Platforms Abound at Hannover Fair

It’s been about two weeks since the Hannover Fair.  Now that I’m back in the office fully decompressed, it seems like a perfect time to reflect on the experience.

I had two objectives while attending the fair; first, to meet with the various Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) suppliers as part of my ongoing research and, second, to assess the general progress of industrial suppliers when it comes to empowering their customer’s Digital Transformation.  For this blog I would like to focus on the later, because, as it turns out, many companies have been busy this past year trying to accomplish that goal.  In addition to the typical advances in smart products, what really surprised me was the number of companies beginning development of their own IIoT platforms. From A to Z companies serving sensor markets, automation, and up to robotics are throwing their hats into the ring of IIoT platform competition.

Within a single afternoon, I discovered that Pepperl+Fuchs, Bosch, Schneider Electric, Yokogawa, and Kuka were adding their names into the mix (To be more accurate, Kuka is developing a platform through a daughter company, Connyun).  Of course, the expected names showed up as well. Siemens devoted an entire lounge to their MindSphere platform, and GE had a small hallway featuring Predix technology.

With so many companies offering their own solutions, it will be fascinating (as an analyst) to watch the competition and market unfold.  With a growing number of options, will users choose to employ multiple cloud platforms for various hardware, or a single platform to meet all their needs?  I suspect the latter, and for that reason I anticipate this quick bloom in offerings will be followed by a slow consolidation.  The top two or three suppliers that foster the largest open application ecosystems will ultimately win the vast majority of the market – paralleling the iOS and Android domination of the smartphone market.  The companies that were too late to the game or invest too little in development will continue to provide platform services, but at a much smaller scale.

In my opinion, the companies that started development in the past few months may already be too late to be major competitors.  I’m sure some have arrived at the same conclusion and aren’t necessary trying to compete with the giants, but instead are deploying their solutions to meet public expectations.  With the hype around IIoT and Digitalization, industrial suppliers want to show potential customers they are invested in the new tech trends – even if the level of investment may vary.   I suspect when some of the larger platform names begin to make headway in the market we will see a shift where, rather than offering new solutions, suppliers who are late to the market will simply partner up with established solutions.  However, that approach risks losing forward thinking customers in the meantime.  As such, targeting these companies early will be a key strategy for the serious platform developers.  It’s difficult to say how these events will unfold, but it will certainly be exciting to watch the market over the next year or so as competition begins to materialize.

Comments

  1. Yup. There are lots of platforms popping up. However, it is my personal observation they are all proprietary; owned and licensed by a single company. In recent years plants have been reluctant to adopt proprietary technology. The current buzz is around open systems. So what does this mean for adoption of analytics platforms? How do you get compatibility with your existing installed base of system data sources and open to exiting apps from multiple vendors as they become available?

    I personally think it looks like the industry would want some analytics “platform” based on open standard technology managed by a manufacturer-independent open multi-vendor organization similar to the FieldComm Group, PROFIBUS International, and the OPC Foundation where member companies have joint input on the direction of the technology; such that a single vendor cannot make changes to the technology that would negatively impact other vendors and end-users. I don’t think there is any. I guess OPC-UA is as close as you get. Perhaps OPC-UA could be this “virtual platform”, middleware, automation service bus, broker, integration layer or whatever you might call it. The OPC Foundation is an open multi-vendor organization where the members use the technology and jointly agree on improvements to the technology ensuring vendors and users are not stranded with incompatible products.

    I personally believe apps that include support for OPC-UA is the best bet to ensure there are options if needed; other platform, other data sources, other apps. And it ties in with your existing historian and control systems which also include support OPC-UA. See this essay for what other plants are doing: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/iiot-platform-middleware-integrate-dont-duplicate-decimate-berge

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