturing unemployment rate remains lower in 2023 than 2022 (2.98%) at 2.75%, and even taking into account the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on labor markets, the 2023 average is still lower than the 2019 average of 2.94%.

Low unemployment rates, new greenfield manufacturing plants construction, and brownfield expansion provide a potent breeding ground for automation use cases, with a range of opportunities for extensive automation providers to string together comprehensive automation solutions.

Which Vendors Provide the Most Comprehensive Automation Ecosystems?


Manufacturers must weave together all levels of the automation pyramid. Technology vendors that can provide customers with hardware and software solutions that cover Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Manufacturing Execution Systems (MESs) (see ABI Research’s reports, Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES): Their Future and Place In the Modern Factory (AN-5622) and Manufacturing Execution System (MES) Software Suppliers (CA-1367)), Supervisory Control and Acquisition Data (SCADA)/Human-Machine Interface (HMI) (see Industrial Automation: SCADA/HMI Software (AN-5624), Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA)/Human-Machine Interface (HMI) Software Suppliers (CA-1368)), and automation hardware (see Industrial Automation Hardware Innovation: PLCs, IPCs, and HMIs (AN-5793) and Industrial Automation: PLC Hardware and Software (CA-1402)) are in a strong position to capitalize on this market growth. While established manufacturing verticals may be at the point of looking to identify only best-of-breed solutions for specific automation tasks in their highly optimized plants, with decades of experience in refining production processes, newer markets will see great value in being able to deploy smart factories through a single automation solution provider. Below are some of the key players in the industrial automation market, their product coverage, and portfolio strengths:

Rockwell Automation:

The company’s acquisition of Plex Systems at the end of 2021 has strengthened the company’s position in the automation software market, complementing its strong hardware expertise. Plex Systems’ offering of a highly integrated MES and ERP Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution was ranked as the top solution in ABI Research’s MES competitive assessment (CA-1367). The company’s market-leading investment guarantee, with software priced according to the revenue of the given plant, is particularly valuable for greenfield plant construction, which will have a murkier picture of operational costs. This is underpinned by the rest of Rockwell’s automation ecosystem, which includes SCADA/HMI software and Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) solution offerings.

FactoryTalk Optix, the company’s cloud-based SCADA/HMI software, offers an unlimited licensing model, in which manufacturers only pay for the functionality they use, ensuring the software’s forward compatibility with new technologies, with integration to new Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Virtual Reality (VR) built into the design. This compatibility is also found in its ControlLogix 5580 series PLC, which can be augmented with Rockwell’s FactoryTalk Analytics LogixAI module that applies analytics within the controller to create a positive feedback loop for automation solutions design.

Unique to Rockwell Automation is its in-house provision of all levels of the automation pyramid, from sensors all the way to ERP. This, supported by the company’s range of flexible pricing solutions, makes it a formidable contender in the realm of new manufacturing markets expansion.


The company’s MES, Opcenter, is supported by Siemens’ end-to-end Xcelerator portfolio, enabling manufacturers to build comprehensive digital threads, with tight integration allowing for continuous loops of optimization in production processes. This deep integration is continued within its SIMATIC S7-1500 PLCs, which can be equipped with proprietary Siemens processors for a unique level of integration with the company’s solutions—something unique to the market. Siemens’ offerings are all supported by its low/no-code capabilities through Mendix, an excellent tool to possess when manufacturers are dealing with high influxes of new workers, allowing them to upskill quickly. A strong feature found within Siemens’ SCADA/HMI software, WinCC Unified, that assists workers further in developing automation solutions is an HMI generation tool, that automatically generates HMI applications based on PLC code and a rule-based systems (WinCC Unified SIVARC), dramatically reducing manual engineering times during application development.

While Siemens does not provide its own ERP solution, it has close links to SAP. This partnership was formalized in 2020, and has seen intense focus on integration between the two vendors’ software offerings since.

GE Digital:

With its MES and SCADA/HMI software located within the company’s Proficy portfolio, alongside a historian and no-code application development environment, GE Digital provides manufacturers with a comprehensive automation software ecosystem. GE Digital’s MES has a modular design that allows customers to pick and choose elements of the software that they wish to deploy, allowing manufacturers to scale the solution at their own pace, an essential factor for new manufacturing facilities bringing on a range of technologies at once. This speed and ease of deployment is also shown in the company’s two SCADA/HMI solutions, iFIX and CIMPLICITY, which can be deployed globally with zero-downtime, with a large portion of the solution available Out of the Box (OOTB).

The company’s primary weakness in providing end-to-end coverage of the automation space is the lack of in-house provision of automation hardware products and associated PLC software, following the company’s sale of GE’s Intelligent Platform business to Emerson in 2019. Like Siemens, the company does not offer its own ERP product, but connects deeply with market-leading ERP solutions, with GE’s MES shipped with an OOTB ERP interface.