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LNS Research was pleased to be among the industry media and analyst guests at the Rockwell Automation Fair last month in Houston, TX. With over 10,000 attendees, we were impressed with the magnitude of the event, along with many of the impactful strategies, partnerships and customer stories that were presented.
The main event was two days, packed with over 400 sessions with a variety of content targeted at a combination of end users, OEMs, systems integrators, business partners, students and media. Additional special partner meetings, user groups and training sessions were added onto the week’s schedule of events. The overall goals of the week included updating attendees with industry and market trends, strategic directions, new products and services releases, success stories and technical training, along with user group sessions to gain feedback and help guide future directions. Keynote sessions were offered to attendees, as well as access to a massive demonstration area with product, service and solutions experts from across the Rockwell Automation portfolio, along with over 150 PartnerNetwork Exhibitors.
An upfront, additional strategy day, called Automation Perspectives, was made available to invited press and analysts. In addition, members of industry media and analysts were given the opportunity to interact with Rockwell Automation and partner executives on business, product and services strategies throughout the event.
Here are some of the key concepts and takeaways:
Overall Conference Theme & Message
Keith Nosbusch, Chairman and CEO, delivered a talk to industry media and analysts on the major theme of the event, 'The Connected Industrial Enterprise,' whereby the case was made for higher degrees of manufacturing productivity, agility and sustainability through an ever more connected and integrated control and information approach. Macroeconomic drivers included a growing global middle class that is driving the need for a rapid rise in resource utilization and produced goods. Technology enablers cited included many that LNS Research has been covering this past year, including:
- There is an explosion of information coming from smart devices with internet addresses – or the Internet of Things (IoT). And Manufacturing is responsible for 27% of these according to Cisco data.
- The opportunity to harness Big Data and Analytics to support supply and demand collaboration, fact-based decision-making and to uncover new and better ways to support customers. Real-Time control information from manufacturing is the single largest segment contributors to Big Data according to research done by McKinsey & Company.
- Cloud and Hybrid Cloud architectures were acknowledged as rapidly being adopted into future computing plans for manufacturers. The attractiveness includes the ability for customers to consume software applications over secured internet and intranets that can readily scale, are always up to date with the latest features, minimize the need for local IT support, and applications that can be consumed on more of an ‘as needed’ basis.
- Mobile Devices are becoming the computing and communication platform of choice for a wide range of manufacturing professional roles, further enabling collaborative operational teams.
- The need for rigorous Security approaches was acknowledged in an ever more connected environment. Rockwell Automation referred to its strategic partnerships with both Cisco (on the networking side) and Microsoft (on the software side) when it comes to how they are combining forces to deliver secure systems and solutions. A number of new networking and control products that embed the combined knowledge and technologies of Cisco and Rockwell Automation were on display at the event.
Throughout the event, Rockwell Automation discussed their Integrated Architecture approach and they demonstrated progress towards their future vision of flatter network architectures based on Ethernet and internet protocols – specifically their open EtherNetIP. LNS Research sees this approach not only promoting higher degrees of information sharing across manufacturing operations and enterprises, but we also see it replacing separate automation and control networks over time – including Rockwell Automation’s open ControlNet and DeviceNet. As evidence to this at the event, we saw new variable speed motor controls from Rockwell Automation and process instrumentation from Endress+Hauser – both being directly networked into systems using EtherNetIP.
In order to better educate users of the effective and secure use of these newer internet based technologies and to provide reference architectures and best practices, the Industrial IP Advantage community was formed earlier this year. The community’s primary sponsors are Rockwell Automation, Cisco and Panduit. We were introduced to this initiative earlier this year, and have been pleased to watch the progress of useful content being made available on the community website.
Major New Product Announcements
A number of new product announcements were made at the event, and we feel that the most impactful announcements for the Manufacturing Operations Management market were:
- VantagePoint v5.0 software now offers rapid prototyping capabilities, improved reporting functionalities, and greater options for viewing on mobile devices. New reporting capabilities leverage Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services and other tools to provide layout-control and report-writer ability. Users can then share this information across their organization using Microsoft SharePoint to improve data-driven decision making and increase collaboration. Other new capabilities in VantagePoint software include mobile functionality which gives the ability to view data reports on virtually any mobile device.
- A new FactoryTalk VantagePoint Mobile App offers a native Windows 8.1 experience where users can access FactoryTalk VantagePoint centralized reporting and analytics from the Rockwell Software FactoryTalk software suite. Within the app, users can view key performance indicators (KPIs) and drill downs from Windows 8.1 live tiles.
- Rockwell Software AutoSuite v2.0 software was released with the goal of helping automotive manufacturers improve the flexibility required for more custom production while reducing downtime and maximizing output. The enhanced, manufacturing execution software (MES) system software includes new applications to coordinate and synchronize manufacturing tasks, quality procedures and inventory movement so producers can react to changing customer demand and produce increasingly customized vehicles. The software also captures information during vehicle production for regulation, warranty and continuous improvement analyses.
- A new Industrial Data Center offering was released - engineered specifically to help manufacturing companies take advantage of the lower lifecycle costs of virtualized computing environments. This packaged solution includes servers and network switches from Cisco, and virtualization software from VMware. Validation and assembly is led by another strategic alliance partner – Panduit. This is a complete turnkey solution that includes hardware, software, factory assembly, on-site configuration, documentation and technical support directly from Rockwell Automation which should simplify the move towards virtualized computing for customers.
- With the goal of enabling manufacturers to build a more cost-effective, unified and secure network infrastructure from the enterprise down to the end devices used in production environments, expansions to the Allen-Bradley Stratix family of industrial switches and routers were released. Also announced, were new wireless and security appliance products designed to meet industrial networking requirements. In support of flatter network architectures, these devices support Virtual LANs and the ability to run power and signal over the same fiber optic cabling. These network components can be configured and managed using Rockwell Automation’s software tools in addition to being compatible with Cisco’s Network Assistant and CiscoWorks management tools that are used by IT departments.
Additional LNS Research Commentary
Rockwell Automation appears to be making steady progress towards its vision of ‘The Connected Industrial Enterprise’ by offering new products that take advantage of secure EtherNetIP networking, along with embedding software architecture elements into its control products and configuration software. They appear to be keenly aware that a smooth migration roadmap and familiar engineering and configuration tools are keys to bringing their customers along on this journey.
With all of the new technology and products, one of the key challenges that LNS Research sees for Rockwell Automation is the readiness of their automation focused customers to embrace this new information age. There is no doubt in our minds that the marketplace is headed this way, therefore we believe that Rockwell Automation is wise to focus on more education and simplification of messages and offerings.
Another key to accelerated adoption of this direction will be the commercial considerations. If the new Ethernet-based, embedded information technologies are offered at similar price points as existing offerings, then the decision to upgrade and change really becomes a no-brainer for customers.
For a more detailed evaluation of Rockwell Automation’s Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) software capabilities, be sure to access the LNS Research MOM Solution Selection Guide.