The Journey of the Connected Enterprise

Nov. 18, 2015
It’s not enough to get the data out of your connected systems. You have to know what to do with that information, and your company will likely face a culture shift as it makes its way along the path of continuous improvement.

Much the same as the discussion has gone with the Internet of Things (IoT), talk around Rockwell Automation’s Connected Enterprise is migrating from concept to actual implementation and realization.

“Driving digital operations is becoming a business imperative,” said John Genovesi, vice president of Rockwell’s information software and process business, keynoting the Process Solutions User Group at the Automation Fair this week in Chicago. The customer value, he said, comes in the form of faster time to market, lower total cost of ownership, improved asset utilization, and enterprise risk management.

The core strategies around the Connected Enterprise are integrated architecture and software, intelligent motor control, and solutions and services (a key aspect of this being partnerships with other companies that can help make the concepts a reality). But the routes that companies actually take to get there are going to vary.

After all, manufacturers are looking for different results from their efforts. Keith Nosbusch, Rockwell’s chairman and CEO, gave a few examples during his presentation of the Connected Enterprise to industry media at the Automation Fair.

For Pepsico, concerned about a lack of plant support and the high cost of maintaining its server infrastructure, the Connected Enterprise meant an elimination of capex and 90 percent reduction in troubleshooting time, Nosbusch explained. Ford was able to create a unified vehicle build and tracking system that connected its plants around the world, better managing production in real time. Beingmate, a leading baby food manufacturer in China, was able to increase productivity and lower labor costs while improving its batch record compliance.

Manufacturers are also at different points in their journeys. “The operative word is journey, and it’s continuous improvement, quite frankly,” Nosbusch said during a panel discussion with Rockwell and its customers.

General Mills, more than 20 years into its journey, certainly seems to have a good handle on the Connected Enterprise, collecting more than 700 billion data points across the global enterprise. But it’s not as if General Mills had a vision of where it would be today, and just went straight there, said Jim Wetzel, the company’s technical director. “Did we have this strategy in 1993? Absolutely not,” he said. “When we started out, there was just the need to be connected. We started at the PLC level. We said let’s just buy every PLC with Ethernet capability, and we started connecting stuff.”

Along the way, General Mills and other industry leaders realized they couldn’t go it alone, and in 2009 got together to form the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC). “No single vendor can solve this problem, so we have to collaborate and work together,” said Wetzel, who is also chairman of SMLC. “We’re trying to figure out how we can have open collaborative systems.”

Mullins Food Products, making custom private-label sauces, is not operating at anywhere near the scale that General Mills is at, and is only three years into its journey. The company had a vision and thought they knew where they needed to get. “Going into this journey, we knew where our weaknesses were, and that’s where we started this process,” said Art Clausen, CFO for Mullins. “We found there were a few other things we didn’t know. There was a whole world we didn’t know.” Clausen envisions a long journey for his company.

Billy, don’t be a hero

Part of the journey for any manufacturer will likely involve a culture shift. Although getting the information from your connected systems is vital, of course, what you do with that information has a lot to do with the employee mindset.

It has to do with “how you utilize this information in a way that’s productive but also digestible,” Clausen said. “It is a long-term journey. You can’t switch gears on 10, 20, 30 years of culture overnight.”

Wetzel agreed, noting how important direction from leaders is in making the Connected Enterprise work. “This is about leadership,” he said. “Yes, there’s a technology component, and yes, there needs to be one version of the truth. But if nobody’s looking at that…you will have invested a lot with no return.”

The leadership at General Mills had to lead the way from opinion-based decision-making to fact-based, deciding to work “at the speed of business,” he said. “It has had a huge impact. Leadership and culture are just as important as any technology.”

Part of that culture shift is getting around the hero mentality, where certain workers are apt to save the day when things go wrong. It’s a pattern that Rockwell itself had to get around in its own manufacturing business, Nosbusch noted.

“We had lots of heroes because we had a lot of voids in our system that they had to fill in,” he said. “But when you put in a very rigorous, process-driven system, people’s jobs change. And what they had to know changed.”

Those heroes might find such a shift difficult. “Some people in the organization are extraordinarily valuable because of what they can fix,” Clausen said. “But how much value do they have if it doesn’t break? They now have to reinvent themselves. That is a major, major hurdle that we have.”

The shift does create opportunities for people, though, said Lance Whitacre, vice president and CIO for window and door manufacturer Andersen. “He can move from a person who’s been a hero to somebody who’s more of an analytical skills guy,” he said. “People have to reinvent themselves. We have to reinvent ourselves.”

But the drive to make the culture shift—to take advantage of the technologies and the information that are derived from a Connected Enterprise—has a big impact on manufacturers that embrace it.

“We spend less time tasking and more time problem solving. I think that’s the key to leveraging the technology,” Whitacre said, pointing to a business that has demanded change. “The window and door industry, from peak to trough, saw a 60 percent reduction in overall demand. We’ve seen a migration to more made-to-order, highly configured products. It puts a lot of pressure on our supply chain, on our operators, on the entire organization.”

Mullen uses a lot of bulk liquid materials, with tank farms to accommodate that, Clausen explained. “We were making adjustments on a daily basis—thousands of gallons of adjustments,” he said. “Now we can get real-time views of what’s happening with that inventory.”

But the journey’s far from over. “Three years into our journey, we are now focusing more on the leadership and the cultural issues to maximize what we already have before taking it on to the next step,” Clausen said. “But there are many, many next steps.”

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