Rockwell Automation Inc., the Milwaukee-based controls and automation supplier, has long been known for its strength in discrete manufacturing. But in a recent wide-ranging interview with Automation World editors, Rockwell Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Keith Nosbusch stressed the importance of process automation, as well as safety and information integration to the growth of the company.
“Process is our best growth opportunity,” Nosbusch stated. “We are building domain expertise and expanding our portfolio. We can compete with DCS (distributed control system) suppliers, especially where there are multiple control disciplines within a facility. We have a full portfolio of products that can do plant-wide automation. We are even capable of oil and gas projects because of our intelligent drives solutions.”
The second of Nosbusch’s key points was safety. Rockwell’s recent acquisition ICS Triplex, the United Kingdom-based safety instrumented systems supplier, purchased last July, was heavily promoted at Automation Fair. Said Nosbusch, “People are surprised at our size in safety. Of course, we emphasize the importance of safety plus production. One of the major benefits of designing in safety is improved productivity.”
Given Rockwell’s two major acquisitions in 2007—ICS Triplex, followed by Austin, Texas-based Pavilion Technologies, a supplier of advanced process control, in October—Nosbusch was asked about potential future acquisitions. He responded that he has a team constantly evaluating acquisition prospects. As to how large an acquisition he would consider, he stated, “We can go as high as $2 billion for an acquisition, but really, size is not important. What is important is how it fits with the company and how it integrates. We’re looking to expand our capabilities and domain expertise. But we can be successful even if we make no further acquisitions.”
Some experts have maintained that a company cannot be both a hardware and software company successfully, for the most part due to differing financial and development models. Nosbusch responded that Rockwell has been working on a changing approach since its acquisitions of the mid-1990s. “The situation is that we’re not just a hardware or software company,” he added. “We have integrated software into the fabric of the company’s products. It’s not an either/or situation because we have moved away from a pure commodity sale to a hardware/software solution.” Regarding how Rockwell is approaching the manufacturing execution system (MES) software business that does not fit neatly within its distribution model, Nosbusch said the key was to build on solution providers who see the enterprise picture of customers.
Another area where the company’s traditionally strong distribution channel might not be a perfect fit is process automation. Nosbusch acknowledged that some of its distributors may not be strong on the process side, but also pointed out that some are getting into the instrumentation side of the business through Rockwell’s partner Endress + Hauser. Also, because some customers are looking for a complete solution rather than just component parts, the company will use either systems integrators or its own services division.
The last key technological area for Rockwell is networking, and to this Nosbusch pointed to the partnership with Cisco Systems Inc., San Jose, Calif., which has produced a reference architecture and a co-branded line of Ethernet switches.
Rockwell Automation Inc.