Software Defined Automation Fuels Growth Through $10M Seed Round Led by Insight Partners

BOSTON, Oct. 31, 2022 /PRNewswire/ – Software Defined Automation, a leading innovator turning factories into software systems, announced it has raised $10 million in a seed round led by global software investor Insight Partners, with additional investment from Baukunst VC, Fly Ventures, and First Momentum. The funds will be used to scale customer adoption and extend its solution portfolio.

Software Defined Automation revolutionizes factory automation with an Industrial-Control-as-a-Service offering. Industrial-Control-as-a-Service (ICaaS) is centered around cloud-based management of existing PLCs (TechOps), Git-enabled PLC code versioning and collaboration (DevOps), as well as virtualization of PLCs on edge servers (Virtual PLC). In combination, these technologies have the power to break down proprietary silos in control technology stacks and enable API-based modern microservices architecture. This new paradigm transforms the daily lives of automation professionals by bringing remote work, cloud security, resilience, collaboration tools and independence from proprietary automation vendor hardware to the modern factory.

In doing so, SDA enables automation engineers to manage control equipment in the same way cloud engineers manage applications. This encompasses disaster recovery, edge and cloud security as well as flexibility for production changes. Keeping modern developer experience front-and-center, SDA empowers individual automation engineers with state-of-the-art tools and modern user experience, helping improve the attractiveness of the field of automation technology to young professionals.

“With the new system we are able to increase our productivity for automation engineering and securely manage our machine suppliers’ as well as our own PLC code base through fine grain control rules,” said Marcel Welz, Digital Engineer at Henkel Laundry & Home Care. He added: “The ability to run the PLC programming environment in any browser allows us to maximize the utilization of our licenses and for PLC programmers to access it via any device”.

“Automation engineers have not been given the same modern tools as traditional software developers. We believe that there is a massive opportunity to increase productivity through cloud-based collaboration, and SDA’s cutting-edge tools and proven customer success make clear that the company is onto something special,” said Jon Rosenbaum, Managing Director at Insight Partners. “We believe that the team at SDA is uniquely positioned to solve this problem and we look forward to partnering with them to bring ICaaS to more customers around the globe.”  

As part of the transaction, Jon Rosenbaum, Managing Director at Insight Partners and Axel Bichara, Co-Founder and General Partner at Baukunst will join the company’s Board of Directors.

Turn your factory into a software system today at www.softwaredefinedautomation.io

About Software Defined Automation

Software Defined Automation was founded by cloud, industrial software and manufacturing veterans to deliver Industrial-Control-as-a-Service. We empower industrial automation professionals to maximize the efficiency of production processes and collaboration with next-generation git-based tools. SDA has offices in Boston, US and Munich, Germany. Learn more about our story: https://www.softwaredefinedautomation.io/company/about/

About Insight Partners

Insight Partners is a global software investor partnering with high-growth technology, software, and Internet startup and ScaleUp companies that are driving transformative change in their industries. As of June 30, 2022, the firm has over $80B in regulatory assets under management. Insight Partners has invested in more than 700 companies worldwide and has seen over 55 portfolio companies achieve an IPO. Headquartered in New York City, Insight has offices in London, Tel Aviv, and Palo Alto. Insight’s mission is to find, fund, and work successfully with visionary executives, providing them with right-sized, right-time practical, hands-on software expertise along their growth journey, from their first investment to IPO. For more information on Insight and all its investments, visit insightpartners.com or follow us on Twitter @insightpartners.

About Fly Ventures

Fly Ventures is a specialized venture capital firm backing technical founders solving hard problems. Fly invests from day-zero to seed, backing founders from all over Europe. Headquartered in Berlin, Germany, Fly has been on the zero to one journey with portfolio companies who have raised in excess of $1Bn in follow-on funding from some of the world’s best VCs. 

About Baukunst VC

Baukunst is a collective of creative technologists advancing the art of building companies at the frontiers of technology and design. Baukunst is independent minded and invests with conviction at company formation. The Baukunst partners have led investments in over 100+ technology companies and shepherded them from company formation to multi-billion dollar impact. Baukunst has offices in San Francisco and Boston, and General Partner Axel Bichara (lead investor in SolidWorks, co-founder of OnShape) is on the board of SDA.

About First Momentum

First Momentum Ventures is a DACH-area specialist fund, dedicated to deeply technical founders that are building companies at the frontier of their field. As “engineers at heart, investors by choice”, First Momentum supports technical teams applying an engineering mindset to business problems, often pre-market or even pre-product. For more information, please visit: https://firstmomentum.vc

Dear vPLC, how real-time are you?

Note: This article is a condensed version of the scientific paper we published at the IEEE IES International Conference on Emerging Technologies and Factory Automation (ETFA), Stuttgart, Sept. 2022 [9]

Modernizing the factory automation stack requires more than an update of the latest PLC models. Instead, a paradigm shift towards software-defined automation is required [1],[2]. The design and implementation of flexible manufacturing systems for individualized products are crucial for competitive production systems of the future [3],[4],[5]. In such systems, reconfiguration or redeployment of industrial automation systems can be done for every piece, the application of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms is essential, and full-loop feedback systems enable self-optimizing production systems.

Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) are widely used throughout industrial automation due to their determinism, quick response times, and robustness. However, current PLCs, along with the way the industry is structured, can’t support future scaling needs [6],[7]. Hardware/Software integrated PLCs do not support resource-demanding tasks, such as algorithms based on machine learning and artificial intelligence. Furthermore, hardware-based PLCs imply individual maintenance and hardware costs, as every single technical process regularly includes an individual PLC for each subsystem [7]. Modern control systems need to meet requirements for operational technologies and information technologies.

Although there have been many incremental innovations to PLCs over the past decades, these have been focused on the integration of improved hardware components, such as more operations per second or newer and faster communication protocols, rather than structural changes to the programming model or the architecture of PLCs.

Figure 1: In a software defined automation, virtual PLCs can be used to control industrial assets in the same way as conventional PLCs do. A COTS server located on the edge can host multiple virtual PLCs to control assets in real-time. Virtual PLCs can be managed and monitored from a cloud instance.

Uncoupling of hardware and software not only allows scaling but also helps to overcome supply chain challenges with proprietary PLC hardware due to the vast availability of standard x86 server hardware. The term virtual PLC refers to a soft PLC that runs within a virtual machine managed by a real-time hypervisor in a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) server. Servers and computers can offer enough resources to fulfill the functions of PLCs, Human-Machine Interfaces (HMIs), and programming terminals together [8]. A server hosting virtual PLCs that communicate with the shop floor and cloud  (see Fig. 1). Coupling the cloud and shop floor further allows the implementation of software-based PLC operations (Ops), as well as data collection and use of advanced machine learning algorithms, while still satisfying deterministic real-time requirements. Virtual PLCs help overcome the limitations of hardware-based PLCs by offering more flexibility, better resource usage, scalability, and lower costs.

The virtual PLC implementation portrayed in [9] was done using a barebone server, VMWare’s ESXi 7.0 hypervisor, Linux Debian 11, CODESYS SoftPLC runtime, and EtherCAT.  As virtualization has the outlined benefits, the million-dollar question is: Does it also fulfill real-time requirements in discrete automation of around 10ms? To measure the real-time performance, we implemented a Virtual PLC (vPLC) architecture and executed extensive performance tests [9]. The results indicate that virtual PLC is a viable option for important domains of factory automation, where response times between 5-10 ms are acceptable [10].

Figure 2: Average response times from input to output for rising and falling edges at the input. The horizontal error bars represent the minimum and maximum recorded values.

So, what do we learn from this focused research? Dear vPLC, you are real-time enough for most discrete factory automation applications!

  • The measured maximum response times suggest that the vPLC can be used in areas of industrial automation in factory automation where response times between 5-10 ms are acceptable.
  • Task execution times of the PLC runtimes in the server are within the microseconds range. Therefore, improvements in networking speeds will bring vPLCs down to the motion control range <1ms. [Refer to reference 9 in the full paper].

Sources:

[1] J. Waltl, Unchain the ShopFloor through Software-Defined Automation, May 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.engineersrule.com/unchainshopfloor-software-defined-automation/ (visited on 04/05/2022).

[2] H. Forbes, The End of Industrial Automation (As We Know It), Dec. 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.arcweb.com/blog/end-industrialautomation-we-know-it (visited on 04/28/2022).

[3] Y. Koren, The Global Manufacturing Revolution: Product-Process-Business Integration and Reconfigurable Systems. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2010, pp. 227–252.

[4] I. Garbie and A. Garbie, “Outlook of requirements of manufacturing systems for industry 4.0,” in 2020 Advances in Science and Engineering Technology International Conferences (ASET), Dubai, Feb. 2020, pp. 1–6.

[5] S. Vaidya, P. M. Ambad, and S. M. Bhosle, “Industry 4.0 a glimpse,” Procedia Manufacturing, vol. 20, pp. 233–238, 2018.

[6] R. Langmann and M. Stiller, “Cloud-based industrial control services: The next generation PLC,” in Online Engineering & Internet of Things. Lecture Notes in Networks and Systems. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2018, vol. 22, pp. 3–18.

[7] P. Gaj, J. Jasperneite, and M. Felser, “Computer communication within industrial distributed environment a survey,” IEEE Transactions on Industrial Informatics, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 182–189, Jul. 2013.

[8] E. R. Alphonsus and M. O. Abdullah, “A review on the applications of programmable logic controllers (PLCs),” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, vol. 60, pp. 1185–1205, Feb. 2016.

[9] D. Perez, L. Prenzel, J. Waltl and S. Steinhorst, “How Real (Time) Are Virtual PLCs?”, in IEEE IES International Conference on Emerging Technologies and Factory Automation (ETFA), Stuttgart, Sept. 2022.

[10] PROFIBUS International, “PROFINET Real-Time Communication,” Tech. Rep., 2013.

Josef Waltl, Diogenes Javier Perez