The blog reviews the Rockwell Automation Fair. The event focussed on Rockwell Automation' partnership with PTC, the launch of FactoryTalk...
We all know the old saying, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." Well, it looks like Rockwell Automation is about to prove that saying wrong. Rockwell Automation Fair, just like the company itself, continues to evolve and push forward while building on the success of 2022.
Automation Fair 2023 was slightly smaller than last year's event. Still, Rockwell reported 11,854 attendees, a major crowd for an industrial event in Boston, MA. Automation Fair's largest events are typically in Chicago, where more than 15,000 attendees participated last year.
A lot has happened in the world since last year’s Automation Fair in Chicago, and these changes were evident in most of the sessions and product introductions:
The wars in Ukraine and the Middle East have continued the international unrest and unstable supply and demand.
The Great Resignation is accelerating and spreading globally, making hiring, training, and retaining talent harder.
OpenAI released ChatGPT 3.5, 4, and recently 4 Turbo, changing many industrial tasks.
Ongoing disruptors, like COVID-19’s lingering effects and the continued chip shortage, are still causing uncertainty.
The event's official theme was "Discover What's Possible," and the underlying tone was about industrial domain expertise, software, and resiliency.
Focusing on the Future of Operations
As always, the CEO Blake Moret's keynote was relatable and talked first and foremost about practical outcomes that can be delivered to customers through sustainability, efficiency, quality, security, and workforce development.
The continued incremental gains the company has made in its portfolio through M&A, partnerships, and in-house development were also woven into this discussion.
Sometimes, it is hard to see significant gains year to year, but if you compare the portfolio now to just five years ago, it has made those gains; cloud-native, robotics, data platforms, and more have been added and integrated.
Moret emphasized Rockwell's holistic approach – how the company's core is built on rock-solid control and is improving production design, control, and logistics, in addition to its edge and cloud solutions.
Rockwell Automation CEO Blake Moret's Keynote
Industry domain expertise was at the core of Moret's message and the demonstrations we saw on the event floor. Rockwell has a broad ecosystem, and the emphasis is on how this ecosystem can create the future of industrial operations.
Judson Althoff, Microsoft's Chief Commercial Officer, joined Moret on stage for a fireside chat to discuss Rockwell Automation and Microsoft's collaboration on the Industrial Metaverse and Generative AI. Moret's message indicated that Rockwell is redefining the definition of the Industrial Metaverse with an increased focus on effectively simulating the real world to drive efficiency. Our observation is that the original Industrial Metaverse with leg-less avatars and collaboration rooms is disappearing into the background; now, the tech vendors just need to realize this. Several of LNS Research's manufacturing members have shared struggles and even safety issues related to using Augmented Reality on the plant floor.
The automation industry must continue to challenge itself to enhance the future of operations. While we have made significant progress, manufacturers are still struggling to solve some of the same problems we worked on 15 years ago. Manufacturers need tech vendors and system integrators who can establish a path forward with continued innovation and minimal disruption. Moret is investing in modernizing Rockwell Automation, and we are starting to see the results.
Using Automation for Good
Rockwell Automation is not just involved in creating industrial value; the company and its CEO, Blake Moret, are directly involved in using their time, resources, and technology to change people's lives. We are often spoiled with great external speakers at the tech events, but we are rarely treated to three speakers who are both inspiring and directly tied to the company's business, as we did at the pre-event keynotes.
Anousheh Ansari, CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation, shared the story of how a competition kicked off a whole new space industry.
Dean Kamen, Founder of DEKA Research & Development Corporation, told inspiring stories about innovation and education in the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI) and FIRST Robotics. ARMI is creating ReGen Valley for regenerative tissue manufacturing.
Ali Bessette, Manufacturing Engineer and FIRST Robotics Competition Alum showcased how young teams are learning and collaborating.
DEKA Research & Development Founder Dean Kamen
"Automation with a purpose" is important for Rockwell, its customers, and partners. We need to inspire young engineers and innovators to continue to move the world forward and ensure that we have a continued stream of talent joining the industry. LNS Research welcomes and celebrates Rockwell Automation's engagement in this area.
Expanding the Scope of Automation
For several years, LNS Research has challenged automation vendors to expand the scope of automation and think outside the machines that the controllers are operating.
Rockwell Automation acquired ClearPath Robotics and its industrial offering OTTO motors in October 2023. This extends automation to include autonomous production logistics – which is the movement of materials between the machines.
OTTO Motors provides AMR (Autonomous Mobile Robots), which provides manufacturing flexibility and tackles labor shortages on the plant floor. Their software can manage and orchestrate fleets of hundreds of AMRs that help businesses scale better.
Rockwell Automation SVP Tessa Myers and ClearPath Robotics CEO Matt Rendall
There are significant opportunities for IT and OT to expand the role of automation beyond the plant floor. Rockwell Automation's progress in production logistics is substantial. Still, the industry needs to continue to tear down the IT/OT divide and combine the experiences from both sides to create better automated and autonomous solutions.
Industry Solutions and Services
Rockwell has amassed a large number of industry experts through its acquisitions and growth. These experts have been dispersed throughout the organizations, from sales to solution engineers. We see groups with industry domain expertise grow in both the global and regional Rockwell Automation organizations.
Most notable is Kalypso (acquired by Rockwell Automation in February 2020), which has grown from just under 300 to approximately 2,000 employees, becoming a significant force in the industrial services landscape. Kalypso is expanding its consulting, implementation, process management, and support services with and beyond the Rockwell Automation product offering.
Kalypso is developing valuable industry-specific services and best practices. Rockwell Automation is seeking opportunities to offer this knowledge through its partner network to reach small and medium manufacturers.
Growing the Software Footprint
Rockwell Automation has long been viewed as a hardware company focusing mainly on selling PLCs; this has now changed. Rockwell Automation acquired Plex MES/ERP and Fiix AI-enabled CMMS in 2021, both cloud-native solutions that continue to grow within the Rockwell ecosystem. The investments in industry domain expertise are also visible in the software group. While Plex is maintaining its foothold in the automotive industry, it is also expanding into CPG and F&B and maintaining its industry focus.
Rockwell Automation's software innovation goes beyond mergers and acquisitions. In March 2023, the company announced FactoryTalk Optix, an in-house-developed open, scalable, and flexible web-browser-based HMI platform. Optix is positioned as a cloud HMI, which will augment FactoryTalk View. Still, we see the potential of this software acquiring the full capabilities of Rockwell Automation's existing HMI offering and expanding beyond the current cloud scope.
Showing off its partnership muscles, Rockwell, released FactoryTalk DataMosaix for data and analytics, which has been developed in partnership with Cognite. DataMosaix is an Industrial Data Platform that provides controlled access to contextualized data. Rockwell Automation is joining the industry leaders in offering a data analytics solution optimized for industrial data instead of just relying on the business data infrastructure.
The partnership with PTC is still ongoing, but we saw less focus on the ThingWorx offering compared to last year's event.
While Rockwell Automation has made significant progress, the manufacturers are still looking for accelerated software innovations.
Following the theme of resiliency, Rockwell Automation also significantly focused on Cyber Security. Rockwell is offering a suite of products ranging from in-house developed products through partnerships with Dragos, Claroty, and Cisco to cyber security services.
Industrial Automation and Operations Technology is still suffering from cyber security vulnerabilities. Long technology lifecycles combined with a less than rigorous software update culture and lack of security practices are amplifying the issues. Rockwell Automation shared that many manufacturers still have flat, unsegregated networks with limited protection, if any. The accelerating need to use industrial information for supply chain integration, asset optimization, and process improvements is increasingly exposing these vulnerabilities to known and new threats.
Rockwell Automation is following the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, which includes best practices for comprehensive cybersecurity protection based on five core functions: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover. However, Rockwell has gone beyond NIST's framework and added "Govern" as a core function to ensure the necessary policies are in place, emphasizing that asset identification is a critical step and highlighting the value of the recent acquisition of Verve.
While Rockwell Automation's cyber security approach is comprehensive, this is an area where OT has much to learn from IT. There is room for improvement both through education and the implementation of best practices.
SVP Tessa Myers and Director Kyle Crum shared the impact that automation has had and will have on the workforce. We have had major workforce disruptions in the last 36 months, including COVID-19 and shortages in both the supply chain and workforce. While the introduction of automation is often seen as a step to make workers obsolete, history has shown us that automation typically creates new jobs and requires us to change the jobs we do. Rockwell is using automation to solve many of our workforce challenges and positions automation as an antidote.
Rockwell Automation is investing in the development of skills for future industrial workers, from investments in communities to teach STEM and FIRST Robotics to training veterans with technology skills and providing micro-certifications and stackable credentials for the existing workforce. The new generation of workers care about purpose and want to have an impact; developing meaningful career paths is critical to workforce development.
Rockwell Automation's focus on workforce development is significant, but there are still opportunities to integrate the employee lifecycle better with industrial operations.
Similar to Cyber Security, Rockwell Automation is developing a portfolio of products and services to help its customers with sustainability. While ESG is still hotly debated among many investors, several megatrends accelerate the adoption of ESG. Most notable are the European Union's Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which requires that large corporations report on their sustainability performance, and the SEC's Proposed Climate Disclosure Rules, which could do the same in the USA.
Kalypso has developed a set of sustainability services that include insights, impact, and innovation throughout the value chains and product lifecycles, especially in energy management and digital enablement.
The world has made significant sustainability gains over the last decade. It is important not to be caught up in ESG greenwashing, and we challenge Rockwell Automation and its customers to continue to focus on sustainable profitability while delivering customer value.
GenAI is the hottest technology in the world these days. Rockwell Automation is no different from its competitors in that it wants to add GenAI features to many of its products. The first use case is GenAI in FactoryTalk Design Studio for productivity increases, idea generation, and troubleshooting. Rockwell Automation demonstrated how Generative AI can be used to create, explain, and improve ladder logic in Rockwell's domain-specific language (DSL). The system includes self-learning, where users can provide feedback by liking and disliking the GenAI output.
While Rockwell Automation's Generative AI additions are exciting, the company is behind some of its competitors in this area and could accelerate the rate of innovation. GenAI is becoming so ubiquitous that customers expect it to be everywhere.
The Path Forward: From Automation to Autonomy
Several of our discussions with Rockwell Automation leadership focused on the future of technology. Rockwell sees a clear path from Automation to Autonomy, with systems that can capture domain knowledge and learn while dynamically adapting. The manufacturer of the future will require employee experience, resiliency, sustainability, and agility at previously unseen levels.
Rockwell Automation CTO Cyril Perducat held the last keynote, where he was staking out the path forward to the future of industrial operations. The core of his focus was people – with the key message of expanding human possibility. Unlike most CTO keynotes, which tend to be technology and product-focused, Cyril emphasized the business challenges and how the future of industrial operations would solve them. He honed in on the challenges around changing demands, supply chain volatility, and cyber security while explaining the shifts needed in "agility and production optimization," "resources and sustainability," "resiliency," and "people."
Rockwell Automation CTO Cyril Perducat's Keynote
Cyril's vision for the future aligns with LNS Research's vision for Operations 2030 – "the journey to Zero+" and our conversations with Rockwell Automation executives throughout the event, showing an organization growing and focusing on fulfilling real industry needs.
We will eagerly be following Rockwell Automation's activities to achieve its vision and look forward to reporting on the progress.
What does this mean to Manufacturers?
It is obvious that Rockwell Automation continues to learn and grow; the leadership has staked out a clear direction for the company, and the team is executing the plans. Many Industrial Transformation projects depend on software, sensors, hardware, and services to deliver value, and Rockwell Automation is well-positioned to deliver it all. Rockwell Automation's services are primarily focused on large enterprises, and the company must continue to evolve its partnerships with system integrators and value-added resellers to reach the SMB market. LNS Research believes Rockwell Automation can benefit from continued investments in industry solutions and implementation partners that can leverage the technology stack from sensors to the cloud.
Manufacturers looking for comprehensive solutions offered by a solid company that will be around to support them for decades to come should evaluate Rockwell Automation's offerings.
All entries in this Industrial Transformation blog represent the opinions of the authors based on their industry experience and their view of the information collected using the methods described in our Research Integrity. All product and company names are trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of their respective holders. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by them.