What’s next in industrial automation

Nov. 16, 2020

“With our technology and domain expertise, no one is better positioned to add value at the convergence of information technology and operations technology (IT/OT) for our customers.” Blake Moret, chairman and CEO, Rockwell Automation, kicked off this year’s Automation Fair At Home.

It’s been a year of challenges “like we’ve never seen before,” said Blake Moret, chairman and CEO, Rockwell Automation, as he kicked off Automation Fair At Home, a primarily virtual conference created by Rockwell Automation, from the company’s Milwaukee headquarters on November 16. “But it’s also been a year of opportunities to increase resilience, agility and sustainability.” This year’s conference theme is, “Your Next.”

“We’re going to share with you what’s next for Rockwell Automation, and we hope what we’ve learned can help you as you create your own next,” Moret said. “Throughout all this change, our strategy has remained the same: bringing The Connected Enterprise to life, and doing it with 117 years’ experience in solving customer problems.”

For example, Roche needed to transform three facilities to manufacture COVID test kits. Using PharmaSuite MES, Rockwell Automation engineering experts worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Roche “to help the world recover” from test-kit shortages, Moret said. Rockwell Automation also helped Johnson & Johnson enforce social distancing by using mobile robots to orchestrate a plant floor with safe spaces.

“We do it with great technology, partners and acquisitions,” Moret said. “One of my favorites is Kalypso.” Founded in 2004 to accelerate digital transformation, Kalypso believed better software products would improve business results. “As a Rockwell Automation company, it’s accelerating innovation and maximizing productivity,” Moret said.

Rockwell Automation also acquired ASEM in Italy, providing industrial PCs and software to machine builders throughout Europe but mainly in Italy and Germany. “We also extended and deepened our PTC partnership with increased orders and new technology,” Moret said.

The company extended and expanded its five-year-old Microsoft partnership with cloud-native solutions to increase the ability to take data and increase productivity through information and insights. RSLogix 5000 and Studio 5000 Logix users can integrate files from different versions, different virtual machines, or from one massive drive. Users can process any files they choose, or all at once if they prefer, to gain time and efficiency (coming in 2021 []).

“Our partner ecosystem in the best in the industry,” Moret said. “With our technology and domain expertise, no one is better positioned to add value at the convergence of information technology and operations technology (IT/OT) for our customers.”

The result is increased resilience with fewer single points of failure and better traceability, remote operations and monitoring, flexibility, motion control, software and sustainability. “Sustainability is at the forefront of our mind and those of our customers, including a commitment to a carbon-neutral future, increased energy efficiency, recycling and renewables.”

Along with the positive business outcomes and ROI customers expect, “Our promise is to expand human possibility. We take the imaginations of people and combine it with the potential of technology to help the world work better, and to help the world recover.” Moret welcomed session participants to join in the Bold Conversations track this week to learn more about what the company is doing. “It’s a chance for all of us to learn what is next.”

Supply chain and more

Those learnings come in no small part from the effects of the COVID pandemic on the manufacturing supply chain. “Challenging macroeconomic conditions require reprioritizing to be resilient, to mitigate against unplanned interruptions,” said Ernest Nicolas, senior vice president, Integrated Supply Chain, Rockwell Automation. Nicolas discusses Rockwell Automation’s learnings and how it is using them to help its customers in detail in companion article, “Integrated supply chain eases COVID symptoms.” 

“There’s a great need for software to improve connection and agility,” said Chris Nardecchia, senior vice president, Software and Control, Rockwell Automation. The Connected Enterprise is a useful tool. and “Rockwell Automation is engaging with customers to create roadmaps, regardless of their starting point,” Nardecchia said, “combining control expertise, MES, IoT and augmented reality, from plant to edge to cloud.”

Tessa Myers, vice president, product management at Rockwell Automation, said the connected enterprise depends on customers having a modern infrastructure in place. Myers pointed out significant product introductions including new 5480 and process controllers for high-speed, control and edge, IT and OT integration applications.

To connect, integrate and supervise these controllers, “Our new PlantPAx 5.0 is a significant leap forward, with an open and secure architecture,” Myers said. FactoryTalk remains “a simplified and extensible suite of tools and applications to enable productivity. In early 2021, it will be available as a new, cloud-native SaaS focused on all phases of a project’s lifecycle, using the company’s Microsoft partnership…a single, trusted data environment.”

In the context of a project lifecycle, design is a team support, so it helps to have a secure, cloud environment with prebuilt objects and defined workflow. At the design stage, a plant engineer starts a digital thread, saving 30% to 50% through startup. 

For the plant manager, FactoryTalk InnovationSuite has multiple new capabilities. Edge-to-cloud supports production, safety and maintenance alerts. Users can drill down to see real-time OEE and production metrics, isolate underperforming assets and identify opportunities for improvement. The vice president, operations, can see plant performance across the world. In the past, it’s been hard to get this global view, but now they are able to drive this tool to get the benefits of doing things they couldn’t do before.

Intelligent devices are the foundation of The Connected Enterprise, providing function and information to reduce unplanned downtime, improve throughput and productivity, said Fran Wlodarczyk, senior vice president, Intelligent Devices, Rockwell Automation. For example, a tire manufacturer uses a photoelectric device to see a tire coming. The sensor can get dirty and obscured. Now, the manufacturer can get a notification when this is happening so the sensor can be cleaned before it malfunctions.

Technology Showcase and LifecycleIQ 

Sensing, safety, industrial control, power control, motion control are all available to see in the Products and Technology Showcase in a new space in the Milwaukee headquarters. An E-House area shows motor control devices and power systems, a Plantwide Process Control area includes the new PlantPAX 5.0 system, and the Kinetix/Motion Control area has a new 5100 for small and medium machines. There’s an area for Scalable Multidiscipline Control Systems, and one for Safety—a critical element in flexible manufacturing—where Rockwell Automation is the largest supplier in the world, offering services, sensors and integrated solutions.

“This year, LifecycleIQ expands how customers can interact with us—faster, smarter, with greater agility from innovation and design to operations and maintenance, analyzing your data to provide proactive insights, with proven, industry-specific experts to work with you,” said Frank Kulaszewicz, senior vice president, Lifecycle Services. “Rockwell Automation can be your trusted partner to guide you with cybersecurity to keep your physical and digital properties safe.”

About the author: Paul Studebaker
Paul Studebaker, Editor Emeritus, Control. Reitred from full-time employment in January 2020, Studebaker earned a master's degree in metallurgical engineering and gathered 12 years experience in manufacturing before becoming an award-winning writer and editor for publications including Control and Plant Services
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