Rockwell Automation smoothing path to digitization

Emphasis is on making advanced tools and services easy to implement, easy to use, and ultimately easy to buy

By Keith Larson

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Over the past several years, Rockwell Automation has ably proven the potential of The Connected Enterprise, the company’s vision for plant-floor sensor-to-enterprise level system integration, to yield outsized business benefits through improved upward visibility and downward decision-making.

In the course of its own “global process transformation,” which is built on the roll-out of the company’s FactoryTalk ProductionCentre MES solution across 20 manufacturing facilities, the company rationalized business processes and booked enviable improvements in plant performance, supply chain efficiency and customer service. Inventory, for example, dropped from 120 days to 82; on-time delivery improved from the mid-80s to 96%; and quality, as measured by defect rates, improved by 50%.

“But now we’re in phase two,” said John Genovesi, vice president and general manager of the company’s information solutions and process business in his opening remarks to the annual gathering of the Process Solutions User Group this week in Atlanta, during the run-up to the 25th anniversary Automation Fair. Not satisfied with the dramatic yet incremental, the company has started seeking discoveries that spring from analyzing combinations of production data and enterprise data. “Suddenly we can get after warranty problems and relate them back to manufacturing issues,” Genovesi noted. The company also has begun to relate field failure patterns to production variables and to discover new correlations through Pareto analysis.

This is just the sort of transformative digitization that Rockwell Automation seeks to help its customers realize in their own organizations. “Much of our focus now is on making our solutions easier to use, less expensive and easier to access,” Genovesi said.

Building on the modern DCS

Rockwell Automation already offers a world-beating “modern DCS” in its PlantPAx modern distributed control system, according to Genovesi. Key differentiators include scalability, flexibility, ease of implementation and use, as well as the ability to satisfy all of a plant’s multi-disciplinary control needs in a unified system. “It’s not process control with a PLC, it’s a single architecture across your entire plant,” Genovesi said.

For its part, Rockwell Automation will continue to build on the core value proposition of The Connected Enterprise. That is, to reduce time to market, lower total cost of ownership, improve asset utilization and reduce enterprise risk. It plans to build on established capabilities around smart assets, information orchestration, data management, networks and security, and integrated architecture with increasingly scalable manufacturing execution system (MES) capabilities, scalable analytics, mobility and collaboration solutions as well as connected services.

Scalability and ease of use are particularly important priorities for the Rockwell Automation offering to process users. For example, the company’s model predictive control algorithm now runs embedded at the controller level, as do many batch functions that once ran at a server level. “This allows more users to take advantage of these features, without having to buy a server-level license,” Genovesi said.

For the past three years, Rockwell Automation also has been working on its cloud strategy with key partner Microsoft and its Azure cloud platform. “Our customers weren’t ready then, but the time for the cloud is now,” Genovesi said.

In the coming months, watch for a new range of FactoryTalk Cloud MES capabilities as well as a network crawler and gateway to very quickly provide “cloud connectivity in a secure way,” Genovesi said. FactoryTalk Analytics also are coming down the chute and will provide increasingly predictive and prescriptive analytics that can run on a machine, in the cloud, or anywhere in between.  

And a growing range of Connected Services from Rockwell Automation are designed to help the company’s customers take advantage of new digital technologies. These range from network and security assessment services to gauge preparedness for digitization initiatives to asset management and reliability services, production and application lifecycle support services, people and asset safety services, and remote monitoring and cloud analytics services.

Just as it is in our personal lives, digitization—as represented by Big Data, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and Industrie 4.0—is a powerful wave, according to Genovesi. The question is: “How can we leverage them in industry?”