Better decision-making. Faster time to market. Lower total cost of ownership. Improved asset utilization. More effective risk management.
Those are among the benefits deriving from a broad vision of enterprise information – connecting the plant floor with enterprise systems in a seamless and secure fashion utilizing new technologies such as mobile devices, the cloud, and big data. But first, industrial firms must deal with the twin challenges posed by these technologies, namely, the disruptive nature and security risks associated with them.
“These new technologies are going to change how we do industrial automation, but we have to be sure they are robust enough to use in industrial applications,” Rockwell Automation senior vice president and chief technology officer Sujeet Chand said in Monday morning’s keynote address with Frank Kulaszewicz, senior vice president for Architecture and Software at Rockwell Automation. “We believe 2013 is an inflection point for convergence of manufacturing and enterprise information,” added Chand.
The convergence of technologies including the Internet and Ethernet, along with interoperability standards such as XML, is having an impact on the enterprise, allowing the reliable and secure meshing of systems in the factory with the office. “Companies are looking for benefits, for outcomes that make these technologies worthwhile investments,” Chand added in a post-keynote interview. “The goal is to make it easy to deploy the connected enterprise. Companies may not want to put their manufacturing plant information on the corporate intranet. We have a secure architecture that we provide our customers to make these connections.”
Chand outlined the major trends in technology that are driving changes in the way business and industry operate, including the cloud, mobility, and big data. “For example,” the company CTO pointed out, “the cloud and remote monitoring are well-suited to work together. Commercial technologies are in place now to provide significant value.”
As an example, Hilcorp Energy Co., which operates an oil drilling rig off Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, is using the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud platform to monitor information provided by its network of medium-voltage drives to predict potential failure of these units in the field. The company had upgraded to electrical pumps, and wanted to ensure that when a piece of equipment had a problem, they would be able to quickly identify and fix the problem to get back on line. According to a company technician, when a well tripped offline, a Rockwell Automation virtual support engineer identified the problem immediately, enabling the company to fix it in 15 minutes, versus what normally would take six hours.
Another company leveraging the power of the connected enterprise is MG Bryan, a manufacturer of heavy equipment and machinery for the oil and gas industry. The company is using cloud computing for remote asset management of high-tech fracturing equipment. Designed and integrated by Rockwell Automation, the new control and information system uses the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud to provide real-time information, automated alerts, and parts ordering.
“MG Bryan wanted to do remote monitoring of its fracking trucks, which often run in remote locations where there are no IT servers or internet connectivity,” Chand explained. “We built a gateway into the cloud using cellular or satellite connections to enable the company to analyze their in-field service information, such as when their air filters or other parts needed replacement and when those parts should be ordered to maximize their uptime,” he added. “For MG Bryan, the cloud offers a highly scalable, cost-efficient method for storing and remotely accessing real-time information that will help extend equipment lifecycles and optimize productivity.”
The Rockwell Automation vision of the connected enterprise offers benefits to industrial firms interested in sustainability, as well. According to one estimate, global energy consumption is expected to climb 50 percent by 2035. On the plant floor, an estimated 50 percent of the energy consumed is by electric motors.
“By utilizing the capabilities of the connected enterprise, industrial companies can use variable speed drives to save on energy usage,” Kulaszewicz added. “We are going to see a lot more real-time monitoring of devices to make decisions on consumption.” With the goal of energy savings in mind, Rockwell Automation helps companies design, monitor, and control their energy usage.
Of course, a primary benefit of this broader vision of the connected enterprise is to enable more immediate access to information, which leads to better decision-making for employees at all levels. “Many chief information officers recognize that better business analytics are critical to improving operations on the plant floor,” Kulaszewicz told the RSTechED record audience of about 2,000 attendees, including customers, distributors, and partners. “Our goal at Rockwell Automation is to provide production optimization.”