Rockwell Automation leads through people, partnerships

By Mike Bacidore

Nov 13, 2018

The convergence of IT and OT has never been more evident than in Philadelphia this week, where Rockwell Automation Chairman and CEO Blake Moret defined and affirmed the $7 billion industrial automation giant’s leadership role in the sector, then tagged in Jim Heppelmann, president and CEO of industrial software maker PTC, to explain its role in a strategic partnership that included a $1 billion equity investment from Rockwell Automation over the summer.

“We’ve been around for 115 years,” said Moret. “We automate manual repetitive processes. We help industrial companies and their people to be more productive.” This can include faster time to market, operational productivity, asset management and reliability and enterprise risk management.

“If you make pharmaceuticals, for example, you want to make sure you’re compliant with regulations,” explained Moret. “We also help to ensure the world has abundant energy and make sure the people involved in production processes are safe, and can operate equipment remotely.”

Moret also noted the lower cost of computing and connectivity, the strong industrial economy we’re experiencing, and aging equipment as significant opportunities for industrial companies.

“The growth of the middle class is driving the demand to be able to produce competitively,” he said. “At the same time, and as a headwind, much of the workforce is moving into the retirement phase of their lives. We are in a traditionally conservative industry. When people figure out how to meet production goals, they generally don’t touch it. But being able to act more rapidly and the influence of IT technology are causing our industry to pick up the pace.”

Data into insights

“But now is an exciting time,” Moret said. “Technology is allowing companies to take data and turn it into insights that can unlock another level of opportunity.”

The Connected Enterprise is in fact at the center of the investment Rockwell Automation made in PTC. The partnership is allowing Rockwell Automation to create a family of brands that begins with Allen-Bradley hardware but now expands much further into the IT space. The FactoryTalk brand USE, "Rockwell Software has been rebranded as FactoryTalk and now includes..." Rockwell Software, and now includes DesignSuite, OperationSuite, MaintenanceSuite and InnovationSuite, the last of which is “powered by PTC” software.

“We’re looking forward to 2019, and are looking at double-digit growth and continued inorganic investments in partnerships,” Moret said. “We don’t do it all, but we’re able to harness the expertise and market access of our partners.”

It all comes back to the people. The need for change management is real, added Moret. “It’s both in the acquisition of technology and the recognition of human challenges. When we combine the strengths of both, anything is possible. When we do this well, we can expand human possibility. We can make enterprises more connected.”

OT and IT synergies

The strategic partnership between Rockwell Automation and PTC makes perfect sense, explained Jim Heppelmann, president and CEO of PTC. “Rockwell represents 35,000 companies, and PTC, 30,000,” he said. “The customers are excited because together we can unlock so much value. It’s a moment of a lot of energy and excitement. And in an industry full of meaningless partnerships, this one means a lot.”

PTC brings the IT domain and tech expertise for applications such as CAD, PLM, augmented reality, connectivity and IoT. “We’re an IT company being sucked into the world of OT,” explained Heppelmann. “Rockwell is a company with long history of automation, but it was being pulled into the world of IT and software. Together, we can now produce FactoryTalk InnovationSuite, and there’s nothing like it in the industry.”

According to an IDC published report, $1 trillion will be spent on digital transformation, of which 30% will be spent in discrete and process manufacturing, said Heppelmann. “If you’re going to spend $300 billion, you must be shooting for something big,” he explained. “Digital transformation means using digital technologies to transform an industrial company into a better industrial company. An industrial enterprise becomes a connected enterprise.”

The impact is felt on people, processes and products. “You can produce very different products,” explained Heppelmann. Generative design driven by artificial intelligence can lead to designs that humans wouldn’t have thought of. And then processes change as the software content of products increases.

Heppelmann referenced John Deere, PTC’s first customer more than three decades ago, which saw software creep more and more into its products. “Wouldn’t it be great if all the products on a farm could talk to each other?” he asked. “How could we implement a system of systems? There are smart farms, smart cities, smart factories and smart plants. We can gather data from subsystems and make them work more efficiently through monitoring, control, optimization and autonomy.”

The benefits of digitalization are easy enough to see in products and processes, but what about people? “People are heavily underserved by digital technology,” said Heppelmann.

He cited Boeing, which is spending $100 million on worker training because of retiring workers. “IT has not served humans well,” explained Heppelmann. “All the workers work in an office or they work out in the field. Their work is simple and routine, or maybe it’s complex and variable.”

For those field workers doing complex tasks, Heppelmann suggested that augmented reality (AR) can bring technology into the field of view. “AR is about taking data and making it part of the scenery,” he explained. “AR allows humans to see digital data. An overlay of real-world or hypothetical digital information can enhance the user’s view of the physical world.”

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