Rockwell Automation Ramps Up Its Process Offering

Nov. 2, 2010
Process Manufacturers Need Plant-wide Approaches to Automation and Optimization

"Smart, safe and sustainable" is Rockwell Automation's vision of what manufacturing in the 21st century should be, and presenters and panel members at today's Manufacturing Perspectives media event at this week's Automation Fair outlined the many facets of that vision for process manufacturers.

This three-fold mantra is a response to the rapidly changing manufacturing environment and its many challenges: volatile and mostly rising energy prices; the obsolescence of much manufacturing infrastructure and the power grid; the loss of the knowledge base of retiring workers; the need to minimize waste and downtime; and environmental and safety regulatory compliance, to name a few.

Responding to these demands requires plant-wide approaches to automation and optimization, according to Steve Eisenbrown, Rockwell Automation's senior vice president, architecture and software—not just optimization of a single process, but the entire manufacturing operation, all the way out to the supply chain.

"The way to achieve smart manufacturing is through an agile supply chain, plant-wide automation and sustainable production." Rockwell's Steve Eisenbrown described the company's increasingly robust solution set for the needs of process manufacturers.

"The way to achieve smart manufacturing is through an agile supply chain, plant-wide automation and sustainable production," he said. "It's a merging of operations and engineering objectives to improve costs and customer responsiveness."

Rockwell Automation's approach to this smart plant is its PlantPAx process automation system, an integrated control and information solution that helps manufacturers achieve plant-wide optimization in a wide range of industries. It is a unified platform for both process and discrete operations where visibility into plant operations, asset health and utilization, safety, communications and IT are all integrated, Eisenbrown said.

In a panel discussion about plant-wide optimization using PlantPAx, Larry O'Brien, research director of the ARC Advisory Group, put his finger on the challenge of plant-wide optimization and the trend represented by it: "There are still too many islands of information in the plant that need to be bridged. We're seeing a blurring of real-time and transactional operations. When you can see all the information, you can make sound judgments."

Another panel member, Dwayne Robbins, engineering manager for Weyerhaeuser, brought the benefits of smart manufacturing to life. Weyerhaeuser tied control of the turbines at its cellulose plant into the plant-wide IT system to track the company's use of electricity. The real-time information gained now allows it not only to save power, but to explore the possibilities for generating extra power to sell.

Eisenbrown underlined other savings possible with plant-wide automation. Fonterra of New Zealand is one of the largest producers of milk products in the world, processing 13 billion liters of milk every year. It came to Rockwell Automation to help it improve quality and yield across its entire operation. Using PlantPAx, it increased production rates by 5-15% and quality by 50%. It also increased efficiency by 5-12% and reduced variability on its key control variables. Fonterra got more than a 60% ROI in the first year of its implementation.

That's a smart plant, and a sustainable one, too, in that it conserves energy and reduces waste. What about safety? There, too, events have conspired to put safety on the top of many process manufacturing CEOs' to-do lists. The latest release of PlantPAx steps in to help with safety shut-down capability Rockwell Automation acquired with the purchase of ICS Triplex. That company's industry-standard triple-modular redundant (TMR) capabilities are now an integral part of the PlantPAx platform.

"People put off safety during a recession," O'Brien said. "But a lot of safety system infrastructure is becoming obsolete." And even the companies with the best safety records need to pay attention.

Weyerhaeuser has an enviable safety reputation, with a near-zero incident record. The company had gone two years without an incident when in June 2009 a million-gallon storage tank exploded, launching its solid steel construction 35 feet into the air. Fortunately no one was injured, but "what that brought home to us was the difference in personnel safety vs. process safety," Robbins said. "We took a step back and recognized that process safety is different from personnel safety. We're doing a complete review of all our systems now."

PlantPAx 2.0, which will be available in the first quarter of 2011, brings even more functionality and power to companies wanting smart, safe and sustainable operations. It offers improvements in plant high-availability, device integration and asset management, batch and sequencing control, and operations productivity.