Automation Fair fuels Connected Enterprise

Dec. 19, 2016
Thousands of visitors took in 110 conference sessions and 150 exhibits at the 25th annual Rockwell Automation Fair on Nov. 9-10 in Atlanta.

The latest innovations get all the spotlight, but it’s consistent implementation and thorough support that keeps them center stage. This is the balanced philosophy carried out by Rockwell Automation’s The Connected Enterprise as its seeks the simplest, most effective paths for taking data from plant devices and bringing it up through controls into information systems to help users make better decisions.

Not surprisingly, this was also the theme of new president and CEO Blake Moret’s keynote address at the Automation Perspectives press event on Nov. 8 before the fair opened. He described the growing role of communications in improving return on investment for industrial facilities, and how The Connected Enterprise delivers it. “Our 25th anniversary Automation Fair brings us back to Atlanta,” says Moret. “Our second Automation Fair was also in Atlanta. At the time, I was a young sales engineer in our Atlanta office. Among the clients I called on were Coca-Cola and Southwire, and I’m happy to say they’re still good customers. Rockwell Automation has a rock-solid legacy, and we’re taking it forward.”

Links help worldwide

Moret identified three major trends driving today’s competitive industrial environment. “First, the rise of the middle class in emerging economies means we must compete in their markets and with them for our business,” he explains. “Second, is the need for more people who can deal with technology—the skills gap. In the U.S. alone, there are hundreds of thousands of good manufacturing jobs going unfilled for lack of people with the right skills and talent for today’s environment, and this is true worldwide. Automation people are retiring, and struggling to replace themselves. Finally, of course, is globalization itself. We all compete against the very best in the world, all the time.”

[sidebar id =1]On the positive side, the decreasing cost of connectivity and components is driving productivity. “And the multiple networks we’ve been using for the field, control and the enterprise are collapsing and converging on Ethernet as the cost of a point falls,” says Moret, who adds that Rockwell Automation has a strategy to implement the needed links. “We call it The Connected Enterprise. You can use it to get to market faster, lower total cost of ownership, reduce unplanned downtime, and manage enterprise risk and compliance.”

An important enabler is the convergence of IT and operations technology (OT), taking the best from commercial technology and practices. “We offer this in service-level agreements where our value-add is expertise in the applications,” explains Moret. “IT provides the know-how to sift data, and we know where to look. And, we can do this on one network. We apply these concepts in our own facilities. They’re not as automation-intensive as many of our customers’ sites—we have lots of manual operations—but the benefits have been amazing and they come from the basics.”

Process Solutions User Group

For example, during its own “global process transformation” built on the roll-out of Rockwell Automation’s FactoryTalk ProductionCentre MES solution across 20 manufacturing facilities, it rationalized business processes and booked enviable improvements in plant performance, supply chain efficiency and customer service. Inventory dropped from 120 days to 82; on-time delivery improved from about 85% to 96%; and quality, as measured by defect rates, improved by 50%.


These results were also reported by John Genovesi, vice president and general manager of Rockwell Automation’s Information Solutions and Process business, during his opening address at the annual Process Solutions User Group (PSUG) meeting on Nov. 7. 

“We’re now in Phase 2,” says Genovesi. 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 discover new correlations through Pareto analysis. “Much of our focus now is on making our solutions easier to use, less expensive and easier to access,” Genovesi said.

Users benefit too

Besides its own gains with The Connected Enrerprise, Moret adds that Rockwell Automation has used connectivity to optimize uptime and productivity of customers’ well heads and to increase yields in mining. Faribault Foods uses it on a heat energy recovery system; ZMC Pharmaceuticals, for a paperless MES; and Ford, to add mobility and monitoring.

“We’re partnering with Microsoft and Cisco, and we’re making acquisitions, recently of ACP for security and Maverick for domain expertise in batch control,” adds Moret. “We have to have our own internal knowledge to help our customers, and to inform our own internal roadmap.”

One more important part of the Rockwell Automation connectivity strategy is filling the pipeline with people who can—and want to—do the work. Companies need to start even earlier to help develop industrial automation skills and capabilities. The company has long been a supporter of education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and during its 25th Automation Fair, “We’re taking that support to a new level with a four-year, $12 million gift to FIRST Robotics,” says Moret. “That’s a lot of money—the biggest gift they’ve ever received, and the biggest we’ve ever made.”

For all the daily coverage of Automation Fair 2016, visit