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Complexity Loves Company in IIoT: AspenTech and Advantech Combine Forces to Lower Costs

By Cynthia S. Artin
September 13, 2018

Physical assets can be expensive to build or buy, and sometimes more expensive to connect and manage.

Two companies, including one with well over thirty years of experience connecting smart machines (back when IoT was called M2M), have joined forces to reduce the cost and complexity which has been holding back some industrials from moving forward on IIoT projects, despite the obvious benefits of doing so, including optimized asset management.

Aspen Technology announced this week a software license and distribution agreement with Advantech B+B SmartWorx, which designs and manufactures intelligent M2M (machine-to-machine) and IoT connectivity solutions for wireless and wired networks.

Founded in 1981, B+B SmartWorx (formerly B&B Electronics) designs and manufactures intelligent M2M and IoT connectivity solutions with expertise at the “edge” of networks in remote and demanding environments, agnostic to network protocols, including Ethernet, serial, wireless, cellular and USB. (In 2016 B+B SmartWorx became part of Advantech, an industrial automation and embedded computing company).

Going beyond an initial go-to-market relationship like some being announced on a nearly daily basis, lately, AspenTech and Advantech B+B SmartWorx have done their integrations in the lab, and have developed their product offerings, centered around “robust, sustainable and lower-cost Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) infrastructure to help customers in asset-intensive industries achieve higher levels of operational excellence through digital transformation.”

Let’s break that down into more specifics.

“The impetus for this combination was the understanding that the IIoT is nothing without a business case,” said Keith Flynn, Sr. Director, Product Management at AspenTech.

“Improving operational performance to increase return on assets and manage risk is nearly impossible without connected assets,” Flynn continued. “Manufacturers run into connectivity issues in rural and remote plant environments that lack strong internet connections (if any at all), old assets without sensors, multiple incompatible protocols in a factory with mixed OEMS and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs). Whatever the case may be, AspenTech estimates 40% of plant assets are still stranded.”

Flynn sees the real value in connecting assets coming from aggregating data and performing advanced analytics to deliver the insights needed to optimize asset, plant and enterprise performance and reliability. The ability to have all that data connected, visualized and ready for analysis is a huge competitive advantage for companies, who can then use those real-time operational insights to make faster and smarter business decisions and reduce operating costs.

“Today’s IIoT technology and software present a completely new approach to delivering on our customers’ challenges,” Flynn explained. “This means we can take valuable problem-solving tools and skills and, using IIoT, approach new customers in new industries that have traditionally lacked the capital budgets, infrastructure and connectivity needed to deliver the same value. IIoT employs problem-solving tools like machine learning that are industry-agnostic. Dealing with older assets is now easier — we can use IIoT to make older assets tell us new things.”

AspenTech and Advantech B+B SmartWorx are targeting companies in asset-intensive industries, including energy, chemicals, pulp & paper, metals & mining, power companies and companies with large plants and factories.

This may be where decades of experience are so highly valuable.

“There’s no time or money for rip and replace,” Flynn said. “It simply won’t work in industrial settings, where firms are confronting the realities of Big Data getting bigger and the STEM workforce getting smaller amid the ever-present realities of competition and customer expectations for faster, better, cheaper. Our software was purpose-built to leverage low-cost, low-power industrially hardened edge devices to keep the upfront footprint and cost lower to achieve a faster ROI.  The intent is to make the connectivity a "no brainer" and focus on the business outcomes.”

Flynn says the new partnership will help manufacturers drive reliability enterprise-wide without ripping and replacing existing infrastructure, instrumenting legacy equipment (which can be very expensive and with proper maintenance operational for decades) for mission-critical applications like predictive maintenance.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) suggests worldwide manufacturing is a $14T business and that 10 percent is lost to equipment breakdowns. There’s a $1.4T opportunity to reduce and eliminate unplanned maintenance, by improving equipment reliability.

With better economics, which is a centerpiece of the new partnership, IIoT becomes applicable to all asset-intensive industries.

The integration has already been completed, and companies like J.D. Irving Ltd of New Brunswick, Canada, comprising over 50 companies in many sectors including Forestry, Consumer Goods, Food and Transportation, have seen tremendous benefits.

“J.D. Irving is one of the top 5 producers of frozen french fries in North America and planter of over a billion trees since 1957,” Flynn said. “They have applied analytical tools, machine learning and artificial intelligence to fuel the company's drive to digital. For a company of this size & stature, the IIoT delivers higher OEE, greater quality and better ROI. The ability to wirelessly capture data with low-cost sensors without replacing the PLC enabled J.D. Irving to wirelessly connect a log saw in a Pulp & Paper plant - which, for those not in the know, is how a roll of toilet tissue is created, from one long ‘log’ cut into smaller pieces - at close to three-quarters less cost than possible in pre-IIoT days.”

Flynn is clearly proud of the progress being made, in advance of this partnership announcement, signaling more momentum including as an ecosystem.

“This particular customer is prime proof that the IIoT in manufacturing has huge potential to help make the right decisions with more information available right now – such as manufacturing IIoT applications that include remote equipment monitoring,” Flynn said.

Together, AspenTech and Advantech B+B SmartWorx are building an ecosystem that can automate decisions and improve production flows.

Flynn is also enthusiastic about the economics.

“Our unbeatable ROI is the result of Aspen Edge Connect software on Advantech B+B SmartWorx IIoT Edge hardware making available a comprehensive out-of-the-box drop-in solution that can reduce deployment costs by up to 70 percent,” he explained. “In most cases, a solution can now be implemented in days instead of weeks. The agreement delivers connectivity and manageability at the edge to simplify IIoT applications and seamlessly integrates and interoperates with legacy systems and performs in rugged, demanding plant conditions to make the IIoT a profitable reality.”

With something of a “network effect,” Flynn says the savings grow as more and more sensors are added and more data can be analyzed.

“Pushing analytics algorithms to sensors and network devices alleviates the processing strain on other systems within the network,” Flynn said. “Even as the number of connected devices and amount of data collected increase, so does the ability to both scale up and scale out. Aspen Edge Connect on Advantech B+B SmartWorx edge devices reliably and optimally delivers data to meet challenging networking needs.”

Beyond that, Flynn shared that there are real physical network effects, given that Aspen Edge Connect implements buffering, data aggregation, data compression and analytics on the edge to optimize and overcome communication barriers, for the most stranded assets (problematic with cellular connectivity).

“Not every edge device is equal in its capabilities, which is why AspenTech is partnering with leaders like Advantech B+B SmartWorx and there are several other factors that play into the capabilities of IIoT. It’s worth noting that when executing an industrial IoT project, it is important to know the facts about the edge devices, industrial protocols, sensors, networks and costs. Edge devices have a wide variety of features, with costs that range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. Other big costs can come from network usage when cellular or satellite is involved, as well as the storage costs of the cloud.”

Purpose-built for Windows and LINUX edge devices using standard industrial protocols, such as MQTT, OPC-UA, OPC-DA and Modbus, Aspen Edge Connect software collects real-time data from multiple assets and pools it together for analysis with edge processing devices. Leveraging the latest in IIoT technology, Aspen Edge Connect software works in existing plant systems and avoids unnecessary ‘rip-and-replace’ during software roll-out; the drop-in solution can reduce deployment costs by up to 70 percent.

Jerry O'Gorman, President & CEO of Advantech B+B SmartWorx said: “This partnership creates a robust and comprehensive out-of-the-box wireless IIoT communications solution. Together, Advantech and AspenTech are providing connectivity and manageability at the edge to simplify IIoT applications. With powerful industrial network connectivity solutions that seamlessly integrate and interoperate with legacy systems and perform in rugged, demanding plant conditions, we’re making the IIoT a profitable reality for our customers.”

Edited by Ken Briodagh

Contributing Writer

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