JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 34 : February 21, 2001

Business, marketing & futures commentary.
New attitudes, no platitudes.
Stay e-tuned....


  • ABB Blahs
  • Siemens' Stew Simmers
  • Embedded Fieldbus chip
  • MIT Tech Review: Flexible Electronics
  • Futurescope 2001: Evolution of the TechnoHuman
  • eFeedback
    • Slow light
    • Growth in automation
    • Distributed computing

We start with some industrial automation stuff in this issue.

ABB blahs

Swedish ASEA and Brown Boveri, along with the acquisition of Combustion Engineering and Taylor in the US, George Kent in the UK, and a multitude of others -most recently Elsag Bailey - puts ABB among the top-3 in the industrial automation business.

The decision of former ABB CEO Goeran Lindahl to focus on factory automation has been tough on the company. Shareholders watched the stock drop precipitously as the company spent millions on acquisitions while competitors reported falling demand. So, after 30 years in ABB, 15 years in corporate management and four years as CEO, Lindahl has been replaced by Jorgen Centerman, 48, the head of ABB's Automation business.

In reality, ABB is in big trouble. Lindahl was dumped because his transformation wasn't working and the profit growth was all related to accounting issues and capital gains. After previously indicating that a move to US GAAP would have no material impact, ABB's operating profit fell by a third, which was even worse than expected. And they are stuck in a low growth, low margin rut. The shares are down 40% from last year and could fall a lot further.

The new CEO, Jorgen Centerman, has the backing of Percy Barnevik, Chairman of the ABB Board. Centerman is a smart guy and knows the automation business. He has promised that he will reinvent ABB as a customer-centric organization and that the first fruits of his new strategy will be evident in a couple of quarters. However, to change an organization with 160,000 employees, restructure the way it has historically operated and expect the new structure to deliver significant business gains by the second half of the current year is hugely optimistic - such transformations rarely occur seamlessly.

Also, Centerman is starting out knee-deep in gaap-goop. ABB had previously delayed its planned US stock-market listing blaming "weak market conditions". Now, it's recent press release reports that they intend to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange during the second quarter of 2001. It seems certain that US GAAP accounting, which ABB still does not understand, will collapse Centerman's customer-centric campaign.

An ABB bid for Invensys is unlikely - they are still sorting out Elsag Bailey and must tend to their own, old knitting if they hope to survive.

Click Browse the ABB website

Click The latest crop of ABB press releases

Siemens stew simmers...

Speaking of US GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles), which the Europeans think they understand, but don't - Siemens, the biggest of the industrial automation majors, is expected to get listed on NYSE shortly. That's when the fun and games will start. Siemens reports that they have already installed US GAAP, but they simply do not understand the scrutiny of the US analysts. We should expect to see the same type problems that ABB will experience with GAAP when the analysts start probing Siemens' accounting practices.

Siemens is hungry for automation market-share and is the leading contender to buy IAC - the industrial automation and controls division of Honeywell - from GE who just recently bought all of Honeywell and is still evaluating strategy and tactics. Some insiders report that it seems more and more likely that GE will keep IAC, though the axe may fall on some of the leadership, notably IAC President John Weber, who will inevitably take the blame for his boss Bonsignore's blunders.

Siemens recently bought Moore Process Automation (now called Moore-Siemens) which it will quickly dissipate by integration into its own, bloated corporate hierarchy. It seems that the Germans don't quite know how to run small, independent organizations without inserting Deutsch discipline. If Siemens cannot buy IAC from Jack Welch of GE, expect them to turn their attention to Rockwell (Allen-Bradley) and perhaps Invensys.

Click Siemens website

Click Siemens FY2000 annual report

Click Press release with Q1-2001 results

Embedded Fieldbus chip

Mike Justice of Synergetic Microsystems brings our attention to their introduction of a new EmbeddedComm™ EC-1 chip. This is a complete communications System-on-a-chip (SoC) that features Multiple Network communications including Ethernet, Dual CAN Channels, Profibus DP, SPI and Dual serial channels. A high performance Turbo 80186 compatible microprocessor, that can handle the most demanding embedded applications, has also been integrated into the EC-1. By combining a cost effective, powerful microprocessor, peripherals, fast internal memory and integrated communications controllers, the EC-1 offers the lowest total cost design, quick integration and the shortest possible time to market.

My question to Mike:

    In the low-volume industrial automation business, can this technology generate the volume need for commercial success?

Mike's response:

    "A system on chip with Ethernet is the big thing, the CAN and Profibus and serial ports are a bonus; most of the designs will go that way. We are winning designs for Ethernet connectivity and by the way the others come for free. Who will buy? All the majors are interested in industrial, medical, and automotive test equipment. The embedded market is much bigger than industrial. Design Wins are rolling - volume to follow".

I caution Mike:

    Beware the "majors who are interested". They will all send marketing guys with notepads, to review your power-point presentations; and the engineers will follow-on, to get some free education. Pick your partners wisely, my friend!

Click Check out this neat chip on the Synergetic embeddedcomm website

MIT Tech Review : Flexible Electronics

The Jan/Feb 2001 MIT Review Technology Trends listed their selection of the 10 most important technology trends:

Click MIT Tech Review 10

The implementation of pervasive computing-the spread of digital information everywhere in human society-will require electronics capable of bringing information technology off the desktop and out into the world. To digitize newspapers, product labels and clothing, integrated circuits must be cheap and flexible-a tough combination for today's silicon technology. Even the cheapest form of silicon electronics is too pricey. And it's difficult to incorporate electronics on bendable surfaces such as plastics.

Technology innovators are finding ways to circumvent these limitations. Some are trying to reinvent amorphous silicon. Others have abandoned inorganic compounds like silicon to develop transistors based on organic (carbon-based) molecules or polymers. Organic electronics are inexpensive to manufacture and compatible with plastic substrates and several research teams have made impressive progress, with commercial products nearing the market. But organic circuits are still far slower than silicon. Recently, Cherie Kagan at IBM research has developed transistors made from materials that combine the power and speed of silicon with the affordability and flexibility of organics. This opens up a whole new realm of possibilities.

Click MIT Review Flexible Transistors

Click Developer Cherie Kagan's page at IBM Research

Futurescope 2001: Evolution of the TechnoHuman

The annual meetings of The World Future Society are unique, excitement-packed events. Since the First General Assembly in 1971, the Society has held a variety of small and large conferences that have brought together futurists from around the world to share ideas and vital information about the trends and events that will affect the world tomorrow.

The 2001 Annual Conference "FutureScope 2001: Exploring the 21st Century" will be July 29-31, 2001 in Minneapolis, Minnesota at Hilton Minneapolis and Towers. I will be presenting at a Technology session on: Evolution of the Techno-Human. Here is a synopsis of my talk.

In this century, technology speed-up will continue with major evolutionary consequences and significant societal change. The technology tools of the future will allow an evolution into a new form of techno-human. Some fringe-thinkers are already discussing trans-human and post-human societies.

Our current pace of technological progress poses a very real threat to the future of the human species. But, there is also potential for tremendous good-synergy can develop between natural and synthetic intelligence. Sequencing of the human genome will bring a new level of knowledge of our biological makeup. Technology will enhance biology through the virtual elimination of disease and significant increase in longevity. What are the societal and philosophical changes that will occur?

Who should attend: Those interested in technology futures, artificial intelligence, human/machine interaction and symbiosis, societal changes caused by technology, and philosophical impacts of synthetic intelligence exceeding human intelligence.

What you’ll learn: This presentation will allow you to keep abreast of the fast-moving technology shifts, as well as stimulate thinking about the societal and philosophical impacts of synthetic intelligence and combinations of man/machine (synthetic life). Participants will walk away with a summary of these technology shifts that are causing fundamental change in human/machine interface and interaction.

Click World Future Society

Click Futurescope 2001: Conference Information

Click Technology/Science Session Descriptions

Click My article Evolution of the TechnoHuman


Neil Kelly [nokelly@energy.com.au] from down-under is still thinking about slow-light. He e-muses:

    "I read somewhere that although he got the Nobel prize for work related to light, it was not its nature that triggered Einstein's imagination. In fact it was by a flash of insight (pardon the metaphorical pun) that he realized that its velocity in vacuum could actually be a universal constant. All relativistic investigations thereon I believe dealt only with this constant, and not light itself. So, I fear that merely hitching a ride on a slow photon might not give us eternal life...."

After reading my article "2001: Industrial Automation Outlook" wherein I complained that industrial businesses are not growing, Pat Kennedy [pat@osisoft.com] e-boasted:

    "Not sure I agree, OSISOFT ($ 60m and still grrrowing) is not exactly small and can generate organic growth at will - all it takes is a focused business plant, good people, and lots of money."

Regarding Napster, and the powerful concept of Distributed Computing, Russ Kinnear [Russ.Kinner@avcacorp.com] brings this to our attention :

    "You might note that there are several voluntary organizations that have worked on distributed computing applications for years. Look at Distributed.net : Founded in 1997, the project has grown to encompass thousands of users around the world and distributed.net's computing power has grown to become equivalent to that of more than 160,000 PentiumII 266Mhz computers working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year! The infrastructure has been enhanced over the years and refined to a point where it can reliably handle tens of thousands of new computers.

    "So, solving complex problems by breaking them up into small chunks and sending them on to thousands of processors is already being done effectively. Making a business plan that can be profitable to both the coordinator and the PC owner to harness the spare processor cycles is the only challenge left."

Click Distributed.net website

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