Industrial Ethernet / Mobility

Mobile expands into more products, plus a vision of the future

Industry has gone mobile first

By Dave Perkon, technical editor, Control Design

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"Mobility is a philosophy about enabling users and improving productivity," said Kyle Reissner, Integrated Architecture mobility platform leader, Rockwell Automation. "Here at TechED, we're focusing on how mobility is being incorporated across all of our products, and we're giving our first public outline of how we look at the future of industrial mobility." Reissner's vision was part of his presentation, "Trends in Mobility—The World is Not Flat," at Rockwell Automation TechED 2015 in San Diego.

New FactoryTalk VantagePoint Mobile, FactoryTalk ViewPoint Mobile and FactoryTalk Batch Mobile have been released, and the future release of FactoryTalk AssetCentre, with other products in the works, will continue that expansion. Mobile proliferation allows users to do things differently. "It's delivering value, not just replicating screens into browsers," Reissner said.  "It's new value with different functions.

"We have had mobile access of user interfaces (UI's) for a while," noted Reissner. "Originally the goal has been just to replicate the user interfaces and get it in the operators' and engineers' hands. But that was basically taking 20-year-old technologies and shoving them in the device. It worked and continues to work well for extending systems and providing access, but for mobile we have to do something different. We want mobile to hit 10% productivity gain for everyone in the facility—not just be viewed as a way of accessing systems for one or two people."

Also read: Learn more about mobility solutions from Rockwell Automation.

Design and user experience are also very important. Consider how people interact with smartphones for seconds, tablets for minutes and PCs for hours. "The capabilities of truly being mobile require responsive design principles  enabling users to interact in a different way that's conducive to the device," said Reissner. "We've been developing, alongside our products, an internal mobile foundation toolkit (MFT), which includes libraries of components that use AngularJS, Bootstrap and HTML5. This toolkit provides an industrial level of performance and can be used to enable users to do things interactively across the different pieces of glass because HTML 5 alone isn't enough."

What happens when your process changes? Do you need to bring your integrator back or engage with IT? "With FactoryTalk VantagePoint mobile, it isn't necessary, as it has the ability to easily create mobile content using displays by selecting and configuring, not programming," said Damon Purvis, FactoryTalk VantagePoint Mobile product manager, Rockwell Automation. Mobilized, portable and personalized content quickly provides capabilities to display/create an ad-hoc trend, save favorites, add features and content, and contextualize visualization and visual indication. "These mobile-first features, along with the power of the FactoryTalk VantagePoint server, enable the user to be more productive," Purvis said.

But wait! There's more

Other product groups have also been hard at work adopting the internal mobile toolkit, and they showed a prototype that redefines FactoryTalk Batch by using the latest visualization for the product. "FactoryTalk Batch Mobile takes the existing experience of the Batch UI and adds diagnostics, localization, server administration and excellent scalability," explained Ken Plache, senior engineering leader, FactoryTalk Batch, Rockwell Automation. He provided a quick glimpse of the batch diagnostics and prompts windows, showing how an operator can quickly interact with the software and respond to prompts on an iPhone and a desktop. FactoryTalk Batch Mobile will be included in the next revision of FactoryTalk Batch, v13, and is scheduled for release late 2015.

"FactoryTalk ViewPoint software, which adds web server functionality to FactoryTalk View, has been around for a while, but a new release of will move beyond the support of the desktop browser to support a range of mobile device operating systems, including iOS and Android," said Sharon Billi, Global Product manager for FactoryTalk ViewPoint. "By adopting the toolkit we've been talking about, we created ViewPoint Mobile," she said. "It will allow users to begin defining a unique experience for the mobile HMI. And it's quick to configure. Simply create screens, publish them using wizards and look at them using a browser on your mobile device."

With a look into the future, Reissner commented, "Our goal is to deliver double-digit percentage productivity gains to every person in the plant. To do this we have to look beyond the typical view that mobile devices are simply clients. We're experimenting with features and functions that harness the full power of that supercomputer we all have in our pockets. We're turning the phone into a server and a client so we can run a wide array of modules within an advanced platform engine, to which the end user can add on-board workflows, adapt in the case of varying Wi-Fi or cell signals and deliver instant features with zero friction to the initial value that mobility can provide. We want to make it as easy as downloading an app and getting value right way. Then as our customers go down The Connected Enterprise journey more and more value opens up."

"We call this our App Platform, and this part of our mobile initiative codenamed Project Stanton. This pays homage to one of the founders of Allen-Bradley, Dr. Stanton Allen, and it's the fourth dimension of mobile. In this fourth dimension, we're experimenting and having some initial success with peer-to-peer meshing between mobile devices and across the iOS and Android platforms. Within the App Platform, harnessing wireless connections or wired connections to end devices is also possible. Because the engine is really its own server, plugging in a cable between your mobile device and, say, a variable-frequency drive could deliver some instant diagnostics or provide parameterization capability without the need of adding a server or connecting to a cloud service" said Reissner.

"If it was just a client, there would be a lot of friction in the way our users received initial value. You would need to connect the drive to the cloud, route it through the networks, talk with IT and install firewalls, add servers, etc., to realize a small 1% productivity gain," he said. "With Project Stanton, eliminating that friction 100% for some functions is our goal. We want to get mobile in the hands of every worker with zero friction."

Project Stanton is an active project; you can follow it on twitter and stay updated as Rockwell Automation innovates. TechED is the first time they've talked about it externally. It's going places where innovation is absolutely needed. "We can't get this kind of stuff off the shelf, and we're excited because of that," Reissner added.

As the IoT expands, the future Rockwell Automation App Platform will integrate continued efforts by adding mobile UIs to the products and unique capabilities for leapfrog levels of efficiency and productivity.

"The goal is for users to like it so much that they connect their enterprises, put in our FactoryTalk suite and move further into their journey. Then the App Platform identifies products, and there is more value unlocked," said Reissner. "One of the harder technical challenges our teams are facing is adapting for off-line functionality. This is paramount for our users," he said. "In industry we can't always assume a healthy wireless connection is there; some functions need to work and data has to be available in an off-line state."

"If you're in the middle of west Texas in an oil field, you want that data and trends. The only way to guarantee that is to cache data locally in the mobile device," explained Reissner. "Grabbing cloud data is good, but having an app to grab the data locally is better in many use cases. The phone is powerful enough to have a database and smart enough with the right app to know what to do with it."

Reissner added that only 14% of operations technology (OT) and information technology (IT) networks are completely converged, and only a subset of them are wireless-enabled,. "We want to drive these powerful mobile devices to improve 1% productivity through concepts like peer-to-peer meshing, on-board information, etc.," he said. "We want to make the supercomputer in your pocket into a modular server with opportunistic content. These apps will turn your smartphone from a dumb client into a smart node with instant functions. The hope is this pushes industry to see the benefit of FactoryTalk ViewPoint, FactoryTalk View Studio and FactoryTalk Batch, and use them to converge IT and OT."

It's not just about replicating screens; it's that and more. It's about getting users enabled across any device and enabling them differently. "In FactoryTalk ViewPoint, for example, we started down the path of just replicating screens as users requested," said Reissner. "Then the mobile toolkit was added, which enabled easy instant navigation, such as alarm screens with no programming needed. In the future, once it's integrated into the App Platform, it becomes accessible off-line; it becomes a heightened security app, and you can collaborate with fellow users."

The realization is that you just can't go and use consumer stuff off the shelf to meet the mobile goals of Rockwell Automation; you need to industrialize it. They are experimenting with an isolated plant-floor-specific collaboration platform, and it will reside in the OT layer. We don't have full sight on what future industrial apps will be, but they will be developed, managed, revised, approved and used on the plant floor.