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The path to the Connected Enterprise

05 December 2016

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has been a buzzword for some time, but how far has the industry come towards reaping its benefits and how far does it have left to go?

I spoke with Thomas Donato, EMEA President of Rockwell Automation, to learn about Rockwell’s ‘Connected Enterprise’ strategy for the IIoT, and how the company is helping its customers achieve a future-proof implementation. 

Information is the basis of the IIoT. That information helps companies make better decisions and increase productivity. Rockwell Automation’s Connected Enterprise is intended to help companies harness their information through data analytics & remote monitoring. 

To test how powerful the Connected Enterprise can be, Rockwell Automation implemented it into its own systems across multiple manufacturing sites around the world. As a result, the company has gained over five percent productivity every year, giving it the opportunity to re-invest in the business. The company’s own Connected Enterprise implementation has taken ten years and there is still a long way to go; it believes it can do much more to improve its plants. 

A true Connected Enterprise solution is not just about Rockwell Automation providing connectivity for its customers, but connecting its business to a wider network offered by other companies. No company is big enough, or has enough expertise in every one of the IIoT’s many technologies to offer a single source solution. With that in mind, Rockwell Automation formed a strategic alliance with partners to enable the company to offer a complete IIoT solution. Communications technology from Cisco, physical infrastructure from Panduit, and Microsoft’s software and Cloud technologies compliment Rockwell Automation’s experience in automation technologies. 

As an example, Microsoft has the infrastructure to support Rockwell Automation solutions on a high level. The two companies are partnering to create information solutions that bring together business and manufacturing intelligence. With most IIoT services demanding use of the Cloud, Microsoft’s Azure Cloud platform is a great offering to support this. 

Naturally, when you start to connect everything, cyber security vulnerabilities will increase. The Rockwell Automation and Cisco partnership bridges the technical and cultural gaps between the plant-floor and higher level information systems, which Rockwell Automation refer to as ‘joining the operational technology (OT) and information technology layers’. Cisco brings strong capabilities when it comes to multi-layer cyber security that allows Rockwell Automation to offer a sophisticated solution to its customers to make their systems as secure as possible. 

Panduit offers the products that help keep IIoT solutions physically safe and secure, while being robust enough to guarantee long term installations. They are also flexible enough to grow with the business.

Rockwell Automation innovation

In the future, the IIoT will mean that business models will change as new solutions and services are introduced. This will ultimately affect the way Rockwell Automation conducts its business. According to Donato, the company will continue to enhance its business services and solutions, which has already expanded to such an extent that around one third of the company’s global business revenue is now generated in that area. Though that’s not to say that Rockwell Automation will abandon its focus on automation - in 2016, the company released approximately 150-200 new products, brought about through customer demand. 

At the moment, Thomas Donato thinks one major consideration that is stopping many companies adopting more IIoT-ready technologies is security. Who gets access to what information, when and how is a common concern within the industry. And at a machine level, how can a drive know that it is connected to a genuine Rockwell PLC or vice versa? To attempt to solve this last problem, Rockwell Automation products are provided with embedded security for added reassurance.

Protecting machines from unauthorised or non-trained employees and even vandalism is a necessary security concern. Helping prevent these incidents is already intrinsically embedded within Rockwell Automation technology, software and solutions, which provide guidelines, recommendations and practical advice for reducing operational risk.

A recent Rockwell Automation innovation, FactoryTalk TeamONE (code-named Project Stanton), aims to assist mobility and introduce a greater level of visibility into automation systems. The project is centred around a new app platform, built in conjunction with Microsoft, which can be installed and used straight away on company or personal devices. There’s no need for a Wi-Fi connection as your phone acts as its own webserver. The app comes with a set of modules that allow colleagues to store and share device data, create incident reports and remotely keep connected to all aspects of a company on a global scale. Most importantly, the app contains a library of knowledge-based articles that users can search through for advice and resolutions for on-going issues.

Thomas Donato is EMEA President at Rockwell Automation

Project Stanton’s mission is to increase productivity by 33 seconds per hour. Although the figure doesn’t sound large, achieving that for a company of 2,000 people can increase productivity by approximately $1.4M/year. 

UK status 

As President of Europe, Middle East & Africa, Thomas is ideally situated to analyse the global penetration of IIoT and how, or even if, the UK differs. He notes that there is room in the UK for more automation. Whilst the UK has some sites that are among the best in the world, there are many others that are lacking. The UK is no different either way in this; industries in other countries are in exactly the same situation.

In the long term, it will be important for all countries to think about how they can make manufacturing attractive. This is especially true for UK industries looking for outside investment. Showing strong productivity credentials will be essential in aiding investment and the Government and educational institutions recognise that the UK’s productivity is significantly lower than other countries. However, the productivity leap that the UK is capable of, in comparison to other countries, is significant, and sector-wide investment in automation technology is the springboard. 

A good example of one company getting it right, Nissan in Sunderland relies heavily on robotics and other advanced machinery all maintained by a specialised engineering team. The plant also has its own advanced software package, written in-house, to manage the complex scheduling of orders, tracking and parts control. 

Brexit

When talking about UK industry, Brexit is the new reality, and it is a concern for many involved in UK manufacturing. In the short term, things have not changed and won’t change until Britain makes its final exit from the EU and negotiates new trade deals with relevant countries. While UK industry will need to be adaptive and resilient whatever comes of Brexit, in terms of international businesses with industrial interests in the UK, the effects post-Brexit are yet to be fully realised. On the one hand there are companies committed and supportive to the UK and on the other there are more reserved companies that will weigh all the options before making final decisions on whether to commit to the UK and make further investment in their infrastructure. Only in the long term we will find out for certain whether or not Brexit will have an effect on the adoption of IIoT solutions.

Summary

Information is becoming increasingly important. Data has always been available, but the ability to analyse it and use that analysis in a productive manner is becoming more appealing. Contextualising data gives manufacturers the ability to make better decisions and utilise assets in a smarter way. This allows the use of fewer resources to save energy and create less wastage.

The Industrial Internet of Things can create great opportunities for those taking advantage and great risks for those not preparing a strategic response. Rockwell Automation and its strategic alliance partners are in a prime position to assist companies to implement an IIoT solution. Having expertise across all areas of the integral technologies allows members of the alliance to help in any single area, or offer a completely Connected Enterprise. 


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