What’s been ruminating lately at Siemens USA’s R&D division in Princeton?
• A cloud-based internet of things (IoT) operating platform called “MindSphere” with the potential to efficiently run Smart Cities.
• Additive-manufacturing technologies that create digital twin computerized emulations, speeding the development of new and better component parts by as much as 300 times faster than the norm.
• Industrial robots that think for themselves, changing job duties at the drop of a hat (or part).
• Street sensors embedded in roadways and vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology to make autonomous vehicles work better and more safely.
• Smart sensors and software for buildings that predict part failure before the lights go out or the heat goes off.
• A new model for shared alternative-fuel electrification grids — like the ones operating in Brooklyn — that use the latest in block-chain economic workarounds.
• Hybrid e-aircraft — being co-developed with Airbus — that could bring 100-seat gas/electric-fueled planes to market by 2030, triggering “the third aviation revolution.”
As corporate “dog and pony” shows go, Siemens USA put on quite a blue-ribbon “Innovation Day” in Princeton on Monday, touting its hottest high-tech digital visions for visiting financial analysts and a few media representatives.
And it wasn’t just a show of technical and data-processing smarts, but also of commitment, underscoring the company as a major player in the United States as well as elsewhere in the world, with two major division headquarters in this area alone (the medical equipment-focused Siemens Healthineers in Malvern being the other).
Now, to boot, the industrial giant has put a Philadelphia native in the driver’s seat at Siemens USA — newly named president Judy Marks — “Wynnefield Heights-born, Broomall-raised and a Lehigh Class of ’84 engineering grad,” she duly detailed. First joining the company in 2011 (initially to run Siemens Government Technologies), Marks has a dossier that also includes long stints in systems engineering, engineering management, and business development with IBM and Lockheed Martin.
Siemens has 50,000 employees at 60 facilities in the U.S. — a figure second only to its 118,000 homeland workers in Germany as part of 350,000 worldwide, Marks noted in a private chat. And the industrial powerhouse has been impacting the U.S. “since Werner von Siemens laid the first trans-Atlantic cable 160 years ago.” In 2016, Siemens enjoyed U.S. revenues of $23.7 billion (including $5.4 billion in product exports). All possible because Siemens has hands in so many pies.
Did you know that Siemens is the leading manufacturer of light-rail trains in the U.S., with a third of the market share and SEPTA among its clients?
Or that it's a leading producer of fuel processing and power-plant equipment — including the natural gas-fueled facility coming online in Snyder County, Pa., next year to serve both Philadelphia and New York?
Almost everyone experiencing a serious medical exam or hospital stay encounters a high-end Siemens imaging or diagnostics machine, from CT scanners (which the company didn’t invent but “perfected”) to its recently launched blood analyzers that combine the functions of three old-school machines and a spanking-new noninvasive magnetic resonance imaging solution for prostate exams that’s going to save many a pain in the posterior.
One financial analyst attending Innovation Day called into question Siemens’ move into IoT digital software with MindSphere, suggesting it’s already a hyper-crowded field, with “150 different competing platforms.” When pressed by this reporter, Marks acknowledged that Siemens has a “bit of a branding problem” relative to, say, a Microsoft, IBM, or Google/Alphabet, especially in the minds of the general public.
“We used to have consumer products that put the brand out there, but don’t anymore. We sold off the telecommunications division, then the appliance business to Bosch. Recently, I divested our hearing-aid company. They’ll likely flourish better, independently, while we get to focus on our core competencies.”
Yet in the next breath, Marks argued that Siemens’ emphasis on an open platform makes MindSphere uniquely welcoming and flexible. “We’re laying the base and letting others build on top of it.”
Plus, she asserted, no other industrial giant is better suited to big-time Smart Cities data-crunching and systems tuning than Siemens, given all the built-in sensors and software analytics driving its industrial-grade heavy machinery and medical gear, the “artificial intelligence we’ve been developing for decades."
Siemens is "already making New York subway trains run faster and smoother” and helping huge cranes last longer “by telling operators when they’re applying the brakes wrong. … Mayors tell us that safety/security and transportation challenges are their major concerns in building a smart city. We’re working on all that — from intelligent street lighting to apps that can lead you to open parking spaces, thereby unclogging the streets, reducing the pollution.”
There’s one other thing that the well-heeled Siemens is offering municipalities (and Native American reservations and universities) — public/private partnerships with “tolling.”
“We invest, say, in a smart parking system and then recover a bit each time a person parks,” Marks said. “The city doesn’t have to issue a bond or make a capital investment to get the job done. They’re getting the environmental benefit — cars off the street faster — without expending anything. We do the same sort of partnerships for street lighting, for small power generation systems, and for HVAC controls, through the Siemens division called Building Technology. We’re saving enough energy to power whole communities for weeks and to keep some lit in times of outages.”