Simple Ways to Dig into the Data

Rockwell Automation TechED served as a showcase for technologies that will ease manufacturers into the Connected Enterprise, including thin clients, analytic appliances and collaborative smart nodes.

Rockwell Automation has touted its “Connected Enterprise” concept for some time. Just a few years ago the focus was connecting plant floor data to the enterprise and applying business analytics. Last year, the vision was on connecting silos of information to extract value from the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). This year, it’s all about delivering context to people and analytics to edge devices.

Rockwell Automation TechED kicked off this week in Orlando, Fla., with a presentation by company executives outlining the big picture trends—such as the convergence of IT and OT, the skills gap and a growing middle class in emerging markets—and how all of this impacts the digital enterprise.

“We talk a lot about the technology being applicable horizontally across a wide variety of industries, but remember, everyone starts at a different place,” said Blake Moret, President and CEO of Rockwell Automation. “You don’t bring the connected enterprise to life unless you describe and deliver value in the specific language of the customer.”

Given the complexity of every manufacturer’s operation, which often sits on top of legacy control equipment, Rockwell is delivering new ways to simplify the access to data—and to speak their unique language. “It starts with basic smart products at level 0 and 1 where data is created as a natural byproduct of the control process, and turning it into useful information,” Moret said.

But it doesn’t stop there because the ability to collect and analyze data must be scalable to reach all levels of the architecture. To that end, Rockwell has created an IIoT infrastructure over the last few years, and now it is working on a scalable information platform on top of that.

Specifically, Rockwell highlighted several new offerings, starting with FactoryTalk Analytics for Devices, an appliance that hooks up to existing control systems to find out how healthy the devices on the network are without disrupting performance. Plant floor teams then gain access to specific calls-to-action, instant device displays and an advanced machine-learning-based chat bot, which are all available from within the appliance.

The appliance learns what is important to users by continuously analyzing the devices on the network and delivering recommendations to help maintenance and engineering teams prevent unplanned downtime and repair systems more quickly.

“If a device is important to me I can swipe right and [it] sees that its important, or swipe left if it’s not important,” explained Ted Hill, Rockwell’s director of software product management. “If I swipe left enough it will stop sending me action reports.”

The built-in chat bot, called Shelby, is there to fetch information, much like an intelligent assistant. Built on the Microsoft bot framework and cognitive services, it will get smarter over time, Hill said.

In addition, a new edition of the FactoryTalk TeamONE app is focused on reducing mean time to repair (MTTR). TeamONE turns your phone into a smart node that requires no server or device-to-cloud gateway to enable collaboration between team members. The new release, dubbed the “Standard Edition,” adds an alarm module, enabling teams to collaborate with live alarm details. This gives users the ability to easily view all active alarms. They can also view, share and post new details, delivering better team collaboration by adding context with alarm information. Alarms requiring immediate action can be shared with specific team members or posted to the entire team for group management and resolution.

And, while there are many other technologies on display this week in Orlando, one other product worth noting is Rockwell’s ThinManager, technology the company acquired last year when it bought Automation Control Products (ACP).

ThinManager centralizes the management and visualization of content and streamlines workflows while allowing users to reduce hardware operation and maintenance costs. As a thin client with information centralized and managed at the server, content becomes an information layer that delivers only what the operator needs to see. For example, an engineer on a service call will log into any terminal on the plant floor and the work instructions that are tied to his role and the job are served up without having to launch different applications.

“It is the ability to deliver content running on the server and making it available based on the location or user credentials,” said Chirayu Shah, Rockwell’s marketing manager for HMI and Information Software.

The reference to “location” is important as ThinManager uses proprietary technology called Relevance that adds a layer of security not available on a traditional mobile HMI device. An HMI will stay open until the session expires, Shah explained, but Relevance uses geofencing technology that will only allow the user to look at the app that is specific to that part of the room. “It is controlling what you see based on the location,” Shah said.

Rockwell representatives were showing all of these applications in live and in action on stage to demonstrate these technologies are ready. “All a company needs now is a plan to take the next steps to bring the connected enterprise to life,” said Moret.

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