Smart Machines and Savvy Supply Chains

Industry Forum Addresses Needs of Global Machine Builders

By Joe Feeley

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Manufacturers today want innovative machines that easily integrate into their plant-wide infrastructure. As a result, equipment and machine OEMs are responding with smart machines that seamlessly connect the factory floor with the enterprise.

By using a single control and information platform, these machines can demonstrate an unsurpassed level of intelligence along with the ability to consume and generate information automatically, adapt to new situations and give industrial OEMs the remote access and insight they to both satisfy these customer demands and analyze the operational data that let's them build better, more responsive machines.

These issues set the stage for today's Global Machine and Equipment Builders Industry Forum at the Automation Fair in Houston, presented by Rockwell Automation. "'Smart machines' is an umbrella term for the important trends in the industry that include safety, leveraging information, integration, diagnostics and basically taking advantage of the information that's on machines and is becoming more available," began Chris Zei, vice president, global industry group, Rockwell Automation. "And there are three issues that we at Rockwell Automation think about in this regard that help us figure out the right value proposition for each customer."

The first issue, Zei said, is plant-wide optimization. Rockwell Automation is committed to helping end users use their assets in the optimum manner and helping reduce the total cost of ownership of those assets.

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"The second thing is machine builder performance: our commitment to do what's right for the builders, making sure we're providing the products that help them build a better machine," Zei said. "Not only that, we want to be a good partner to them so we can help them deliver on their promises of better machine TCO to their end customers."

The third item is sustainable production. "We have footprints all around the world," Zei explained. "So not only do we want to do the right things in terms of being a sustainable company, but we also want to help the many companies that come to us for help in being or becoming a more sustainable company through automation and things like improved energy monitoring."

"Safety and sustainability are big on our list," agreed session participant Ted Hutto of Panhandle Meter, a company that specializes in custody-transfer meters for crude oil. "Among other things, "we've helped improve working safety. Around liquid hydrocarbons, you'll find H2S, a poisonous gas. We have an H2S monitoring system to watch for that so dispatchers and others can alert workers and others entering the area."

Zei then dove into the trends that affect machine builder performance, some of which have been around for a while. The first is the sheer dollar volume that end customers spend on equipment. "About 75% of the purchases in the consumer products space are for equipment and machinery on the factory floor," Zei said. "In automotive, it's more like 50%, and in some of the heavy industries such as water, wastewater, mining, it's closer to 30%. But in all cases, it's a significant number."

Stick to What You Know

Another force is the increasing rate at which end customers outsource activity to the OEMs in order to focus more on their core competencies. "The CEO of a food company told me that his company had to get back to what it does well—making cookies—and it shouldn't be specifying what goes on or into the machines. It should just be specifying what they want that machine to do," Zei explained. "Those end customers want machine builders who can be good partners with them."

One of the things that nearly every end customer wants from its equipment is a combination of throughput and flexibility. "Those two are really counter to each other," Zei remarked. "If you want maximum throughput, you design and optimize a machine to produce one SKU as fast as it can. But what's typical is the need to produce many SKUs, and that means a machine designed to handle the most-difficult SKU, and that tends to determine throughput. The reality is that everyone wants both."

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