During his opening keynote presentation at ROKLive 2021, Rockwell Automation CEO Blake Moret explained the company’s mission of connecting customers’ imaginations with the possibilities of technology to deliver real business results.
Heady stuff, for sure.
Chirayu Shah, Rockwell’s director of cloud services, then briefly addressed the “explosion of new technology” that is enabling unprecedented innovation to handle the ever-complicating supply chain and a customer base that increasingly demands reliability, variety and new capabilities with digital solutions.
At the core of both of these introductions was insight—and demand—fueling progress, which led nicely into Andrew Ellis’ ROKLive presentation, titled “Insights Driving Innovation,” in which Rockwell Automation’s director of global information solution technical consultants explained the connection between insight and innovation and showed how digital technologies make it easier—for everyone—to access, understand and leverage critical information. That easier access is changing the manner in which we all can discover, create, make and sell products.
Ellis began by describing a recent partnership between Rockwell Automation and Microsoft with the goal of developing digital-transformation solutions to empower automation engineers by quickening the data-migration process. The joint project team focused on customer business outcomes achievable with Rockwell Automation’s connected-enterprise approach, encompassing all of the techniques and technologies at the heart of the ROKLive event.
Past experiences inform future possibilities
The director explained how this project used the production facility at Rockwell Automation’s Milwaukee, Wis., headquarters to demonstrate how deeper access to contextualized data enables quicker, sharper adaptations to obstacles. And in looking to develop future gains, the team decided to look backward; they determined they needed to first understand the benefits of digitalization and automation through history, referencing Theodore Roosevelt’s quote “The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future.”
They discovered that technology decisions and strategies that were made over the past few hundred years are actually quite similar to those at play today. “It’s all about where we invest time and capital to meet customer demands with the current infrastructure, people and processes,” said Ellis.
They looked to the Third Industrial Revolution to better understand converting raw materials into finished goods, how to make processes more efficient, how to constantly exceed customer expectations and provide solid return on investment. “The processes haven’t really changed,” he said. “But the technologies and systems have.”
What jumped out at the team was the ability for digital-powered innovation to quicken sluggish manufacturing processes. “The concept of ‘failing fast’ did not exist back then,” Ellis said. “The data, tools and methods to support that did not exist.”
They’re available now.
Software has replaced paper. Computer-aided design has replaced pencils and drafting boards. Computer-integrated manufacturing enables the smart scheduling of the production line and a greater ability to track operations. Process historians eliminate the need for manual data reporting. The digital twin is being used to not just predict outcomes, but also as a simulated physical asset to test new scenarios in a risk-free environment.
And as manufacturers adopt new technologies, Ellis beamed, new capabilities emerge. (That shouldn’t surprise anyone who has worked in industry for any length of time.) Adopting tech solves immediate problems while uncovering future optimizations. Data silos get merged. MES data is paired with historical time-series data. Digital twins feed into digital threads. Smart phones put unprecedented computing power in the palms of the working man and woman.
Ellis used augmented reality (AR) as a prime example, admitting to being unsure where this technology fit when it first emerged. Today he is a huge advocate for AR’s capabilities with complex assemblies or remote field workers or to quicken training on, say, the removal of parts from a line. The same goes for artificial intelligence and machine learning, which the presenter believes will drive consistent operations and boost productivity and quality in more ways than even those technologies’ cheerleaders believe.
Data access fueling innovation
Tools are great. But innovative solutions are demanded. “The fundamental premise behind all of this is access to data,” said Ellis. “That is the essential piece to the connected enterprise, which is fueling innovation.”
Innovation for Rockwell Automation, of course, but also for its global audience of customers. “Our message is that we are on the same path as many of our manufacturing customers. They can look to us to see how we are applying these concepts.”
Ellis again referenced Rockwell Automation’s Milwaukee controller production facility in which they are using our own technologies to manufacturer the tools that customers can use to optimize their individual efforts. “By implementing these approaches, we are seeing inventory reductions, reduced lead time and increased on-time deliveries,” Ellis said. “We are bringing to life the concept of the connected-enterprise production system, and we have just scratched the surface of our capabilities.”
Andrew Ellis’ full ROKLive presentation, entitled “Insights Driving Innovation,” remains available on demand through October 2021.