Software Is Center Stage at Rockwell Automation Event

Data is the new currency.

I heard that somewhere. There is much truth buried in the thought. That makes software and connectivity key technologies. I hear this everywhere. I am thinking through what I learned at the Rockwell Automation event while at an enterprise computing event in Spain. Enterprise IT has discovered Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Silos are collapsing everywhere.

Still, it is surprising that Rockwell Automation, the quintessential hardware company, emphasizes software. This has become the key component of the Connected Enterprise. There must be sales dollars here, also. Theory is nice, but sales are nicer.

By the way, here is proof I was there. A “Robot Selfie” from the Innovation Booth.

The Rockwell software portfolio has been growing a step at a time. This year it looks like it has most of the pieces assembled for a full manufacturing software suite. And this is not only MES. That is a component, for sure. But also there is connectivity, historian, databases. And now what appears to be a robust analytics application.

John Genovesi, Vice President of Information Software, told me during our interview, that the company had made a couple of small acquisitions (in Silicon Valley they call it “aquihiring”) last March and already the new team has written an analytics engine that forms the guts of the new application.

Project Scio (see-oh, from the Latin to know) is the next step. To make decisions when and where they matter most, new capabilities offered through Project Scio reduce hurdles to unleashing information. These capabilities open up access to ad-hoc analytics and performs advanced analysis by pulling structured and unstructured data from virtually any existing source in the enterprise. Project Scio can also intelligently fuse related data, delivering analytics in intuitive dashboards – called storyboards – that users can share and view. Users then have the ability to perform self-serve drill downs to make better decisions, dramatically reducing the time to value.

“Providing analytics at all levels of the enterprise – on the edge, on-premises or in the cloud – helps users have the ability to gain insights not possible before,” said Genovesi. “When users gain the ability to fuse multiple data sources and add machine learning, their systems could become more predictive and intelligent. Scio puts analytics to work for everyone. By its addition to the scalable and open FactoryTalk Analytics Platform, Project Scio gives users secure, persona-based access to all data sources, structured or unstructured. And a configurable, easy-to-use interface means that all users can become self-serving data scientists to solve problems and drive tangible business outcomes.”

Key attributes of Project Scio include the following:

  • Device Auto-Discovery: Manually mapping software to each plant-floor device can be a time-consuming and error-prone process. Project Scio can auto-discover Rockwell Automation devices and tags, as well as third-party device data, to save time and help reduce risk. Additionally, the auto-discovery process gives users access to more detailed information than is typically available through manual mapping, such as device name, line location and plant location.
  • Leave Isolated Analytics Behind: Rather than leave data at its source and take database snapshots, Project Scio brings data into a centralized location and can continually refresh that data. Additionally, connections to data sources only need to be established once. This connection allows users to create custom analytics and refresh them at their preferred rate without the support of a data scientist.
  • Flexible Machine Learning (ML): Use the right ML algorithm for the right use case. Project Scio is configurable to support many industry-leading algorithms, including SparkML, MLLib and Python.
  • Closed-Looped Analytics:Using either ML or predefined settings, Project Scio includes capabilities that can monitor operations and automatically trigger control adjustments if processes start to fall outside allowable parameters. This can help users optimize control, improve product quality and consistency, and reduce scrap and waste.
  • Applications Marketplace: Rockwell Automation will introduce an applications marketplace for applications developed in-house and by third parties. The ability to access any data source and create custom analytics for each user’s application is a central feature. However, users can also take advantage of pre-engineered FactoryTalk Analytics applications from Rockwell Automation. These applications allow users to monitor common KPIs, such as OEE and quality, in a standardized way and without any configuration.
  • Open Architecture: Industrial producers cannot be expected to rip and replace all their legacy control and information systems before gaining value from analytics. These scalable and open-architecture capabilities are designed to be extended to a full ecosystem of IIoT data sources. The quick connection to the full range of systems that feed data into a Connected Enterprise includes controllers, MES software and edge devices.

In addition to these Information Solutions, Rockwell Automation offers a range of Connected Services which helps provide customers the ability to ensure network integrity, security, infrastructure design and maintenance, and remote monitoring of equipment including predictive maintenance. These services can help customers with every aspect of their Connected Enterprise journey, including developing an IIoT infrastructure and strategy, and providing remote monitoring and analytics.

New OPC UA Support

Rockwell spokespeople made sure that I understood two things with this year’s message. Scalable. And Open. The company is adopting open, interoperable communications. Notice above that the self-discovery is not only Rockwell’s products, but also those from other companies.

Another interoperable standard that Rockwell has not supported much for years is OPC United Architecture (UA).

Interesting quote from the news release, “We actually helped develop the OPC UA specification, and we’re now adding OPC UA support into our portfolio.”

The initial offering on the software side includes OPC UA client/server functionality in the FactoryTalk Linx software, which it will be launching in early 2018. There also are future product-line extensions planned for both software and hardware portfolios. Second, the FactoryTalk Linx Gateway provides an OPC UA server interface to deliver information collected by FactoryTalk Linx from Logix 5000 and other Allen-Bradley controllers to external OPC UA clients. This permits third-party software to coexist with FactoryTalk software.

For example, custom-built MES applications can interact directly with the control layer to better coordinate production. The FactoryTalk Linx Gateway also will include a new FactoryTalk Linx Data Bridge software service that will transfer sets of tag data from one data source to another at a user-defined rate. This permits movement of data between servers and, more importantly, enables Logix 5000 controllers to indirectly interface with OPC UA servers. Among its many uses, this software could allow Logix 5000 controllers to interact and control a robot, weight scale or similar automation device using OPC UA.

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