(Updated) I’m in LA at the 2010 version of RSTechEd–Rockwell Automation’s Software User conference. Attendance is somewhat up from last year. Football great Joe Theismann gave the opening keynote using the opportunity to challenge attendees to use the week for learning–to become more than average. In many ways a typical motivational speech–but well delivered and he worked in points about Rockwell and what attendees should get from the experience this week.

A few of his points are worth noting. Write down your goals. “You’ll be surprised at how your world comes together when you define your goals.” Determine what price you’ll pay to be special. Define your competitive advantage (works for people as well as companies). Remember your attitude determines everything you do, so believe in who you are. Have confidence. Three things his coach, Joe Gibbs, looked for in people (in this order): character, intelligence, ability. And finally, “Take advantage of the world-wide knowledge available in this room.” And he’s right with that statement. When you attend conferences, you have the opportunity to learn not only from the leaders of sessions, but also from everyone you meet in the hallway or at lunch.

As for Rockwell, the focus was on Manufacturing Intelligence–cited by Software Market Development Director, Keith McPherson as a “growth opportunity.” He further noted, “Manufacturing Intelligence is closed loop decision support.” You can see some of their thoughts on this at an Automation World site sponsored by Rockwell Software. Much of the press briefing involved an explanation of a seemingly mundane but actually crucial point–how Rockwell Software is going to market. When Rockwell began its trail of acquisitions in the 90s with ICOM, it tried to fit software into the distributor channel–with decidedly mixed results. As acqusitions compounded, an enterprise sales team was established led by Vice President Bob Honor. Now, building on the Incuity acquisition and the Vantage Point products, Rockwell has developed a suite of products that can be sold through the normal automation and control channel without conflict with the enterprise sales force selling projects that are long term, low quantity and higher priced.

There were no news releases at the conference, but in a related announcement,  an expansion of FactoryTalk Batch. It cites the main feature as, it “gives operators more control.” It’s said to reduce system engineering while providing more data for reporting and analysis.

The software features new intelligent recipe capabilities, secure operator overrides, expanded data collection and reporting, and improved material management capabilities. Tightly integrated with the scalable PlantPAx Process Automation System from Rockwell Automation, the FactoryTalk Batch software provides solutions ranging from small, basic sequencing to large, complex batch applications.

“The need for greater agility and responsiveness is driving manufacturers away from custom-engineered batch software applications to standardized, open technology,” said Andy Stump, FactoryTalk Batch product manager, Rockwell Automation. “FactoryTalk Batch software, based on ISA-88 standards, is designed to meet that demand, while providing batch operators with more control during runtime.”

The new features include:

  • Intelligent Recipe Features – When defining a product, recipe authors can now reference system-wide data, such as previous ingredient feed-actuals or material properties, to simplify recipe development. The use of expressions based on this historical data rather than entering specific defined values allows the system to adjust run-time setpoints to accommodate variable batch activity.
  • Improved Run-time User Control – Rockwell Automation has improved run-time user control by giving operators with security clearance the ability to move a batch forward in the process. In the past,   procedural flexibility had to be designed into the system. With the latest version of the FactoryTalk Batch software, operators now have more control to advance a batch based on real-time conditions – without time-intensive system engineering.
  • Expanded Data Collection and Reporting – This latest release continues to expand the system data logged into the electronic batch record. This includes information on shared equipment, like pumps and other processing equipment, to help manufacturers further meet track-and-trace compliance requirements.
  • Rockwell Automation is also adding context to data within the batch system. This means system designers can now associate a material setpoint with the actual amount delivered – without relying on naming conventions or other complex association methods. This simplifies data analysis and enables more sophisticated, global reporting.
  • Improved Material Management Capability – FactoryTalk Batch Material Manager brings just-in-time material management to batch execution systems, allowing more effective management of materials and recipes. The latest version of the FactoryTalk Batch software helps increase flexibility by allowing late binding to material inventory. This is critical for batch applications where some materials are in transit or not available at the start. In the past, batch applications required custom engineering to accommodate these situations.

The FactoryTalk Batch version 11 is now shipping as part of the PlantPAx Process Automation System.

It’s interesting to note (to me, at least) that Rockwell plays up the fact that it is an independent company, while the other large automation players are divisions of much larger corporations with the tag line, “the world’s largest company dedicated to industrial automation and information.”

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