Rockwell accelerating drive to simplify, speed implementation

July 19, 2022
Observations and take-aways from the company’s ROKLive 2022 event

Among my greatest privileges as an editor covering the industrial automation space is the opportunity to participate in user group events, where key suppliers collaborate with users hungry to learn more about how to extract the greatest value from the technologies they already own—and from the range of new innovations that are headed their way. For me, the latest of these was Rockwell Automation’s ROKLive event in June, where some 2,200 customers and partners gathered in Orlando.

This year’s ROKLive was distinctive in that it was the first fully in-person event to feature the complementary capabilities of recent Rockwell acquisitions Plex Systems and Fiix. In sessions and on the exhibition floor, one of the things that really struck home for me is how these providers of cloud-based manufacturing solutions from enterprise resource planning to quality to manufacturing execution and computerized maintenance management represent a terrific acceleration in the Rockwell’s drive to simplify the application and implementation of automation solutions. Since becoming CEO, Blake Moret has really stressed how important it is that solution providers make their technologies easier to implement and use, in order to realize their promise of expanding human potential. Brian Shepherd, head of the company’s software and control business, stressed just how cleanly the Plex and Fiix solutions complement Rockwell’s offerings.

The other side of this coin—and really on display at ROKLive—was the drive to dramatically reduce the time to value before automation solutions begin to deliver real ROI. Rockwell has long been a leader in robust, on-premise solutions for running manufacturing and process plants, but the cloud-based solutions that Plex and Fiix represent are just that much faster to spin up and get rolling.

This philosophy of faster time to value was also evident in the latest versions of the company’s Emulate3D design tools on display. Imagine a CAD library filled with digital representations of thousands of automation system components from robots to conveyors, available to drag and drop, bringing together a digital representation of an entire production line that automatically includes all the embedded connectivity and programming necessary to make all those components work together. From system concept to a fully realized digital twin—all in a low-to-no-code environment—this represents dramatically increased simplicity and much faster time to value, substantially reducing the time and effort needed to bring a new line into reality.

Prepping for the industrial metaverse

Speaking of digital twins, Jerry Foster, CTO of Plex Systems, took the podium for the event’s midweek keynote address. He started out talking about how, when he went to a recent industrial automation show, the biggest exhibitor there was Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite. “So, just what were they doing there?” he wondered aloud.

“Epic has set its sights on building virtual, interactive worlds, even in manufacturing,” he explained. “They’ve set up a lab in Detroit to work with automotive manufacturers.” Add to that Microsoft’s outlay of $69 billion to acquire Activision, another leader in interactive entertainment technology, and “it’s clear the industrial metaverse is coming next,” Foster said.

That’s where you can create an immersive digital twin of an entire production facility, where you can simulate everything before it's built, Foster explained. But even more importantly, use that digital twin to rewind and say, “Okay, yesterday, if we had done this a little bit differently, how would things have turned out? How could one small change affect an entire day's production?”

Foster really believes that very soon—sooner than we all think—we’ll be able to immerse ourselves in a digital twin environment to do just that sort of simulation, and really bring optimization of manufacturing to a much higher level.

After which, my colleague Mike Bacidore leaned over, nudged me and said, “Things just got real.”

About the author: Keith Larson
About the Author

Keith Larson | Group Publisher

Keith Larson is group publisher responsible for Endeavor Business Media's Industrial Processing group, including Automation World, Chemical Processing, Control, Control Design, Food Processing, Pharma Manufacturing, Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, Processing and The Journal.