He noted four questions customers need to answer: How do we effectively leverage our operations investment to meet changing customer demands? How can we enhance our business systems by managing data from the plant floor, incorporating this information in our planning process? Have we integrated production, maintenance and quality processes to maximize output and minimize downtime? Can we better address regulatory needs to reduce their impact on operations performance? "The PlantPAx process automation system can answer all of those questions," he said.
"Last year we introduced the creation of the PlantPAx process automation system," said Swim. "This system leverages all of the core aspects of Integrated Architecture, but also expands on the system to take on unique process and DCS-like capabilities. We enable customers to migrate DCS systems within one scalable environment for unmatched operational flexibility and visibility, integrate with industry leaders for engineering library deployment tools, create value for skid builders and process OEMs to become a direct extension of the plant system. Ultimately, plant-wide control is a unique approach which is the anchor point to driving continuous process optimization and reducing operational risk."
Swim also discussed system migration. "All of the great business values of plant-wide optimization are realized through system migration," he said. "The challenge in today's economy is to incrementally grow capabilities of the system, increase its functional life and do so at the lowest risk to daily operation with minimal capital outlays."
To accomplish this, Swim suggested a common approach to both competitive conversions and migrations from older Rockwell Automation systems. "Most automation suppliers focus either on complete replacements of existing systems to get the promised value or apply lots of software and services on top of already limited systems to extract data. Our approach is to embed migration functions such as third-party communications capabilities and I/O scanning into the architecture."
Migration modernizes, but also eliminates islands and increases system capability, explained Swim. "Instead of doing separate and complete rip-and-replace approaches to DCS or PLC systems, or using OPC servers to access the installed base, our increased capabilities in Integrated Architecture extend real-time information with data servers in the control layer and provide a multi-discipline environment to flatten the plant architecture. The result is a scalable approach with reduced risk and at the lowest cost to incrementally gain the benefits of a modern system as the basis for current and future plant-wide optimization."
In his program about doing more with less through efficient maintenance, Kevin Jacobson, interim marketing director, services & solutions, explained the state of plant maintenance and how technology can help to create continuous improvement throughout the enterprise and the plant lifecycle.
"Maintenance is facing some tough challenges today," said Jacobsen. "But we can be more efficient and get more accomplished with fewer resources by effectively scheduling and managing production throughout the plant. Every function on the plant floor plays a role in helping to achieve this goal. And your automation system can support your optimization efforts."
"The first issue putting pressure on maintenance today is the age and condition of equipment and plant assets," said Jacobson. "At last year's Automation Fair, we asked manufacturers their top barrier to higher performance, and 65% mentioned the age of their machines as the number one challenge. In addition, nearly three-quarters of all U.S. manufacturing plants are more than 25 years old. It's a deadly duo to have aging equipment and an equally aging infrastructure to maintain. This issue of aging equipment is a very real challenge affecting our ability to optimize plant performance."
Another issue impacting maintenance is the maturing workforce and rate of retirement of critical knowledge holders on the plant floor. "When we asked which trends will have the most impact on operation, 36% told us the loss of institutional knowledge was a huge threat," said Jacobson. "Companies are reporting 30-50% retirement rate of maintenance technicians in the U.S. And in Japan, it's even more serious with a 60-80% retirement rate among experienced operators and maintenance personnel projected over the next five years."
The economy also is taking its toll. "Equipment upgrades and capital improvement activities have been severely curtailed, if not cancelled," said Jacobson. "There are higher requirements for commercial financing, longer return-on-investment periods and basic uncertainty in the markets. All of this has caused companies to place a stranglehold on capital funding and delay critical investments."
Companies have looked for productivity gains wherever they can find them. One thing is clear, said Jacobson. "We have to find a way to do more with less," he said. "We believe we can help plants be more efficient and productive with aging equipment, maturing and smaller workforces and less available capital with our services-and-support capabilities."
Rockwell Automation meets everyday technical needs with on-demand transactional services available when and where they're needed, said Jacobson. "InSite Managed Services help our customers sustain the value of their manufacturing technology investment," he said. "Imagine in this age of reduced resources, a growing skills gap and financial pressure, if you had a global team of Rockwell Automation engineers intimately familiar with your site and your systems who are available 24/7. Our team becomes a virtual extension of plant engineering and manufacturing IT resources."