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Siemens shines at Chicago’s DMDII

Siemens shines at Chicago’s DMDII

Apr 18, 2018 | Hot Topics

Siemens held another one of its innovation days a few weeks ago, this time at the UI LABS DMDII facility in Chicago. I’ve attended several of these at Siemens HQ in Munich; this was the first I’ve been to at a neutral site and the focus was completely different. In Munich, the sessions were geared towards investors and were high-level, to suit that audience. In Chicago, the point was manufacturing: how Siemens does it and how Siemens can help customers do it more effectively. It was about opportunity: how Siemens uses its massive portfolio of people, products and technologies to show leadership in areas ranging from traditional and additive manufacturing IoT to autonomous vehicles to lightweighting to cybersecurity. And more, I’m sure — but I was only able to attend one of each time slot’s concurrent sessions.

UI LABS is a University + Industry (UI, get it?) collaboration that figures out ways to apply digital technologies to legacy industries. UI LABS started with the manufacturing and infrastructure industries and plans to branch out to other industries over time. DMDII, the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute, is one of several sites where manufacturers, technology companies, inventors and academics can showcase what they’re doing, learn from one another and, it is hoped, move manufacturing as a whole forward.

For Siemens, DMDII also acts as a showplace, to bring the Digital Manufacturing concept to life via small production lines, taking a design from concept/CAE to design/CAD to manufacturing planning, to execution to operations to maintenance. One Siemens person told me that they cycle hundreds of users, prospects, academic partners and others (like the media, in this case) through DMDII each year. You can see Chuck Grindstaff’s take on DMDII —and why it’s important to Siemens— here:

This particular event, Siemens Innovation Day 2018, showcased how Siemens applies digital technologies to many (all?) of the verticals Siemens operates in — and, therefore, encourages customers to. The Siemens team from the aerospace, automotive and other verticals presented how the concepts of product twin, performance twin, and production twin work in their specific domains and across R&D, simulation/test, and manufacturing. It was, truly, about innovation within Siemens — and, not coincidentally, always with technology from Siemens PLM as the backbone.

As is usual for me, I learned a great deal about how the parts of Siemens outside the PLM business apply PLM technologies. For example, did you know that Siemens is light weighting electric engine parts for aircraft? I didn’t — but it makes so much sense that a company making both simulation technology and aircraft engine parts would figure out to use one on the other. Or that technology from recent acquisitions Mentor Graphics and TASS are being merged to produce physics-based simulated sensor data for driving scenarios and traffic situations, to speed up the virtual test of autonomous vehicle concepts? Or that this is just one element of a broader Siemens push towards smart mobility, where sensors embedded in roadways will monitor cars, pedestrians and traffic lights for greater safety and smoother travel for all?

My point: Siemens is active in so many different areas of power generation, manufacturing and mobility — that now also use its PLM tools. These business, in turn, may be some of the most critical users of NX, Simcenter, Teamcenter, Tecnomatix, Mindsphere, et al. and can inform further development of those technologies. I asked a couple of the people speaking on behalf of the Siemens non-PLM portfolio, and all said that their businesses rely on the close working relationship they have with the PLM team — not always perfect but always pushing forward. These close working relationships between users and maker moves everything, faster.

The formal presentations included keynotes from Siemens CTO Roland Busch and US Technology head Kurt Bettenhausen, who reinforced Siemens’ intention to be a global leader in electrification, automation, and PLM. They highlighted Siemens’ ongoing efforts in additive, IoT, advanced materials, the continued focus on simulation — and again said that Siemens is one of the world’s top 10 software companies. (I really wish they’d back up that claim, as they make it so often.)

Siemens PLM CEO Tony Hemmelgarn, Mentor CEO Wally Rhines and leaders from Siemens’ mobility group (which includes automotive industry products) spoke about how impossible it is to physically put autonomous vehicles through enough miles to ensure their operating safety; their success will hinge on simulations. Mr. Rhines and a colleague from Siemens’ Intelligent Traffic group later gave a keynote on “First and Last Miles, And Everything in Between—The Future of Driving” which touched on how simulations inform the artificial intelligence used is autonomous operations, and how Siemens offers sensors and other data collection systems in support of all sorts of autonomous transport projects.

There were other keynotes, too, that you can see here, and you can watch an interview with Mr. Hemmelgarn and Mr. Rhines here. You may need to agree to a disclaimer, since these are on the Siemens investor website.

The good stuff happened after the keynotes, when we toured the DMDII manufacturing space. As you might expect, there was a lot about MindSphere and MindApps, Siemens’ IoT platform and the specific apps that can offer visibility into machine tool operations, drive systems, inventory or whatever else one may want to have data about. In the case of the demonstrator production line, Siemens showcased how a MindSphere-connected sensor held up production while a worker replenished inventory, then rerouted some items to a secondary station. What was cool was how the production line was connected to build instructions: the worker’s picking bins were spotlighted to show which part to pick up; then the assembly was highlighted to show where to place it. A screen had more detailed instructions, if they were needed, but the worker could do the entire task while comfortably looking down. Nifty.

I also learned that there are now cheap, cheap after-market sensor modules* available for IoT retrofits. I am often asked if IoT is even possible in a case where old equipment doesn’t have a specific sensor —it may have temperature but not vibration, or it may have nothing because no one expected it to matter. The Siemens guys showed me a multi sensor that costs less than $10, is fully powered, and is meant to be stuck (literally, glued) onto the equipment you want to monitor. It lasts several years; then throw it away and provision a new one. The little production line at DMDII had a number of these scattered across the gear, to show that IoT doesn’t require all new equipment. Use what you have, add some of these sensors if needed, try an IoT app to see if it gives you insights you need. And if the sensors are on the wrong equipment (or improperly positioned), just move them! With these cheap sensors, a Siemens Nanobox (the edge computer that collects data, does some analytics and pushes data to MindSphere) and a MindSphere app or two, you can be testing an IoT implementation for $1,000.

One last thing: After the first Innovation Day I attended, I told you about next47, the Siemens in-house venture capital subsidiary. It didn’t really get formal mention in Chicago, but is a clear part of the strategy to get Siemens involved in startups and others working at the cutting edge of digitalization. One area of interest for next47 is mobility, such as vehicle-to-vehicle or vehicle-to-infrastructure communication for applications such as smart traffic control. Did you know that Siemens made the first electric traffic lights? Me neither. Siemens clearly wants to be at the forefront of the massive infrastructure modernization that will come when/if we ever get autonomous vehicles off the ground.

These Innovation Days never fail to impress. Combine Siemens’ sheer size, range of activities, industry and geo reach with the growing software portfolio– the potential combination are limited only by investment priorities and imagination. And Siemens has plenty of the latter.

Note: Siemens graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation in the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post. The cover picture is of Lisa Davis, Member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG, Chair and CEO of Siemens Corporation, USA, and responsible for the company’s Energy Divisions (Power and Gas, Power Generation Services) for Oil & Gas.

*Update: Several of you have written to ask about the sensors. The ones Siemens demonstrates are from Bluvision, a Siemens MindSphere partner company.

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