Has PTC “Ubered” the Automation Industry?

In its latest move toward the factory floor, PTC will acquire industrial communications company Kepware—creating a dominant player in the Industrial Internet of Things space.

PTC Headquarters in Needham, MA
PTC Headquarters in Needham, MA

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is stirring up a lot of activity and innovation from a variety of automation providers, but perhaps the most unexpected participant is PTC, a company traditionally rooted in computer-aided design (CAD) and product lifecycle management (PLM) software.

In December of 2013, PTC acquired ThingWorx, a provider of development tools and infrastructure for building and running Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

The move complemented PTC’s global services business for helping manufacturers create and service smart, connected products, and it marked a strategic shift in PTC’s IoT focus, spurring even more interesting acquisitions and alliances:

  • In August of 2014, PTC acquired Axeda, a developer of technology that securely connects machines and sensors to the cloud.
  • In May of 2015, PTC announced it would acquire ColdLight, a big data machine learning and predictive analytics company.
  • That same month, PTC and ServiceMax, a provider of cloud-based field service management, partnered on a connected solution for service management.
  • Last September, PTC and GE formed a broad strategic alliance to blend ThingWorx with GE’s manufacturing software to create new kinds of integrated dashboards and data analytics.
  • This past October, PTC announced a definitive agreement to acquire the Vuforia business from Qualcomm. Vuforia has augmented reality (AR) technology, which PTC intends to leverage with IoT to deliver a new class of products that merge digital and physical worlds.
  • PTC and Bosch Software Innovations announced a technology alliance in November to facilitate the integration of ThingWorx and the Bosch IoT suite, enabling IoT developers to connect and control heterogeneous devices and systems.
  • And just a week ago, on December 23, 2015, PTC announced it will acquire Kepware Technologies, a software development company that provides communications and connectivity to industrial automation environments.

This latest news comes on the heels of Kepware’s announcement earlier this month of its IoT Alliance program that brings together 10 strategic IoT providers including Splunk, Informatica, DeviceLynk and ThingWorx. And, according to Kepware CEO Tony Paine, “The IoT Alliance has the potential to be a disruptive force in the industrial automation market.”

Now, that disruptive force could be coming from PTC. Indeed, as control system providers and device manufacturers are working to add intelligence to factory floor equipment, and partnering with network companies and cloud providers to increase connectivity, a CAD software company just became a formidable force in the IIoT market.

Just as Uber disrupted the cab industry and Apple overpowered the mobile and music markets, we could be witnessing what is the beginning of an IIoT upset.

Kepware’s KEPServerEx technology supports over 150 communication protocols to connect disparate devices and applications, providing a single source of industrial automation data to all applications. The recent announcement of the IoT Gateway for KEPServerEX version 5.19 adds the ability to stream real-time machine and sensor data directly to Big Data applications.

PTC said the Kepware acquisition will accelerate the company’s entry into the factory setting and IIoT. KEPServerEX will become a strategic component of the PTC ThingWorx IoT technology platform, enabling machine data to be aggregated and integrated within a wide array of internal and external information, and then automatically analyzed using machine learning capabilities.

“With this acquisition, we will gain entry into heterogeneous factory and operating environments with robust technology, an impressive list of customers, and a high-quality, profitable company with incredibly talented employees,” said PTC president and CEO Jim Heppelmann.

Even with Kepware under its umbrella, PTC may still be on an IoT buying spree. It will be interesting to watch what the company does in 2016.

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