Rockwell Automation held its ROKLive 2022 conference in partnership with Plex Systems June 13-16 in Orlando, Fla. Plex, a provider of a cloud-native, software-as-a-service (SaaS) smart manufacturing platform, was acquired by Rockwell in 2021 to boost the company’s capabilities around industry’s digital transformation. This event marked the first time the two companies have exhibited their products together.
At the event’s opening keynote address, Brian Shepherd, senior vice president for software and control at Rockwell, discussed how Plex fits into Rockwell’s overall portfolio. According to Shepherd, five core competencies offered by Plex have already been integrated into Rockwell’s Connected Enterprise production system, including Plex’s cloud-based business systems; contextualized machine and operational data; visualization and analytics; production system design; and automation and control features. Moving forward, Plex will be focused on expanding its capabilities in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Rockwell’s FactoryTalk Optix, a cloud-enabled HMI visualization platform that will be added to the FactoryTalk Hub suite by the end of the year, was highlighted by Simone Mori, business development manager at Rockwell Automation. The software allows end users to design and test human-machine interface workflows from a web browser. FactoryTalk Optix enables such modifications to be made from anywhere, and version management modules track and identify the author of all changes. It allows for changes to be made from anywhere without being tied to specific HMI hardware. Use of OPC UA in FactoryTalk Optix allows for machine-to-machine and machine-to-cloud communication. All of this is done using templates—collections of graphical objects that feature animations and user interactions. According to Mori, this eases the barrier to entry for application design and speeds deployment. This software has specific benefits for OEMs as it allows then to share designs via remote access with customers before deployment.
FactoryTalk Optix will be formally introduced to the market at Rockwell’s Automation Fair 2022 in November.
Advances in digital twin technology were shared by Jerry Foster, chief technology officer and founder of Plex Systems. Foster provided a brief overview of Rockwell’s Emulate3D, which is built on the Unity video game engine. According to Foster, the high degree of realism provided by Unity allows for sophisticated digital twins to be built that allow companies to more easily design machines, configure plant floors, and even train employees before any physical equipment is put in place.
Software as a service
Amid increasing industry interest around software-as-a-service (SaaS), a panel discussion emphasized the primary benefits of SaaS, particularly how its capabilities and security functions are always updated by the provider, thereby removing that responsibility from the user. This means end users can avoid labor-intensive processes such as patch management and software version control, allowing them to focus on production matters.
Considering the numerous questions manufacturers have about how to best implement cybersecurity measures to protect their operations, Brian Deken, North American commercial manager for networks and security services at Rockwell, recommended that end users secure their IT and OT networks using widely accepted standards such as IEC 62443 and the NIST Cybersecurity framework. Deken noted that it’s also important for end users to develop a plan that is custom-tailored to their organization, beyond standards-based starting points. To that end, he stressed three primary steps:
- Use asset inventory technologies, such as FactoryTalk AssetCentre, to identify equipment and systems that are critical to protect.
- Deploy real-time threat detection services for incident handling and response; and
- Implement thorough backup and recovery processes to enable recovery from any incursions.