Is Kubernetes to be a Key Part of Future Manufacturing and Automation?

Author photo: Harry Forbes
By Harry Forbes
Technology Trends

Here is a multiple-choice question:

What is Kubernetes?

A)  The dominant software for container orchestration

B)  A brilliant plot by Google to disrupt the cloud computing market

C)  The software platform that will soon be used for most everything

D)  The catalyst for a massive software gold rush

E)  All the above


The correct answer is “E”. Kubernetes has been the New Black in enterprise software since it demolished the competing container orchestration solutions several years ago.  It is the flagship project of the Cloud Native Computer Foundation (CNCF), which was seeded by Google’s open source release of Kubernetes and Kubernetescurates the software along with a vast, growing (and often bewildering) software ecosystem of over 1,200 related open source projects. Kubernetes will not just be running in data centers.  It will become the common execution and deployment platform for cellular telecommunications, satellites, military and defense apps, aircraft, smart vehicles, and (yes) future manufacturing.  

Last week, the CNCF hosted its massive North American KubeCon + CloudNativeCon event in Detroit.  The theme of the event was “Building for the Road Ahead”. The vibe there was one of getting down to business rather than the more triumphal tone of past meetings. Perhaps this is because the tsunami of venture funding that has washed over this industry for the past few years is now receding. But while funding is becoming a headwind, there was genuine excitement also as the possibilities of this technology are now being realized.  Edge applications were prominent. 

What was new to this analyst was the emphasis on more than “merely” edge software management at scale. Management of edge software at scale is becoming mere table stakes.  Flexibility and edge AI are where the action is now.  Great illustrations of this were provided by Red Hat and Lockheed Martin, who are enabling military drones and vehicles to support many types of AI-oriented missions simultaneously and changing the mission minute-by-minute as required by events. Similarly, VMware illustrated the value of leveraging a common data/event stream to enable multiple AI applications in both retail and logistics operations. These applications should become a model for more flexible manufacturing.

Kubernetes applications for manufacturing automation are next and imminent, despite some present naysayers. There is clear evidence for this.  For example:

  • Earlier this year ABB and Red Hat inked a partnership agreement, initially targeting ABB’s Edgenius edge software. But ARC believes that ABB will end up employing Red Hat OpenShift, MicroShift, and Device Edge to host many other automation and analytics software products.
  • At next week’s SPS event in Nuremberg, Siemens will introduce an updated Industrial Edge Management System (IEM V2.0) which can be hosted on Kubernetes, and it also debuts a new and completely virtual Industrial Edge device (IEVD).
  • At last week’s Emerson Exchange event, Emerson announced a vision for “Boundless Automation” including future versions of its DeltaV process automation system with fully virtualized versions of its PK controllers and containerized workloads running on hyper-converged infrastructure.  Emerson didn’t specifically mention Kubernetes, but developing this automation capability without it is impossible.  

So, stay tuned in to Kubernetes. It’s likely a key part of future of manufacturing and automation.

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