Rockwell Automation recently held its 21st annual TechED conference in San Diego, California. With record attendance of about 2,300 people, the sold-out event included over 190 sessions with presentations from end users and OEMs, along with training and education. Most sessions focused on understanding the best opportunities for productivity, combining technology and domain expertise to deliver positive business outcomes.
The common denominator for Rockwell Automation continues to be “The Connected Enterprise” which – according to the company - integrates control and information in an open, secure and scalable environment, while leveraging the company’s application expertise with tools, such as FactoryTalk Analytics.
Improving Productivity Now and in the Future
Rockwell Automation Chairman and CEO Blake Moret, kicked off the event. Mr. Moret discussed the impact of technology and how this might change in the future. He discussed past expectations of automation, what flourished, what fizzled, and what was totally unexpected. He offered these insights amid the backdrop of pervasive computing and communications resources, a rapidly increasing middle class, the skills gap for advanced manufacturing, and heightened interest in sustainability.
Mr. Moret discussed trends and topics ranging from rapidly changing business models, the increasing interest in automation equipment as a service, the continuing growth of cloud computing, the importance of workforce development, more product customization, the growth of the sharing economy, and how adoption of new control and information technology in manufacturing is accelerating thanks to IT/OT convergence. According to Mr. Moret, this involves “Understanding the best opportunities for productivity, combining technology and domain expertise to deliver positive business outcomes, and simplifying, because simplification drives productivity.”
Mr. Moret also addressed manufacturing productivity, which has increased 120 percent in the US in the last 30 years due in part to the increasing interoperability of communications, networks, and software. Workplace safety has also improved. He pointed out that, while the adoption of new control and information technology in manufacturing had previously moved slower than in the business environment, IT/OT convergence is changing that.
The aging workforce and resulting skills gap are creating workforce implications for the factory of the future, a key topic for Mr. Moret. The world is likely to have too few highly skilled workers such as technicians, analytics specialists, and data scientists. Rockwell Automation is working internally and with its customers to help form partnerships between learning centers and manufacturers that emphasize lifelong learning and programs with outcomes-based instructions to address current needs.
Strategic Partnership with PTC Announced
A highlight of TechED was when Blake Moret and Jim Heppelmann, President and CEO of PTC, announced the definitive agreement for a strategic partnership, in which Rockwell Automation will make a $1 billion equity investment in PTC, and Mr. Moret, will join PTC’s board of directors. The partnership will include technical collaboration across the organizations as well as joint global go-to-market initiatives. PTC and Rockwell Automation have agreed to align their respective smart factory technologies and combine PTC’s ThingWorx IoT, Kepware industrial connectivity, and Vuforia augmented reality (AR) platforms with Rockwell AutomationFactoryTalk MES, FactoryTalk Analytics, and Industrial Automation platforms. The solutions business within Rockwell Automation will be a preferred delivery and implementation provider, supported by an ecosystem of partners that both companies have established. They explained that the combined technologies and expertise further converge the OT and IT worlds, creating an integrated information solution.
The Connected Enterprise and the Outcome Economy
Rockwell Automation Senior Vice President, Frank Kulaszewicz, spoke about The Connected Enterprise and new technologies that enable the “outcome economy,” in which makers of “things” will be looking at ways to attach measurable outcomes to their technology investments in both products and services. Mr. Kulaszewicz advised the audience to “set a goal and then add integrated control and information for a robust IIoT architecture.”
Mr. Kulaszewicz also discussed the company’s FactoryTalk Analytics, an open-architecture platform designed to be extended to a full ecosystem of IIoT data sources. This is important since end users and OEMs cannot be expected to rip and replace all their legacy control and information systems before gaining value from analytics. A range of systems including controllers, MES software, and edge devices can be connected to feed data into a connected enterprise. FactoryTalk Analytics has been developed to be scalable to help discover and connect data sources from the edge of the network up through the enterprise. It then uses intelligence to fuse the information to help resolve issues closer to the source. This can often speed resolution of production issues by picking the lowest level at which the needed data is readily available, typically at the edge or the device itself.
FactoryTalk Analytics has three primary components. Edge is where the assets are connected and the data from both IT and OT accessed and streamed. DataFlowML is where data is orchestrated, mashed, and staged leveraging machine learning. DataView leverages purpose-driven storyboards for driving outcomes in asset management and reliability, operational productivity, and enterprise risk.
Value-Adding Capabilities from Partner Ecosystem
The company’s partners played a key role at TechED. Industrial cybersecurity software provider, Claroty, presented its solutions that help end users detect previously unknown threats. Its solutions leverage its anomaly-detection software purpose-built for industrial network security. This creates an inventory of an end user’s industrial network assets, monitors traffic between those assets, and analyzes communications. The software can explore a deep level of industrial network protocols without adversely impacting the system. This enables end users to identify a range of anomalies while protecting complex and sensitive industrial networks.
Microsoft presented the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in manufacturing, how AI is extending to the edge, and the role of machine learning (ML) as a key component of AI. AI offers the perception of intelligence, encompasses a variety of techniques (including machine learning), provides autonomous perception to action, and is deployed in complex systems. According to Microsoft, ML is statistically based, uses algorithms with weighted values that are learned, have benefitted from many recent advancements, and is typically used in simpler systems. Examples of AI in manufacturing include optimizing production and supply chain operations, such as tracing inventory movements across the entire supply chain to surface anomalies, detecting fraud, and ensuring parts are in the right place. AI is used to help create custom work instructions and performance benchmarks for custom configurations, enable technicians and operators to naturally interact with digital assistants and filter out background noise in shop-floor environments, and combine cognitive capabilities with mechatronics to enable robots to perform intelligent tasks. Companies can use AI to perform remote monitoring and for predictive maintenance to enable automated actions that deliver greater uptime, deliver new types of consulting services based on product-as-a-service offerings, and create modified designs based on usage data to enable rapid iteration and experimentation.
To address challenges of unplanned downtime, Stratus Technologies demonstrated its new ztC Edge zero-touch, virtualized computing platform for industrial edge environments, where it can help bring near-real-time insight from data generated from assets and machines on the plant floor. ztC Edge, a self-protecting and self-monitoring system, is designed to help reduce unplanned downtime. ztC Edge offers built-in virtualization software, automated protection, and managed services to provide a computing platform for running business-critical industrial applications outside of the data center in environments that range from the plant floor to remote sites with limited or no IT resources. According to Stratus, it can manage up to three virtual machines, with each running different industrial or IIoT applications, such as analytics, HMI/SCADA, and historians. ztC Edge’s form factor and DIN rail mounts enables flexible deployment locations.
With IIoT and IT/OT convergence accelerating the demand for networking and infrastructure solutions, Panduit presented best practices strategies for deploying the physical layer. These are designed to help bridge the gap between the IT and control domains, typically leveraging Ethernet. The presentation was designed to help manufacturers understand the various cabling standards and environment considerations, MICE (Mechanical/Ingress/Chemical-Corrosion/Electromagnetic) environmental guidelines, the standards features and available choices for industrial infrastructure, and how to determine which components to use. Most IT/OT convergence projects involving Rockwell Automation on the OT side utilize Ethernet/IP, a subset of the Common Industrial Protocol (CIP) administered by ODVA (www.odva.org) built on unmodified IP standards. The ODVA physical layer specification, which defines layer 1 cabling and connectivity, calls for cabling types that address industrial environmental risks as described in TIA (Telecommunications Industry Association) and IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) standards. For example, for harsh industrial environments as characterized by MICE, TIA and IEC, industrial-grade cabling (rather than commercial-grade) is recommended. This is especially important for IT/OT convergence projects.
Real-world Examples of The Connected Enterprise
ARC always finds it helpful to attend the case study sessions at TechEd to see these real-world examples of how customers are deploying The Connected Enterprise and the initial results. Use cases varied from integration to control for a wide range of industries, including pharmaceuticals, medical devices, food, oil & gas, water & wastewater, smart cities, and power. Case studies included:
- Diamond Offshore Drilling’s implemented Rockwell Automation Asset Centre and Cisco’s Threat Detection services to detect and respond to security threats and expedite the recovery process
- Sonoco’s experience working with Stone Technology to integrate production data with Oracle using FactoryTalk Metrics to achieve zero process loss and cultural alignment
- Stratus Technologies discussed how Pfizer migrated to its fault-tolerant servers to simplify project-design deployment, lowering TCO
- Enerflex, an OEM skid builder, developed a plug-and-play skid for motor control centers with real-time visibility
- Kimball Electronics worked with Stone Technologies to implement FactoryTalk Historian software, adding alerts to help predict and prevent quality issues
- Amazon reduced order processing delays in its distribution center by embedding Rockwell Automation’s information-enabled architecture in new edge devices to improve ease of use and speed integration of new devices. Amazon is rolling out this new technology in new Amazon facilities in North America and Europe
- Cadila Healthcare implemented PharmSuite MES and FactoryTalk Historian for compliant paperless manufacturing
- Tae Technologies reduced downtime costs by implementing ControlLogix, Studio 5000 and FactoryTalk View SE for cutting-edge fusion power equipment
- Warner Robins Air Logistics Center improved airplane parts throughputs by more than 80 percent by managing recipes using FactoryTalkBatch, Historian, VantagePoint and ThinManager software
- The City of Lima, Ohio and its system integrator, Commerce Controls, Inc., performed DCS and PLC upgrades of a major wastewater treatment facility, incorporating PlantPAx, Logix PACs, ThinManager, and FactoryTalk VantagePoint and AssetCentre. The results included significantly decreased maintenance and overtime.
TechED provides Rockwell Automation with a great opportunity to communicate and demonstrate its vision of “The Connected Enterprise.” The company continues to educate its customers about where and how to embrace digital transformation and advanced analytics capabilities in their own applications to meet current and future challenges.
ARC believes that Rockwell Automation’s partnership with PTC will play a major role in the co-innovation development process for future new solutions and key functionalities. These will likely include enhanced solutions for execution, advanced analytics, and optimization. The company is now in an even better position to leverage its Integrated Architecture installed base to serve as the foundation infrastructure for new integrated information solutions.
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Keywords: Digital Transformation, The Connected Enterprise, Analytics, IT/OT Convergence, IIoT, AI, ML, Digital Twin, PTC, AR, VR, EtherNet/IP, Networks, ARC Advisory Group.