Apr
02
2019
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Microsoft teams up with BMW for the IoT-focused Open Manufacturing Platform

Car companies are making big investments in technology to help ensure that they are not cut out of the next generation of transportation and automotive manufacturing, and today came the latest development in that trend.

The BMW Group and Microsoft announced they would team up in a new effort called the Open Manufacturing Platform, aimed at developing and encouraging more collaborative IoT development in the manufacturing sector, focusing on smart factory solutions and building standards to develop them in areas like machine connectivity and on-premises systems integration.

The two companies have not disclosed how much they intend to invest in the project — we have sent a message to ask. The plan will be to bring in more manufacturers and suppliers — the goal, they say, is to have between four and six others with them, working on 15 use cases by the end of this year — working with open source components, open industrial standards and open data to develop both hardware and software that runs on it.

The two say that future partners do not have to be from within the automotive industry.

The OMP will be built on Microsoft’s industrial IoT platform — part of its Azure cloud business. But this is a natural progression of how Microsoft and BMW were already working together. BMW already has 3,000 machines running on Azure cloud, IoT and AI services in its existing robots and in-factory autonomous transport systems, and it said it will be contributing some of the technology that it had already built — for example around its self-driving systems — into the group as part of the effort.

“Microsoft is joining forces with the BMW Group to transform digital production efficiency across the industry,” Scott Guthrie, executive vice president, Microsoft Cloud + AI Group, said in a presentation in Germany today. “Our commitment to building an open community will create new opportunities for collaboration across the entire manufacturing value chain.”

“Mastering the complex task of producing individualized premium products requires innovative IT and software solutions,” added Oliver Zipse, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Production, a statement. “The interconnection of production sites and systems as well as the secure integration of partners and suppliers are particularly important. We have been relying on the cloud since 2016 and are consistently developing new approaches. With the Open Manufacturing Platform as the next step, we want to make our solutions available to other companies and jointly leverage potential in order to secure our strong position in the market in the long term.”

The problem that Microsoft and BMW are going after here is a longstanding one. Much of the computing in the world of IT has been built around open standards, or in any event on very widely-used proprietary platforms that can interface with each other. The same does not go in the world of manufacturing, where proprietary systems are specific to each manufacturer, making them difficult to modify and often impossible to use in conjunction with other proprietary systems.

That ultimately slows down how things have been able to evolve, and will mean that implementing new generations of technology becomes expensive or even in some cases impossible. And given the speed with which things are moving, and the increasing sophistication of the machines that are being built (cars as “hardware”), something had to change.

That is what BMW and Microsoft are addressing. For BMW it will give it a hand in helping shape how standards develop, and for Microsoft it will give it a potential window into expanding its business in this enterprise sector.

The collaborative approach has been a big one for tech companies hoping to find a common way forward in the future of computing. Microsoft may own a lot of proprietary platforms that are not open source, but it’s making efforts to collaborate more in a number of other ways. It works with SAP, Adobe, WPP and others on the Open Data Initiative; with Intel, Google and others it’s working on an open standard for connecting data centers; it’s part of an open standard initiative for software licensing; and it’s part of a new cross-licensing patent database.

Mar
18
2019
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WorkClout brings SaaS to factory floor to increase operational efficiency

Factory software tools are often out of reach of small manufacturers, forcing them to operate with inefficient manual systems. WorkClout, a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2019 class, wants to change that by offering a more affordable SaaS alternative to traditional manufacturing software solutions.

Company co-founder and CEO Arjun Patel grew up helping out in his Dad’s factory and saw first-hand how difficult it is for small factory owners to automate. He says that traditional floor-management tools are expensive and challenging to implement.

“What motivated me is when my dad was trying to implement a similar system,” Patel said, noting that his father’s system had cost more than $240,000, took over a year to get going and wasn’t really doing what he wanted it to do. That’s when he decided to help.

He teamed up with Bryan Trang, who became the CPO, and Richard Girges, who became the CTO, to build the system that his dad (and others in a similar situation) needed. Specifically, the company developed a cloud software solution that helps manufacturers increase their operational efficiency. “Two things that we do really well is track every action on the factory floor and use that data to make suggestions on how to increase efficiency. We also determine how much work can be done in a given time period, taking finite resources into consideration,” Patel explained.

He said that one of the main problems that small-to-medium sized manufacturers face is a lack of visibility into their businesses. WorkClout looks at orders, activities, labor and resources to determine the best course of action to complete an order in the most cost-effective way.

“WorkClout gives our customers a better way to allocate resources and greater visibility of what’s actually happening on the factory floor. The more data that they have, the more accurate picture they have of what’s going on,” Patel said.

Production Schedule view. Screenshot: WorkClout

The company is still working on the pricing model, but today it charges administrative users like plant management, accounting and sales. Machine operators get access to the data for free. The current rate for paid users starts at $99 per user per month. There is an additional one-time charge for implementation and training.

As for the Y Combinator experience, Patel says that it has helped him focus on what’s important. “It really makes you hone in on building the product and getting customers, then making sure those two things are leading to customer happiness,” he said.

While the company does have to help customers get going today, the goal is to make the product more self-serve over time as they begin to understand the different verticals for which they are developing solutions. The startup launched in December and already has 13 customers, generating $100,000 in annual recurring revenue (ARR), according to Patel.

Aug
07
2018
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RiskRecon’s security assessment services for third-party vendors raises $25 million

In June of this year, Chinese hackers managed to install software into the networks of a contractor for the U.S. Navy and steal information on a roughly $300 million top-secret submarine program.

Two years ago, hackers infiltrated the networks of a vendor servicing the Australian military and made off with files containing a trove of information on Australian and U.S. military hardware and plans. That hacker stole roughly 30 gigabytes of data, including information on the nearly half-a-trillion dollar F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

Third-party vendors, contractors and suppliers to big companies have long been the targets for cyber thieves looking for access to sensitive data, and the reason is simple. Companies don’t know how secure their suppliers really are and can’t take the time to find out.

The Department of Defense can have the best cybersecurity on the planet, but when that moves off to a subcontractor how can the DOD know how the subcontractor is going to protect that data?” says Kelly White, the chief executive of RiskRecon, a new firm that provides audits of vendors’ security profile. 

The problem is one that the Salt Lake City-based executive knew well. White was a former security executive for Zion Bank Corporation after spending years in the cybersecurity industry with Ernst & Young and TrueSecure — a Washington, DC-based security vendor.

When White began work with Zion, around 2 percent of the company’s services were hosted by third parties; less than five years later and that number had climbed to over 50 percent. When White identified the problem in 2010, he immediately began developing a solution on his own time. RiskRecon’s chief executive estimates he spent 3,000 hours developing the service between 2010 and 2015, when he finally launched the business with seed capital from General Catalyst .

And White says the tools that companies use to ensure that those vendors have adequate security measures in place basically boiled down to an emailed checklist that the vendors would fill out themselves.

That’s why White built the RiskRecon service, which has just raised $25 million in a new round of funding led by Accel Partners with participation from Dell Technologies Capital, General Catalyst and F-Prime Capital, Fidelity Investments’ venture capital affiliate.

The company’s software looks at what White calls the “internet surface” of a vendor and maps the different ways in which that surface can be compromised. “We don’t require any insider information to get started,” says White. “The point of finding systems is to understand how well an organization is managing their risk.”

White says that the software does more than identify the weak points in a vendor’s security profile, it also tries to get a view into the type of information that could be exposed at different points on a network.

According to White, the company has more than 50 customers among the Fortune 500 that are already using his company’s services across industries like financial services, oil and gas and manufacturing.

The money from RiskRecon’s new round will be used to boost sales and marketing efforts as the company looks to expand into Europe, Asia and further into North America.

“Where there’s not transparency there’s often poor performance,” says White. “Cybersecurity has gone a long time without true transparency. You can’t have strong accountability without strong transparency.”

Apr
10
2018
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Splunk turns data processing chops to Industrial IoT

Splunk has always been known as a company that can sift through oodles of log or security data and help customers surface the important bits. Today, it announced it was going to try to apply that same skill set to Industrial Internet of Things data.

IIoT is data found in manufacturing settings, typically come from sensors on the factory floor giving engineers and plant managers data about the health and well-being of the machines running in the facility. Up until now, that data hasn’t had a modern place to live. Traditionally, companies pull the data into Excel and try to slice and dice it to find the issues

Splunk wants to change that with Splunk Industrial Asset Intelligence (IAI). The latest product pulls data from a variety of sources where it can be presented to management and engineers with the information they need to see along with critical alerts.

The new product takes advantage of some existing Splunk tools being built on top of Splunk Enterprise, but instead of processing data coming from IT systems, it’s looking at Industrial Control Systems (ICS), sensors, SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems and applications and pulling all that data together and presenting it to the key constituencies in a dashboard.

It is not a simple matter, however, to set up these dashboards, pull the data from the various data sources, some of which may be modern and some quite old, and figure out what’s important for a particular customer. Splunk says it has turned to systems integrators to help with that part of the implementation.

Splunk understands data, but it also recognizes working in the manufacturing sector is new territory for them, so they are looking to SIs with expertise in manufacturing to help them work with the unique requirements of this group. But it’s still data says Ammar Maraqa. Splunk SVP of Business Operations And Strategy and General Manager of IoT Markets

“If you step back at the end of the day, Splunk is able to ingest and correlate heterogeneous sets of data to provide a view into what’s happening in their environments,” Maraqa said.

With today’s announcement, Splunk Industrial Asset Intelligence exits Beta for a limited release. It should be generally available sometime in the Fall.

Jul
27
2017
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Intel beats earnings expectations as it manages to maintain growth in its Data Center Group

 Intel declared $14.8 billion in revenue this afternoon and earnings per share of 72 cents. This represents a solid beat as analysts had expected revenues of $14.41 billion and EPS of 68 cents. The company’s  stock finished up 22 cents and 0.63 percent to $34.97 per share in regular trading. In the moments after the company released its earnings, Intel’s stock shot up 3.43 percent. Read More

Jul
06
2017
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Moglix raises $12M Series B to digitize India’s manufacturing industry

 Moglix launched in 2015 as an online store for tools and construction supplies, but now it’s venturing into enterprise software with the launch of GreenGST to help Indian manufacturers become compliant with the country’s new tax codes. The Noida-headquartered startup announced today that it has raised a $12 million Series B, which it will use to develop its supply chain… Read More

May
11
2017
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Salesforce aims to save you time by summarizing emails and docs with machine intelligence

 We have all seen the studies — some American workers spend upwards of six hours a day handling email. It’s not a great use of time, it destroys productivity and it ultimately costs businesses money. A new paper written by a team Salesforce MetaMind researchers could eventually provide summaries of professional communication. More effective text summarization tools would… Read More

May
09
2017
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Volans-i shows off its long-range delivery drones in Texas

 Whether flying food or medication to customers’ doors, drones for delivery have arrived. Businesses as far-ranging as UPS, Domino’s, Amazon and the hospital group Ticino EOC are testing drones. Still, most drones built for delivery only fly for a short time and distance. Now, a startup called Volans-i has developed long-range drones for business to business, express deliveries. Read More

Mar
16
2017
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Carbon moves into high-volume manufacturing with SpeedCell system, and bigger 3D printers

 Additive manufacturing startup Carbon is on a mission to help manufacturers and designers cut their costs, waste less energy and materials while speeding up the time it takes to get from concept to product on the market. The company, which has raised $221 million in venture capital, is firing up a new service aimed at contract manufacturers, and other high volume manufacturing businesses,… Read More

Jul
25
2015
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Software For The Full-Stack Era

newspapers The history of software is dominated by companies that automated how the biggest companies in the world did business. IBM automated clerical tasks, SAP unified corporate financials, and Siebel digitized Rolodexes for relationship-driven salespeople. With that focus in mind, it’s no wonder that many of the world’s largest technology companies survive based on their ties to IT… Read More

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