PTC and Rockwell Partnership Creates Integrated Suite of IoT Tools
Tom Lombardo posted on June 17, 2018 |
A partnership between PTC and Rockwell Automation will allow engineers to design smart, connected pr...

PTC, the maker of engineering software that's on the cutting edge of the Internet of Things (IoT), recently entered into a partnership with Rockwell Automation. Rockwell invested a billion dollars in PTC in exchange for a seat on PTC's Board of Directors. I spoke with Jim Heppelmann, President and CEO of PTC, who said that the partnership will strengthen both companies and deliver an integrated suite of tools that combine the physical, digital, and human elements, enabling engineers to design IoT products and processes that include machines made by multiple vendors. Heppelmann gave me an overview of how this will impact engineers designing IoT products. 

Image courtesy of PTC

ThingWorx Meets FactoryTalk

PTC's flagship IoT product, ThingWorx, helps developers design, deploy, and monitor IoT devices in real time, in a secure, cloud-based environment. It also provides analysis tools, object-oriented apps, and an augmented reality (AR) creation module that lets engineers develop custom dashboards for their products without the need for coding skills. Rockwell's FactoryTalk is an integrated set of tools that manages manufacturing processes, data analytics, and factory communications. When combined, the two platforms will allow engineers to design smart, connected products that monitor and control machines made by multiple vendors.

Image courtesy of Rockwell Automation

A Universal Translator

Every industrial machine is capable of sharing information with other machines, typically with a brand-specific proprietary data communication format. When PTC acquired Kepware, they integrated ThingWorx with Kepware's connectivity platform, a protocol converter that serves as a universal translator - an industrial Babel Fish, as it were - giving access to machines from a variety of manufacturers using a single interface. PTC and Rockwell's integrated platform will let engineers build apps that monitor, control, analyze, and diagnose machines from multiple vendors, from automated manufacturing devices to wind turbines.

Image courtesy of Kepware

The Human Element

PTC's tools are the interface between the physical world and the digital world. IoT takes information from the physical world - sensor readings, for example - and brings the data into the digital world so people can monitor machines, control processes, diagnose malfunctions, and improve performance. For example, suppose a technician needs to replace a part on a CNC machine. He may go to an online database to find the instructions, and then return to the machine to perform the work. The problem, which is also experienced by every "Youtube handyman," is going back and forth between the instructions and the machine. Every jump from the digital to the physical world increases the person's cognitive load - the number of things that must be remembered in order to learn or perform a task. The solution: augmented reality (AR).

Image courtesy of PTC

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality blends the digital world with the physical world. In the above scenario, the technician wears a pair of AR goggles while the instructions, complete with pictures, appear in front of him, superimposed on the actual machine. In another setting, an industrial engineer may go to the shop floor, walk up to a machine of any make or model, and see a custom dashboard for that particular machine on her tablet or phone. With the same tablet and app, she can zoom out to see how the machine is performing in relation to the entire assembly line.

Image courtesy of PTC

What This Means for Engineers

Industrial engineers designing or upgrading factories will be able to create custom tools to help them monitor and control manufacturing processes, even if the machines are made by different vendors. Instead of a central control panel and individual machine displays, plant managers will have the means to interact with any machine or process from any location within the facility, using a handheld device that shows exactly what data is pertinent to the process. They can zoom in on the details or step back to see the big picture. Lastly, they'll be able to compare any aspect of the factory's performance with that of its digital twin, allowing them to tweak individual machines in order to optimize processes.  

Jim Heppelmann, President and CEO of PTC
Jim Heppelmann, President and CEO of PTC

"Our goal is to create a broad, deep suite of tools that enable engineers to design smart, connected products." - Jim Heppelmann, President and CEO of PTC


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