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Developing your own path to a Connected Enterprise

Author : Paige West is Editor for Design, Products & Applications

05 May 2017

For those looking to bring Industry 4.0 to life, Rockwell Automation’s ‘Connected Enterprise’ journey will highlight how to make the most out of technologies and solutions to create flexible, efficient, responsive and secure operations.

Rockwell Automation’s Connected Enterprise journey

Rockwell Automation identified improvements that could be made to its global manufacturing footprint whilst operating with speed, quality and consistency. It created a goal of realising the Connected Enterprise in its own organisation. 

The Rockwell Automation journey

As an evolution of its commitment to capturing data to make better decisions, back in 2008 Rockwell Automation implemented a strategy leveraging its integrated control and information portfolio to accelerate the business value. The company wanted to have one standardised production strategy across the globe. 

It implemented systems based on its own information technology products in its plants which enabled it to centralise its production strategy, be more efficient and competitive by implementing standard production systems across the globe to gain consistent processes for quality control, purchasing and manufacturing engineering despite location.

This means systems can be monitored in real-time to enable the company to make smarter and faster decisions. All data is distributed across Rockwell Automation’s 20 global plants, allowing them to share knowledge and solve problems as a connected unit. 

Having this global visibility of data has allowed Rockwell Automation to reduce its inventory across the corporation from 120 days to 82 and reduce capital expenditure by over 30 percent. 

Rockwell Automation implemented the Connected Enterprise approach to manufacturing in nine sites across Asia, North America and Europe. At the end of 2016, Rockwell Automation rolled out this approach across 95 percent of its manufacturing facilities.

Customer benefits 

Rockwell Automation understand what it takes to achieve a Connected Enterprise, because it’s lived through the experience. It’s taken its findings and implemented them into its products and services. This makes Rockwell Automation ideally placed to help businesses overcome challenges and outline a starting process.

Rockwell Automation’s progression required commitment from all levels of the company, strategic investment and collaboration with numerous stakeholders. Based on that experience, Rockwell Automation can work closer with its customers throughout all stages of the journey.

How can businesses achieve the same?

The challenge most companies face when looking at implementing a Connected Enterprise solution is, where do they start and to what level do they need to connect what’s happening on the plant floor (OT) to the information technology (IT) part of the business. The answer will depend on the individual need of the company.  

Mike Loughran, Rockwell Automation’s Chief Technology Officer in the UK, offers four simple steps to achieving your own Connected Enterprise journey. 

Stage 1: Automation assessment 

Connected Enterprise maturity model

The first step on the path to the Connected Enterprise is to look at your automation. Do you have it? If you don’t have it, is there anything you can do to improve your productivity by automating certain parts of your processes?

This assessment stage is designed to evaluate all facets of your existing infrastructure. One of the challenges is to understand how to best manage the transition to a more intelligent network without disrupting operations and causing downtime. 

There are still Rockwell customers and other companies within industry who have yet to complete this first stage and remember, no two companies are the same and each will define the level of risk they are willing to take.

Stage 2: Networking 

The next set of questions to ask is, have you connected your production? Can you download data from each island of automation and analyse that? 

During this stage, companies can start to build or evolve an IT/OT network that will deliver secure connectivity from plant-floor operations to enterprise business systems. As companies move through this stage, a more secure network will emerge, providing accessible data for analysis. Whether that be for predictive maintenance, quality checks or overall equipment effectiveness, this can then be feed back to the relevant people.

Stage 3: Machine learning

At this stage, not only can you achieve analysis of known data, but now the data is making decisions and recommendations on your behalf. For example, based on the current running of a machine, data can advise a maintenance check within the next eight days or so to prevent any unplanned downtime. 

An effective IT/OT network incorporates data from OT devices across the enterprise to deliver performance-critical information, such as costs and downtime, which can be used for real-time decision making. 

Stage 4: Taking action using analytics 

During Stage 4, the focus shifts from hardware, devices, software and networks to continuous improvement. Your system can not only make suggestions but implement them. At this point, very little human input is needed as the intelligent network can now raise issues and opportunities in real-time. 

Now you can start to tie up your automation to the supply chain. 

Rockwell Automation feels it’s one of the few companies that talks openly about the meaning of Industry 4.0. Achieving a Connected Enterprise or Industry 4.0 solution, by following the above mentioned steps, involves driving decisions and actions that bring together three key areas; People, Process and Technology. The connection of people and processes via technology is what allows companies to be so successful. Yet, so many companies are still talking just about products. What most companies fail to see is, it’s not all about buying new technology or implementing new systems. It’s about leveraging what you already have.

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