I have not talked with anyone from Rockwell Automation for months. So, it was time to catch up with Keith Higgins who joined the company within the past couple of years as VP of Digital Transformation leading the software group. As we might expect, digital transformation technologies and products include the analytics portfolio, MES, and the coordination with PTC’s products including ThingWorx, Kepware, and Vuforia.

Since I was fresh from a conversation with another supplier about the Edge, I brought that up in the context of analytics and ThingWorx. Higgins began to explain the power of using the PLC as an edge device. Rockwell has not talked to me for years about the PLC, but I remember that for years it has added compute and networking capability into that platform. Time for me to get an update there, too. My wild guess is that no sufficiently enticing partnership could be hacked out with Dell Technologies or HPE using their Edge compute. And, they already had a powerful Edge device that just needed IT-level bolstering. This will be interesting to watch.

Higgins brought up a tire plant example where having production data in context at the edge with the ability to perform predictive analytics combined for a powerful management tool.

One theme that recurs in this discussion in general is the necessity for solid context for data. Higgins having brought that up regarding the tire plant example, continued to a discussion of a technology/product developed in partnership with Microsoft called SmartObjects. This is a rich data model that adds deep context to data. My feeble way of thinking of this would be something like a modern data model like MQTT and OPC UA on steroids (no disparagement of either of those technologies meant).

I’ve been thinking deeply about productivity lately, so I asked about it. Rockwell views its contribution to its customers’ productivity in three buckets:

  • Assets—building on predictive analytics, predictive maintenance, condition monitoring, and the like;
  • Production line—improving utilization of the production assets;
  • Human productivity—for example, the recent acquisition of CMMS supplier Fiix

I’m definitely interested in seeing where Rockwell’s new emphasis in software and edge goes. Many years ago, I asked then-CEO Keith Nosbusch about the software business. He said at that time it was an experiment. Higgins didn’t say that exact thing, but his remarks left no doubt that his area is primed to be a Rockwell growth vehicle.

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