Industrial Ethernet / Operator Interface / Automation Fair / Mobility

Empower Employees with User-Configured Mobile Information

Operators, Managers and Technicians Can Access, Format and Share Information, in a Matter of Seconds.

By Paul Studebaker

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Users of the Rockwell Automation PlantPAx process automation system, FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI and ProductionCentre MES packages are now benefiting from mobile technology that allows them to create, modify, personalize and access their own displays of business and process information, in the office, at the machine, at home or on virtually any mobile device."

In the industrial software world "What has been primarily a machine and product focus is becoming systems thinking," said Ryan Cahalane, director of software product development, control and visualization business,
Rockwell Automation, during a guided tour today of the Information Software booth at Automation Fair in Anaheim, California. "This has been common for some time in the process industries and now it's everywhere." People want to layer in context and collaborate across sites, whether it's a multi-facility global food and beverage conglomerate, a pharmaceutical manufacturer contracting out a plant, or an industrial machinery OEM that wants to see how its equipment is operating around the world.

The ability to view, navigate and share information is being combined with portability and mobility to make it so operators, engineers, and managers "never have to leave their work," Cahalane said. With smart phones, tablets and laptops they can access their choice of content, subscribe to feeds, personalize their own dashboards with the exact machine, system and business information they need or want to do their job in the best possible way for them, he said. "So mobility and portability are now a philosophy across all of our product lines."

The philosophy is being applied to conventional operations and information technology (OT/IT), but also for management. "In mining, you have your factory on wheels. The owners can monitor it, and so can the equipment suppliers," said Cahalane. "In automotive, suppliers of turnkey lines can see their equipment all over the world, to determine and share best practices for operation and maintenance."

It's also important for mobile assets that range far from the plant. For example, "LORAM uses it on railroad track grinders," said Keith McPherson, director, market development, Rockwell Software. "Managers and technicians can remotely locate, assess and troubleshoot the condition of mobile equipment."

The VantagePoint Manufacturing Intelligence suite has now been redesigned to run on mobile. Displays dynamically adjust to screen sizes and types: on a smart phone, the display automatically stacks for scrolling, on an iPad in landscape, there's no need to scroll. It's easy to navigate, and you can create your own content.

"Everybody is going to HTML 5 for automatic reformatting on Apple, Android and Windows devices," said Cahalane. "HTML 5 is great, but it's just the ante. We're leveraging true mobile design to support the user." This reduces or eliminates the "cost of curiosity," he said, by allowing the user to quickly and easily try out different data, displays and configurations. "They can do it in a matter of seconds, not hours, and there's no need to call IT or a developer," he said.

"We make it easy with user-friendly names for parameters and data," said Damon Purvis, product manager,
Rockwell Automation, who demonstrated the new features of VantagePoint. "They can see it, save it, and make it public. They can create it on an iPad and see it on their iPhone—or on an Android device."

For example, say you're working in a plastic extruding company. "As a manager, your main concern is, is my line running?" Purvis said. "If an extruder has gone down, you want to know if it's back up, but it doesn't help the technicians make the repair if you keep asking them. Now you can just go in and look."

Users can select parameters, create a graph, and save it in their own "playground," Purvis said. They can edit it in Composer, combine content easily and do it quickly, in a few seconds, not an hour. "If you're not completely happy with the result, you can iterate it instantly and get it right," said Cahalane.

The approach empowers operators to have the displays they want and need to do their jobs most effectively, to satisfy their curiosity and find ways to do their jobs better, to run the equipment a better way. "They can create it on an iPad and see it on a phone," Purvis said. "The widgets know how to present themselves on different displays.

"When I'm happy with it, I can put it in my Favorites, and go straight there without having to open the development environment. Once I'm there, I'm back in the model so I can make further changes if I want."

Cahalane expects this kind of access to help people leverage their experience, and their companies to leverage their most experienced people, who might not be right there at the machine. "They might be at home or even retired, and can still lend their knowledge and experience to people in the plant," he said.

System designers can regulate access. "Even those people who are steeped in Excel, love it and do it in their sleep, they see this and get into it," Purvis said. "It's a new paradigm for visualization and reporting." Similar capabilities work the same way in MES environments where having mobile operators further eases the work and still enforces process workflow.

Similar tools will be available for the popular FactoryTalk SE HMI software later next year. This will allow PlantPAx operator interfaces to be displayed on iPads and other devices. You can drill down to diagnostics, and access historians and databases. "Mobility lets you do things you can't do with desktops, to enable users and support workflows," said Mike Pantaleano, business manager, Rockwell Automation. "It lets you add value without coding."

For MES, "FactoryTalk ProductionCentre R10 can run on the cloud with thin clients, on any browser, any device, using HTML 5 with add-ins," said Brandon Henning, product manager, Rockwell Automation. "Quality Management and Performance Management MES AppSolutions are now all thin-client."

Mobility and portability are part of the latest upgrades of FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI, ProductionCentre and other Rockwell Software applications to keep pace with rapid developments in IT and OT technology, Cahalane said. "It's now part of Rockwell Automation's philosophy, to support evolutionary revolutions."