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Flexibility Driving the Future of Automation

Flexible Production, Cloud Computing Pave the Way to Future for Rockwell Automation and Users

By Jim Montague

Automation Fair 2012


To help their users and customers survive in the present and thrive in the future, a trio of Rockwell Automation's technical experts and partners delivered a series of presentations this week at the Manufacturing Perspectives press event leading up to Automation Fair 2012 in Philadelphia.

One of the cornerstones enabling the flexibility of manufacturing so crucial to the operations of many of Rockwell Automation's manufacturing customers is the company's long and fruitful partnership with Cisco Systems. Maciej Kranz, vice president and general manager of the Connected Industries Group at Cisco, and Sujeet Chand, senior vice president and CTO at Rockwell Automation, jointly reported how they're striving to make flexible production and cloud-computing services more mobile and secure.

"Research shows about 63% of companies are allowing staffers to bring smart phones and other mobile devices onto their plant floors to allow access to information and aid in collaboration, but at the same time about $60 billion is being spent on cybersecurity," said Kranz. "So as connected apps drive enterprise convergence, there's more need for security too."

Chand explained, "The sheer volume of production data is so great that many users are drowning in it, and this isn't helped by all the proprietary formats they have to deal with. What they need is to bring actionable information out of all that data. Fortunately, enhanced connectivity is continuing to evolve, and the key enabler is open, standard Ethernet. In fact, together we've been using our joint Reference Architecture to develop and produce the switches and access points to bring more Ethernet to the plant floor, and then securely connect it to the enterprise level, back-end business networks and supply chains." 

Chand added that Rockwell Automation and Cisco's efforts on improving Ethernet networking have inevitably brought it to cloud computing. "The cloud is allowing users to move legacy information and data processing from hardware to virtual systems, which allows greater mobility, improves analytics and optimization, and enables the factory of the future. However, these must be assisted by perimeter security, VPNs and firewalls, threat identification and cloud-based security infrastructures, which can give users the converged, secure networks they need for successful and safe collaboration."

In fact, Rockwell Automation and Cisco have just launched the Stratix 5900 secure Ethernet router and have been helping the ODVA organization develop the CIP Energy protocol to help users actively manager energy use and build more energy-aware machines. "Energy is becoming another loop that can be managed in controllers and control systems, and CIP Energy can help them identify and take advantage of times when their equipment can run in lower-power modes, and find many other opportunities for greater productivity and sustainability."

Amplifying Flexible Production

For example, Ford Motor Co. is using several strategies—including Rockwell Automation solutions—to complete its "One Ford" program, which is transforming it from many regional divisions into one team with one plan and one goal. It's accomplishing this ambitious project by implementing common, consistent standards in the Ford Production System (FPS) at many of its 70 plants worldwide in order to give its customers the vehicles they want most.

"Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, Ford's plan is to offer its models with a host of propulsion options, including high-efficiency gas and diesel, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure electric," said Peter Daenen, chief body construction engineer (BCE) in the Vehicle Operations Management (VOM) division at Ford South America. "This allows significant flexibility in the face of changing market demands."

Daenen described flexible production initiatives in its body shops, paint shops, final assembly lines, and sometimes in its power train facilities. Besides implementing flexible production at its 35 assembly plants, One Ford is also going into the nine new plants it's building in Asia. These global standards include manufacturing design specifications, common bills of design and bills of process, which dictate equipment such as standard production cells. "These will give us global production flexibility and lighter, more capable tooling systems, which can be as much as 80% non-product-specific, but still easily programmable," explained Daenen. "For example, where we used to produce three models on one line, we'll be able to manufacture six or seven models on that line, and have lower-cost, higher-quality model changeovers. Last year, 55% of our global body shops had this flexibility, and that will increase to 65% by the end of this year."

Ford has used Rockwell Automation products, such as its ControlLogix and earlier PLCs and EtherNet/IP and DeviceNet networking protocols, for many years. As a result, it was a natural extension for Rockwell Automation to help with the One Ford initiative. In fact, Daenen added that One Ford's flexible manufacturing program is also using virtual tools and simulations to research better ways to install seats and other components, as well as methods for improving safety and reducing injuries. So far, he reported these virtual tools have helped Ford cut its per-vehicle production costs by 8% per year or about 20% since 2009. "In the future, we'll even be able to better compare the efficiencies, downtime and quality of different plants," said Daenen.

Frank Kulaszewicz, Rockwell Automation senior vice president for architecture and software, reported that Rockwell Automation's role in assisting with One Ford also included helping its plants deal with different requirements in different regions. "Our plant-wide optimization capabilities are enabling convergence between Ford's enterprise, plants, suppliers and customers," said Kulaszewicz. "This allows unprecedented levels of visibility, flexibility to change quickly with the market, and simplification of functionality and systems. Automation can be a huge amplifier for production. We introduced our Integrated Architecture about 10 years ago, and we recently reinvested in it with new technologies, platforms and products, as well as new controls, drives, services and software, and deliver them via secure, standardized and open Ethernet networking and switches."

A Cloud in Your Forecast

Beyond allowing more flexible manufacturing, Rockwell Automation is also helping users move into cloud-based computing. For instance, "The Implications of the Cloud on Manufacturing," was delivered by Fran Dougherty, CTO of the Worldwide Incubation Enterprise and Partner Group at Microsoft. He reported that Microsoft's users, including those in industry, want to drive innovation, scale up their operating environments and grow their businesses. Some run on private, on-premises cloud-computing systems, while others do data processing on publicly located services.

"We think using a hybrid cloud strategy is the best because it puts its analyses where users need it, so they can employ whichever combination is the best for them," says Dougherty. "This also gives them the right IT for their business, makes more of their existing investments and delights their customers with the best experiences."

For instance, Microsoft's new Azure platform is being used by Toyota's next-generation Telematics service that it's incorporating in its electric vehicles (EV) and plug-in vehicles (PHV) in 2012. This service will give drivers seamless connectivity from their cars to email, office networks, remote diagnostics, and third-party services, such as music, movies and smart grid updates for the EVs and PHVs.

On a more industrial note, M.G. Bryan Equipment Co. is implementing Azure on its fracking trucks. The platform will provide generic Internet connections for tablet PCs and smart phones, so users can secure production data from the trucks and their drill sites. Azure will serve up Rockwell Automation's own cloud platform and JSON web service extensions for security via a Sierra 3G wireless GX400 radio. For instance, the trucks will be able to alert operators when their air filters need to be changed, which can be as often as every eight hours.

"These $1.1 million trucks work in harsh environments from -30 °F to 120 °F, so it's important to know when each of their four $40 air filters are sucking sand and dirt," says Matthew Bryan, M.G. Bryan's president. "It's a priority for us to be notified ahead of time, and Azure is allowing us to collect this data, other KPIs and fleet management information on our smart phones. All this data is stored in the cloud, and lets us manage our equipment and serve our own customers better."