TE Connectivity is moving up value chain to drive IoT

TE Connectivity is moving up value chain to drive IoT

Business news |
By Rich Pell

And that requires moving up the value chain while engaging with customers to help drive the productivity increases promised by IoT/Industry 4.0, according to Mark Mass, senior manager for innovation platforms at TE Connectivity. It may even mean getting involved in data collection and analysis services he told eeNews Europe, taking a position similar to some executives in the MEMS component sector (see MEMS sector faces a fight to provide value and Not enough money in MEMS, own the data, says InvenSense CEO).

Mark Maas, senior manager for innovation platforms, TE Connectivity.

TE Connectivity is a $12 billion annual revenue company that was known up until March 2011 as Tyco Electronics. Tyco, in turn, was well known as a major connector industry consolidator that had acquired AMP, Raychem, Thomas & Betts, Deutsch and numerous other connector manufacturers to become the clear leader in the connector market. The company had connector sales of $9.27 billion in 2014 and took a 16.7 percent share of the $55.4 billion connector market, according to Bishop & Associates Inc.

But Maas said that TE Connectivity is much more than a connector supplier. Even in the days of the Tyco brand acquisitions ranged across the value chain from components, including sensors, through sector-specific modules and PCBs to instrumentation. TE has more than 500,000 products that it sells into automotive, industrial equipment, data communication systems, aerospace, defense, oil and gas, consumer electronics, energy and subsea communications.

About 80 percent of what TE Connectivity sells goes into harsh environments, said Maas. “If data, power or signal moves through it, TE connects and senses it,” he said quoting the TE motto.

It may have been that connectors and sensors sold into industry were once thought of as being conservative and less exciting than microprocessor integrated circuits but with the predictions of massive growth for IoT all those things that TE Connectivity does are coming together as the enablers of IoT. And besides connectors and sensors the company sells fiber optics, sealing and protection, wire and cables, circuit protection, antennas, wireless components and relays.

However, it is also necessary that TE thinks at the system level of IoT and Industry 4.0 as it is delivered productivity benefits, based on how data is used, that will pay for the continued roll out of IoT, Maas said “Things like Nest in the consumer space [the online central heating thermostat control] are not real IoT as I see it,” said Maas. “And in industry the PLC [programmable logic controller] is often the bottleneck. For example companies only use about 5 percent of the data they collect. Similarly proximity sensors are often set up as yes/no. We can do much more in terms of detecting material, distance, orientation.”

TE Grid
From connectors to services. TE’s view is that connectivity is about connect physical objects and content. Source: TE Connectivity.

Maas also recognizes that much of the progress in IoT is expected to be based on the use of wireless communications – something that at first glance might seem to harm the connector market. “Yes we need wireless solutions for flexibility; and field upgradeability. The inclusion of data in the TE Connectivity motto also indicates the direction the company wants to go in.

“At the SPS show [in Nuremburg, November 2015] we organized an innovation pit stop to engage with customers. We wanted to not only show them physical connection but also smart connection and content connection.” Some of these solutions include a single-pair Ethernet cable that can operate at up to 1Gbit/s, a polymer microwave fiber, which guides 60GHz millimeter-wave signals moving data at 10Gbit/s. This was used for HDMI video information with the benefit of EMI immunity.

Maas recognizes that caution is necessary. “When we move in the value chain there is always the risk of stepping on toes. That is why it is necessary to talk to customers. Some want to move to increase their own value add and that leaves room for us to help them.”

In addition there is often scope for TE Connectivity to add value for customers in the same footprint as traditional components. Maas gives the example of a 380V three-phase connector that can now come with an energy monitor and Wi-Fi connectivity. Not only does the connector connect physically, but it provides a real-time read out of power consumption.

380V, three-phase connector provides Wi-Fi energy monitor.  Source: TE Connectivity.

Another example is a smart relay that includes a redundant second relay to prevent downtime and minimize the cost of redundancy implementation. If the first relay feels the second comes into operation and a message is sent. It may drive up the cost of the relay but this can be more than worthwhile in the savings that can accrue in an application such as an off-shore wind turbine.

TE is also looking into energy harvesting. “There is no doubt that batteries can be a nuisance. We are looking into energy harvesting but at the moment the exact course of action is not certain; it is very dependent on application.

And as major manufacturer itself TE Connectivity is exploring the usefulness of IoT.

TE Connectivity has developed the Spark multiprotocol PCB to help its own factories to go digital. It supports multiple input and output protcols, Profibus, C-Link, Ethernet and so on to provide easy retrofitting to an installed base of equipment. The goal is to provide real-time data visualization and productivity improvements by reducing downtime and waste.

“We’ve set up our own cloud to experiment with all this data that can be drawn from machines and buildings,” said Maas.  It is called Jupiter and it is design to collect, store, analyze and report on data from physical and smart objects. It enables machine-to-machine and system-to-user communications and is expected to be the basis for services from TE Connectivity based on control improving performance, fault tracing and the prevention of down time.

Maas said TE has already movd far beyond being just a supplier of humble connectors but how far it will go in the future will be governed by the partnerships it strikes with customers and joint success they have in implementing the Internet of Things.

Related articles:

MEMS sector faces a fight to provide value

Not enough money in MEMS, own the data, says InvenSense CEO

IoT Security Foundation formed

Electric Imp doubles down on IoT

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