IW50 Profile: Rockwell Automation Inc. -- Rockwell Automation's 'Smart' Bet

IW50 Profile: Rockwell Automation Inc. -- Rockwell Automation's 'Smart' Bet

Company develops technologies that could help plants automate energy usage and cut costs.

Rockwell Automation Inc. wants to "make the factory a smart node on the 'smart grid,'" says Sujeet Chand, the company's chief technology officer. Chand was referring to Rockwell's involvement in the federal government's effort to update the nation's electrical grid.

Rockwell is one of several automation providers working on technologies and standards designed to make electricity distribution and usage more efficient and environmentally friendly. For the $5.7 billion Milwaukee-based company, this means tackling energy-consumption issues manufacturers face on the plant floor by integrating control devices with energy-sensing technology.

"We believe in the future energy should be managed along with controls, so when you program a machine, you should also be programming the energy states of the machine."
-- Sujeet Chand, chief technology officer, Rockwell Automation Inc.

"Today, to do energy management, there's a whole bunch of controllers and sensors that measure the amount of energy consumption, analyze the energy consumption and provide some feedback on where the energy is being consumed," explains Chand. "We believe in the future energy should be managed along with controls, so when you program a machine, you should also be programming the energy states of that machine."

The company is working to integrate energy management into its Logix platform, which combines multiple control functions into a single architecture, Chand says. Rockwell also is among the companies working with the National Institute for Standards and Technology to develop standards for smart-grid connectivity.

Rockwell Automation is working to integrate energy management capabilities into its Logix programmable automation controller, which is a single tool for all types of control systems.

Another growth area for Rockwell has been the company's offerings in the process industries, which the company entered about five years ago. In 2008, Rockwell introduced PlantPax, an integrated control solution that helps process manufacturers manage various automation tasks, including demand variability, batch variation and regulatory compliance. The company has increased its offerings in the oil and gas industry and considers this sector one of its fastest-growing areas, says Chand.

The company continues to invest and expand its technology offerings, even in the down economy, says Chand, who acknowledges the company has challenges ahead. "Right now the most uncertain aspect we're dealing with is reading the tea leaves on the global economy," he says. "We're hoping that, as we stated in the past, we have hit a bottom and are turning around."

Indeed, Rockwell looks to rebound from a sluggish first quarter in which earnings fell 35%. Net income for the period dropped to $76.6 million, or 53 cents a share, while revenue dropped 10% to $1.07 billion, the company said on Jan. 27. But as CEO Keith Nosbusch noted, Rockwell realized strong growth in Asia and the rate of revenue decline has moderated. At the time, Rockwell raised its 2010 earnings-per-share outlook to between $2 and $2.40, up from prior guidance of $1.25 to $1.75 per share.

Moving forward, Rockwell could become an attractive target for an acquisition. The company said it would not comment on rumors that General Electric was a possible suitor, but responded in a statement that the highest value for its shareholders "will be realized by Rockwell Automation remaining an independent company and executing our growth and performance strategy."

IndustryWeek selects the IW 50 Best Manufacturing companies each year based on a formula applied to the IW U.S. 500 list of the largest publicly held manufacturers in the country. View all IW 50 manufacturers and associated content. Interested in information related to this topic? Subscribe to our weekly Leadership Insights From The IW 50 eNewsletter.

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