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Rockwell Aims to Plug MES Gap

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The Milwaukee-based automation vendor lays out its plan to integrate the space between plant control and enterprise systems.

Rockwell Automation Inc., the Milwaukee-based automation controls supplier, has unveiled an aggressive plan to develop and deliver an integrated software architecture to bridge the gap between the plant control and business layers of the manufacturing enterprise. It’s a challenge, says Kevin Roach, vice president of Rockwell Software, that will require years to achieve at an investment of “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The Rockwell initiative targets the so-called “plant-wide information systems” that occupy the area between factory control systems and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems—a space that includes manufacturing execution systems (MES), quality systems, laboratory information management systems (LIMS) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems.

Fragmented

This application area today represents an $8.5 billion market that is growing at about 10 percent annually, says Roach. But it also remains a highly fragmented and loosely coupled application space, with hundreds of suppliers offering solutions, Roach points out. “The average manufacturer has more than 500 applications in the manufacturing environment.” The resulting inefficiencies produce high integration and engineering costs, and systems that are difficult to upgrade and maintain.

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Rockwell plans to bring order to this space with the development of Rockwell Software FactoryTalk—an integrated suite of highly scalable, modular and standards-based production performance applications. FactoryTalk will feature tight integration with Rockwell’s Logix control platform, while also providing extensive connectivity to third-party and legacy systems, the company says. This approach will produce faster time to market, lower integration costs and higher performance for manufacturing enterprise users, Roach says.

Craig Resnick, a research director at ARC Advisory Services Inc. (www.arcweb.com), in Dedham, Mass., believes the Rockwell initiative holds promise. “This announcement signals Rockwell Automation’s long-term commitment to the plant information space,” says Resnick. “It is well aligned with ARC’s manufacturing vision of an information rich environment for P2B (plant to business) interoperability to optimize manufacturing performance.”

Six disciplines

The FactoryTalk suite will run on Rockwell’s FactoryTalk service-oriented architecture (SOA), a common set of software services introduced earlier that facilitate data sharing among multiple automation software applications. FactoryTalk products will fall within six production disciplines—performance and visibility; production management; asset management; quality and compliance; data management; and design and configuration. The suite will be rolled out over time, with some products in Rockwell’s RS-X, Arena and Propack families being rebranded to the FactoryTalk name, says Roach.

“This is not a big bang or a completely new development, but an evolution of what we’ve been doing for years,” says Roach. However, he does not downplay the importance of the effort. “This is a significant challenge and opportunity to serve customers. We think that there are few—less than a handful—of companies in the world that can do this. We think we’re one of them, and we’re prepared to invest literally hundreds of millions of dollars to get it done.”

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