Systems Integration / Automation Fair

Improved Visibility Sheds Light on the Bottom Line

Rockwell Automation Unifies Information Flows in the Manufacturing Enterprise

Automatio Fair 2011

By Aaron Hand

Different manufacturing industries face varying requirements, whether that's complying with federal regulations in pharmaceuticals manufacturing or keeping costs as low as possible in consumer goods. But what they have in common is a growing need for improved visibility from the plant floor on up to corporate management, and all points in between.

As far as data itself goes, today's ubiquitous networks are making it easier and easier to collect more and more of it. At the Global Machine Builder Forum this week at Rockwell Automation's Automation Fair, Jeff Reed, vice president of Cisco's Unified Access Business Unit, warned of the "zettaflood" of data—not gigabytes of data, not terabytes, not petabytes, not even exabytes, but zettabytes. Manufacturers have been collecting reams of data for years, but are now finally learning how to leverage that data, bringing the pockets of information together in a more meaningful way to increase machine and plant performance.

At the Information Software booth at the Automation Fair this week, Rockwell Automation was helping machine builders, system integrators and end users better understand how their software products can help bring together all those pieces of information. "There's information coming out of every machine from the OEMs," says Mike Pantaleano, business manager, information software, for Rockwell Automation. "We can layer software over the whole plant to bring it all together."

Traditionally, corporate executives would get reports full of data coming out of the SAP warehouse to show what was going on a month ago or a even quarter ago, which wasn't very helpful for making truly informed decisions about plant efficiency, says Ian Tooke, business solutions practice manager at Grantek Systems Integration, which works closely with Rockwell Automation to provide integrated manufacturing automation services. Now they can access that data from the past hour, or even the past five minutes, if need be, to get a much better view of what is happening with production; they can be much more real-time, he says.

Meanwhile, at the lower levels of an organization, a machine operator can get a better understanding of not just overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), but how everything affects the business. Operators can see, for example, how substituting a particular material will affect final cost, based on real-time data on the current cost of that material. "They can see costs, profit margins, and how downtime affects the bottom line," Tooke says. "You can really hone in on what's costing you money."

The joining together of information is being enabled by a framework that overlays all aspects of an organization, Tooke says, bringing together offerings that plants have typically already invested in, such as SAP, SharePoint and Rockwell Automation's MES and metrics capabilities. "The SAP data flows down, and can integrate with line information from the MES," he says. "It's a mash-up of finance and manufacturing KPIs together in one place. It's a game changer."

Microsoft SharePoint, used for sharing files and collaborating on documents, has become ubiquitous, Pantaleano says, so Rockwell Automation has found that it's sometimes easier for customers to view information through a corporate IT SharePoint application rather than through a Rockwell Software portal.

Meanwhile, FactoryTalk VantagePoint software connects to disparate data sources—real time, historical, relational and transactional—to create a single resource that can access, aggregate and correlate information into a common, unified model that allows trends, reports and dashboards to help customers make fact-based decisions. Web-based dashboards and reports monitor KPIs to help users better manage their operations in real time.

FactoryTalk VantagePoint 4.0, which Rockwell Automation announced today, now includes enhanced connectors, configuration and reporting tools to reduce the time, complexity and cost of developing meaningful reports, visualization and analytics for manufacturing operations. The latest version also provides native integration to Microsoft SharePoint 2010, which will help to expose plant-floor data to the enterprise, and many other capabilities like business intelligence, collaboration and communications typically not found in a real-time manufacturing operation.

It all comes down to getting the right information into the hands of the right people so that a plant can be optimized to run as efficiently as possible. What data is the right data can vary from industry to industry. In pharmaceuticals manufacturing, for example, regulatory compliance makes it important to have the data that shows exactly how a product was made. "If you don't have the data, you can't sell the product," Pantaleano says.

In precious metals, meanwhile, it's become common for purchasers to demand information on exactly what conditions its expensive purchases have been subjected to, Pantaleano says. "They want to know heat treatment information for the entire time the product was in the furnace." Data can provide the necessary process variable genealogy.

For consumer packaged goods (CPG), products are low-cost, margins are very low, but the inventory needed to make those products is often expensive, explains Mike Gay, CPG industry manager at Rockwell Automation. So the data provided through Rockwell's software suite helps to shed light on the effects on the bottom line of how much raw material is being used, how long it takes to make a product, etc. "They need to make products at the least cost possible," Gay says.