IoT platforms can expose the data needed to augment realities and generate real value for industrial enterprises
Mike Campbell is the general manager of the ThingWorx business at PTC. The company has recently launched ThingWorx 8, which is a purpose-built platform for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) that enables you to quickly build and deploy new apps and augmented reality (AR) experiences.
The ThingWorx Platform contains specific functionality designed for industrial businesses – such as native industrial connectivity, anomaly detection and a model-based development environment. ThingWorx 8 has been designed to make developing and delivering apps and immersive industrial AR experiences at scale easier by using digital twin technology throughout the platform.
Since joining PTC in 1995, Campbell has held various positions managing product development, product strategies and entire software businesses. Most recently, he served as the executive vice president of ThingWorx Studio responsible for the overall business strategy, and delivery of capabilities that democratise AR in the industrial enterprise, by allowing enterprise content creators and IoT solution builders to quickly and easily create augmented reality experiences.
IoT Now: What new functionality does ThingWorx 8 bring to the market?
Mike Campbell: ThingWorx 8, which has been shipping since June, brings more than 100 enhancements to customers. I’d single out four major enhancements, the first of which is related to sourcing data. Here, we’ve invested in native integrations with IoT cloud providers to make it easier to connect to an industrial setting.
With ThingWorx 8, we’re also enhancing IoT cloud integration. We’ve introduced an Azure IoT Connector because we have found that Microsoft infrastructure customers are connecting devices through Azure IoT. This means they can easily connect sources of data to the platform. It’s just one more integration in a suite of links so tools like this can work. We already have similar offerings with Amazon Web Services, and work is underway on similar integrations with GE Predix and OSIsoft, purely to make it simpler for users.
The second highlight is Industrial connectivity. The ability to seamlessly map what you’re doing using Kepware software to bridge the communication gap between diverse hardware and software applications means that, once the data is in Kepware, the user can go into ThingWorx and pull the data out of Kepware.
This functionality can feed anomaly detection, which customers are increasingly interested in. They want to be warned if something starts to behave abnormally so the system learns what is normal and ThingWorx can be configured to take some form of action if a threshold is reached. That could involve checking temperature automatically, stopping a machine or presenting an alert to an operator.
The next highlight is security, which is mandatory to improve at every opportunity. We’ve added improvements to single sign-on capabilities and the administration of apps to keep ThingWorx 8 offering high security levels.
The final area of enhancement I want to highlight is the work we have put into our ThingWorx Studio offering, which is so important because we’re finding value in augmented reality (AR) all the way across the entire value chain – from early concept and design reviews to inspection through manufacturing, from virtual product companions or virtual product demonstrations and the selling phase. And not to forget, once the product exists, there is all kinds of value to be derived through training and service instruction that shows people how to operate the products.
IoT Now: Significant emphasis is being placed on augmented reality by PTC, where do you think the market is in terms of the development of AR?
MC: We are right on the cusp of moving into real scale AR deployments. We’re just now, in the last two quarters, starting to see production deployments. For example, in Japan last week, I closed a deal with a heavy equipment manufacturer for the deployment of ThingWorx Studio to use in diagnostic scenarios. The company will use it to present information about diagnostics issues in their machines. This is far from an isolated situation; several dozen customers have already made purchases for product deployments.
We have now got our own AR offering with ThingWorx Studio and it is part of our platform. The big breakthrough in democratising AR content creation has been that you can re-use existing CAD data and easily incorporate data from existing sources. This can then seamlessly be exposed in the AR experience.
The recent advances in digital eyewear technology are helping to accelerate uptake of augmented reality. There’s an AR kit coming from Apple in OS11 and we think this will further accelerate usage of AR products. Other vendors such as Epson, Lenovo and ODG all continue to make their AR glasses closer to the traditional Ray Ban form and that factor will drive usage further still. It is still early days for the market’s development but traction is beginning to be apparent.
IoT Now: What barriers to the wider spread adoption of AR in IoT remain to be overcome?
MC: Throughout our history, we’ve been helping customers create, manufacture and service products, largely by utilising digital content and that’s actually what AR is – digital content communicated in a new way. This means we have a lot of domain expertise to offer and that’s what’s needed to make AR work in Industrial IoT.
With Vuforia, we’ve got industry-leading Computer Vision technology but that’s not enough because AR suffers from there being a lack of content. The big challenge is ‘with what shall I augment the world’?
For PTC, though, we have a ton of content. We know about the product and we have rich 3D information from computer-aided design (CAD) with which to augment the world. There’s a broad range of use cases, many of which fit right into our industrial sweet spot.
AR in the consumer market is more popular but what we’re doing is providing an AR activating platform for industrial customers. Some of the applications are very exciting and address real business pain points for organisations.
IoT Now: You mentioned the applications that PTC provides, what does the concept of appsbased manufacturing mean to PTC?
MC: Apps-based manufacturing essentially means the deployment of role-based apps that provide value for manufacturing. The driver behind the apps that are built on the ThingWorx platform is that you can configure them and have them streaming data from your factory in less than an hour. That’s fast time-to-value and the apps provide the value on their own.
For example, our Plant Manager app enables the overall efficiency of different [production] lines to be monitored or for maintenance engineers to be alerted when they might have issues. We offer a very simple app store and customers can be up and running and collecting information with these apps very rapidly.
It’s important to keep in mind that there are some pretty low hanging fruits to be harvested on a factory floor from these sorts of applications. Remember, they’ve been purpose-built to allow people to get some form of advantage and there are a range of benefits for the constituents who utilise these tools to address specific use cases.
We expect to be able to open minds and inspire them with these applications, which will enable them to augment their realities. Just look at two of the settings where these types of applications are being deployed – Hirotec, for example, is a tier-one automotive supplier using ThingWorx to access data and make better decisions, and General Electric is using it to achieve a significant reduction in unplanned downtime because they can now see when maintenance is needed.
IoT Now: What sets ThingWorx apart from other IoT platforms?
MC: We believe ThingWorx is market leading because it’s purpose-built for Industrial IoT. We are obviously focused on places where you get your fingernails dirty such as factories, the oil and gas industry and the supply chain. We’re committed to these industrial settings and continue to deliver fast and easy functionality. In addition, we’re flexible in terms of how customers can deploy ThingWorx, which can be on-premise, in the cloud or a hybrid.
Our other strengths are in our ecosystem and marketplace. Our ecosystem of more than 1,000 ThingWorx customers and more than 250 partners is vibrant and growing and we recognise that this is critical to the development of this market. Data now doesn’t need to come from an agent on the device, it can come from augmented reality and virtual reality – there are many other sources.
We also believe our marketplace, with more than 150 apps and reference apps that help accelerate the process of creating IoT solutions, is the best IIoT marketplace out there. We have more than 700 customers building apps on the ThingWorx platform.
IoT Now: How do you see IIoT platforms working in general?
MC: The journey begins with sourcing data. The data is everywhere – in clouds, factory machines and other enterprise systems. However, just getting data into a platform isn’t enough, you have to contextualise it in a way that makes sense. You have to organise it into a digital twin so you can be more productive downstream. Once the information is structured, we want to begin to get business value out of it.
We then think about computational models, so we’ve got a flexible, open framework that allows users of our platform to gain insight and, once we’ve gained that, we want to drive action. We can do this by using a digital map to present information to people clearly and intuitively. The platform should address the need to source data, contextualise it, synthesise and orchestrate data from multiple sources and, finally, engage the user
IoT Now: What are PTC’s plans for continuing to develop ThingWorx and its other lines to better serve companies engaging in IIoT activities?
MC: PTC’s mission revolves around unlocking the value within the data and systems of organisations. We’ve been talking about how IoT and augmented reality fit into this story because we have been driving content from the digital world into the physical word for a long time. IoT is a means to capture information in the physical world and bring it back into the digital world. This is very key to the broader PTC mission and we’ve invested in our Vuforia and ThingWorx brands to grow our capabilities further.
Our IoT strategy is focused on Industrial IoT where we have market share in various verticals in partnership with companies such as General Electric, Microsoft and Amazon Web Services. Our software development kit has a dominant market position with 81% of developers using it and, while we feel good about where we are in the market, we’re not slowing down.