Advantech's 2016 edition of their World Partner Conference was held with great success at the company’s new Linkou Intelligent Campus, in Taiwan, from November 10-12, 2016. In many ways, the campus symbolises the company’s future and its commitment to reach its goals. Designed to help accelerate the IoT and Smart City era, the campus was designed and constructed with the help of industry partners.
Its Solution-Ready Platform (SRP) was a focus together with the company’s sharing platform business model. Designed to help accelerate industrial IoT application development.
With nearly 400 partners in attendance, the company had the opportunity to demonstrate a plethora of industrial IoT and Industry 4.0 applications at its new Linkou campus. Industrial Equipment Manufacturing (IEM), Intelligent Networking, Energy and Environment, Transportation, and Smart Manufacturing were some of the major focus sectors, as well as general industrial IoT. The company refers to its focus here as sector lead business development.
Whilst Advantech started life as a hardware company there is a realisation that its continuation as a hardware only company no longer makes sense in today’s highly automated, data-rich, and software driven age. As KC Liu, CEO, Advantech alluded to the organisation transforming into a more solutions-driven organisation, whilst expanding its software business. With the combination of both hardware and software offerings, the company can focus on providing the complete solution to its customer base.
Advantech, which started as a hardware company, is transforming into an industrial IoT solutions company offering device-to-cloud Solution-Ready Platforms (SRPs) that integrate hardware and middleware, with a focus on six major verticals, which include: General Industrial IoT, Industrial Equipment Manufacturing (IEM), Transportation, and iNetworking.
The company was proactive in trying to find consensus at this year’s IIoT WPC with its allied or general partners, in the hope of using its platforms as a base, SRP application solutions as the catalyst, and its sector-lead business organisation model as a means to accurately target the market and provide value-added services for the whole IIoT industry.
KC Liu, CEO, Advantech, stated: “The prevalence of IoT technology, the expanding application of the sharing economy, and the gradual adoption of platform operations for corporations are the three phases which will take us into a new evolution of IoT. Advantech operations are based on the concept of a sharing economy; we regard ourselves as a platform, and we seek to construct an ecosystem and put our key techniques or solutions on the platform to share with our clients so they can make most value out of these resources.”
KC further stated that: “In addition, the platform removes obstacles in the transformation toward intelligent technology for our clients, at the same time as helping us expand IoT technology to various industries. Among all groups in Advantech, the Industrial IoT (IIoT) group focuses on the Solution Ready Platform (SRP); hardware-software integration as its core technology. With an innovative business model called WebAccess Sharing Platform Alliance, we will cooperate with our partners in the ecosystem to encourage development in several key IIoT vertical industries.”
Linda Tsai, VP, Advantech Industrial IoT Group said: “The business group will make use of the SRP model to help clients speed up development and save time on specific projects. Application products will reach the goal of standardisation, and furthermore assist clients in the system integration industry to fully realise their customised applications. Moreover, in order to respond to the demands of various industries, Advantech will focus on them with our Sector-Lead business organisation for business development. The company is also set to transform and reshape the sales team to better answer to the demand of six vertical industry markets.”
Targeting Key Verticles
Linda further explained that the company will engage in Sector-Lead business development in order to target: General Industrial IoT, Industrial Equipment Manufacturing (IEM), iFactory, Energy & Environment (E&E), Transportation, and iNetworking. These six major vertical industries or sectors will see the development of application solutions via SRP hardware/software integration.
Industrial Equipment Manufacturing (IEM)
IEM provide complete motion control and machine visionary components, including motion control, machine vision, robot controllers and a software development platform for smart facilities. These technologies help an OEM construct smart facilities swiftly.
The company prioritises markets with higher automation maturity — those with the capability to incorporate smart factory and Industry 4.0 technologies and concepts such as the automobile assembly industry, the food industry, and the home electronics industry. For traditional industries such as PCB, solar energy, LED, and so on, it introduced Industry 4.0 with open solutions to assist and encourage them to elevate their capability.
Energy & Environment (E&E)
Advantech adopts the communication standard IEC 61850 to provide solutions in building the infrastructure of smart electrical grids, aiming for a global rollout. The company’s products incorporate telecommunication technology such as LORA, Sigfox, and so on, and combined with their expertise in data acquisition and control, help develop many new functions that satisfy the requirement for reliability and security in Industrial IoT communications.
In every branch of Advantech, the company forms teams to assist their clients and provide suitable products for them using their industry know-how. They cooperate with ecological partners on international RFTs. Its global advantages provide transregional as well as local services.
Advantech believes in collaboration, and in developing partnerships to advance its goals of elevating industrial IoT and smart city solutions. The many partners from a broad spectrum of industries and countries were a testament to the company’s influence in this field.
It also introduced an all-new online marketing site called IoTMart, which is intended to focus on sales in B2B and B2C solutions for its partners, with the intent of giving SRP application solutions a stronger global presence and influence. Mr Ho remarked that he sees SRPs accounting for 50 percent of the company’s IIoT revenue a decade from now.
Total Solution: Leading The Transformation
Linda Tsai is the VP for the industrial IoT Group at Advantech. Ms Tsia has been with the company for 16 years. Advantech has three major groups, the first being industrial IoT, which focuses on the industrial market, like manufacturing, equipment, transportation, etc. The other group is called embedded IoT, which provides embedded boards and the module to service generic industries such as gaming, medical, etc. The last group for Advantech is service IoT, which includes intelligent retail, hospital, and digital logistics
Ms Tsai heads the product, marketing and R&D components of the industrial IoT Group, whilst the sales are managed on a regional basis. Speaking to IAA, Ms Tsia elaborated on Advantech’s IoT vision and the importance of its partners in realising the company's objective to be a total solutions provider.
Q: How does embedded IoT differ from industrial IoT?
Linda Tsai (LT): In Industrial IoT, we provide the total solution. We have talked about our Solution Ready Platform (SRP), which was a big focus at this event, designed to help accelerate industrial IoT application development.
The market for industrial IoT is different, in addition, we add software value through our SRP offering. We provide our solution for the specific application demand. For the embedded group, we provide the product together with a software solution, but the products are more generic. They provide some connectivity but are not addressed to any particular module. That is the difference in terms of the market and the product solutions.
Q: What is Advantech's IoT vision and how do you want to position yourself to be the leader in this field?
LT: In Industrial IoT, there are many leaders. It depends on from what perspective you are coming from. We work with our partners to provide a total solution to our clients. Our heritage has been in hardware, but over the years we have been expanding our software capabilities. This, together with our partnerships enable us to offer a compelling total industrial IoT solution.
Q: In regards to Southeast Asia, what areas are you more heavily involved in?
LT: In Southeast Asia, our major markets are in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand for Industrial IoT. A lot of US and European companies have their factories located in those countries, so that provide opportunities for us in Industrial IoT.
Q: What technology has Advantech pioneered?
LT: I do not believe we are a technology innovator but I think we try and be a product and solutions innovator. We are close to the customer, which motivates us to innovate around our products and solutions, rather than just pure technology innovation.
Take em2.com for instance. We want to make it an open standard, rather than proprietary. Making it proprietary does not benefit anyone, only Advantech. When we devised em2.com we wanted to make it an open standard. Everyone is welcome to join em2.com because it is a modular design and is designed to help facilitate integration for our customers to design the sensor carrier easier. The kernel on em2.com is provided by Advantech or another company but it depends on the application. The customer needs a different sensor carrier board so they can easily customise it. This standard makes the whole process easier and increases adoption.
Q: Tell me more about Platform as a Service (PaaS) as was discussed during your presentation?
LT: Platform as a Service (PaaS) is a concept on par with Software as a Service (SaaS). We provide a lot of middleware for PaaS. If we do not provide the middleware for PaaS then how can our customers integrate and gain access to our devices and systems to extract the data?
Our PaaS solution provides a lot of middleware and helps our customers access the data from the sensor and from the device and then through the PaaS you go to Cloud Services. We do not have the cloud service, that is why we partner with Microsoft, Alibaba, etc. because they provide the cloud services. We need to do analytics. We do not have the software for this, we are not a big data analytics company. A cloud services company, such as Microsoft, can provide us with the analytics capability to do the dashboard.
Acquiring More Pathways To Success
Jerry O’Gorman is the CEO and president of B+B Smartworx, which was acquired by Advantech in January 2016. The B+B Smartworx division within Advantech is about 250 people. The focus of the company, as Mr O’Gorman stated is: “coming from a heritage in mission critical industrial networking, communications products, from wired right through to wireless. Our focused is industrial networking.”
Mr O’Gorman spoke with IAA on what his company does, and why he believes it was acquired by Advantech.
Q: Tell me more about B+B Smartworx?
Jerry O’Gorman (JOG): There are two big themes for us. One is mission critical networking, which means the product or network should not fail. For such tasks, you have got to have resilience in the network, etc. An example would be with our cellular products. We have cellular products that have dual SIMs, so if one fails there is a backup on standby. There are also products that have two wireless modules, with both modules having dual SIMs. Essentially you have got three layers of redundancy.
The other big aspect or focus area for us technologically is in the concept of EDGE intelligence. In this era of machine-to-machine communications and industrial IoT, we are huge believers in the fact that not all of the data can be immediately sent to a hosted cloud application without it being filtered or aggregated or applying some local business intelligence and logic. As such, we focus a lot on having intelligence at the EDGE of the network.
For us, that intelligence is manifested through the gateway or through the router product, which means that the basic product has all the necessary capabilities from a networking point of view to be a secure router but it also has space to host applications within containers in a Linux environment. It is those applications that allow the product to have multiple uses for data manipulation, data storage, communication with multiple protocols, and it really turns the product from a standard router into a very sophisticated gateway with multiple applications.
Q: In your opinion, what made your company attractive to Advantech?
JOG: I believe there are two key aspects. If we look at the commercial side our strengths lie predominately in North America, Latin America, and in Europe. We have a good technical value added distributor channel in Europe that we believe can add value to the overall Advantech range of products and solutions.
Likewise, we have some very strong distribution partners in North America with a very sophisticated channel, logistical models, and reach models with large scale, large company connections and relationships, so I think predominately from a commercial side they saw a channel.
In terms of company background, culture, and from a technology perspective, there was a wonderful synergy in terms of what we were working on and what we were seeing from an industrial IoT point of view. Our architecture model almost fitted like a glove. Of course, within Advantech, there is enormous scope for a much larger deployment of that compared to a small company, like B+B. I think the synergy in reverse was Advantech in Asia. In China in particular where B+B could never access that market on its own, and now through the infrastructure and resources of Advantech, we can try to address growth in Asia.
Q: How are you integrated within Advantech?
JOG: There are levels of integration ongoing that are not always that visible to the marketplace. Because we went to market through a channel; a networking channel. That was kind of unique for Advantech. That was the value proposition for them to acquire us. Within Advantech, we are now labelled the iNetworking sector. It is almost defined by our channel to market. We continue to operate 100 percent independently with that channel, we own that channel but now we have got more products to bring to that channel.
Behind the sales side, there are some elements of integration going on around manufacturing. We can leverage the manufacturing capability of the new facility like Advantech’s new campus, here in Taiwan. The supply chain and the economy of scale that can be leveraged by a company the size of Advantech relative to B+B and therefore make us more cost effective and make us more competitive.
There are elements of integration going on with back-end manufacturing logistics but the Advantech philosophy is very much having individual units and sectors that are responsible for developing their own business but now we have the help of other product divisions within Advantech to complement our range of products and solutions that make us more attractive to our customers.