Rockwell Automation News and Updates

The first business trip involving airplane and car in 18 months took me to Houston in November to Automation Fair, the Rockwell Automation user conference and trade show. They offered five press conferences via remote conferencing. I felt the urge to visit with people in person. Several thousand visitors wandered the show floor along with me. And I sat in the press conferences in person with a couple of editors from Control, a couple of analysts from ARC Advisory Group, an editor I didn’t know for one session, and an editor from Automation World for one other session. It felt good to be back, but this was hardly like old times. I was not rushed from appointment to appointment—I had no appointments.

The content was not like old times. No motor control or programmable controllers, although I did look up a PLC product person on the show floor to dive into a couple of things. The press conferences were somewhat IT oriented with cybersecurity and cloud, workforce issues around culture and diversity, and sustainability. Following are summaries of the press conferences and of three news items released at the show.

Cybersecurity Steps Needed for 2022

No discussion of industrial technology can begin without considering cybersecurity. Angela Rapko (Regional Vice President, Lifecycle Services, Rockwell Automation), Shoshana Wodzisz (Manager, Product Security, Rockwell Automation), and Theodore Haschke (Manager, Business Development, Functional Safety & Cybersecurity, TUV Rheinland) talked standards with us. High-profile cyber and ransomware attacks rocked the manufacturing industry in 2021 and raised government attention to the need for stronger oversight to protect businesses worldwide. Global cybersecurity standards have been established based on guidance from industry leaders for both the IT and OT level, but adoption still wanes. We’ll share how businesses can utilize standards to improve security in 2022, and why OT can’t be left behind when updating best practices.

Leveraging Culture and DEI as a Competitive Advantage

Bobby Griffin (Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer, Rockwell Automation) and Becky House (Senior Vice President & Chief People & Legal Officer, Rockwell Automation) discussed how many companies have put a more intentional focus on company culture and DEI – but how do you know you’re having the right impact? Diversity, equity, and inclusion are core principles at Rockwell. This has a KPI associated and manager’s compensation is tied to it. Among other things, check out the senior leadership page on the Rockwell website. There are women on it. And a couple of other faces that are not old white men. There is a refreshing mix of ages, genders, ethnicities.

Why Cloud? Why Now? Three Factors Driving Adoption of SAAS-Based Solutions

I could understand the discussion of cybersecurity, which can be expected given the several-year-old vision of Rockwell regarding the Connected Enterprise. The discussion of computing in the cloud would never have happened with a straight face even three years ago. Maybe two. Let us consider two very recent acquisitions of cloud-based companies—Plex and Fiix. Brian Shepherd (Senior Vice President, Software & Control, Rockwell Automation), James Novak (Chief Executive Officer, Fiix), and Bill Berutti (Chief Executive Officer, Plex) joined us for a discussion of the companies, products, and benefits of cloud. Yet another sign of a rapidly changing Rockwell Automation.

Using Data to Drive Productivity and Sustainability

Rockwell Automation has had sustainability goals and solutions for many years. This topic remains a key focus for the corporation. Tom O’Reilly (Vice President, Sustainability, Rockwell Automation) and Arvind Rao (Director, Product Management & Head of Industry Solutions, Rockwell Automation) met with us to discuss how “customers and investors are demanding that we do business in ways that are more productive and more sustainable.” Operational data and analytics can reduce waste, improve quality, and reduce energy, all while driving increased productivity and delivering results against sustainability initiatives.

Three Strategies for Creating an Agile and Flexible Workforce

Rachael Conrad (Vice President & General Manager, Customer Support & Maintenance, Rockwell Automation) and Sherman Joshua (Director, Workforce & Competency, Lifecycle Services, Rockwell Automation) revealed Rockwell’s on key strategies for creating an agile and flexible workforce post pandemic and how manufacturers can leverage their workforce as their greatest asset.

New Initiatives to Bolster Cybersecurity Offering for Customers

Rockwell Automation, Inc. announced new investments to enhance its information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) cybersecurity offering. These initiatives include strategic partnerships with Dragos, Inc. and CrowdStrike, as well as the establishment of a new Cybersecurity Operations Center in Israel.

Rockwell and Dragos, a global leader in cybersecurity for industrial control systems (ICS)/OT environments, have announced a partnership that combines Rockwell’s global industry, application, and ICS domain expertise with Dragos’s world-class technology, professional services, and threat intelligence services. The partnership will focus on incident response services and threat intelligence.

Rockwell and CrowdStrike, a leader in cloud-delivered endpoint and workload protection, have formed a partnership to deliver end-to-end cybersecurity and network service solutions to customers. The partnership will examine initiatives for CrowdStrike’s cloud-native, AI-powered Falcon platform with Rockwell’s global deployment, network architecture, support, OT, and managed services capabilities to deliver differentiated solutions that address customer cybersecurity pain points.

Rockwell Automation Expands Supply Chain Services with Acquisition of AVATA

Rockwell Automation, Inc. has acquired AVATA, a leading services provider for supply chain management, enterprise resource planning, and enterprise performance management solutions. AVATA has significant domain expertise in enterprise applications and is a leading consultant and systems integrator for Oracle cloud software applications.

By significantly improving end-to-end supply chain visibility and management, AVATA, together with Kalypso, Rockwell’s industrial digital transformation services business, will help further unlock the value of information technology/operational technology (IT/OT) convergence that Rockwell can deliver to customers. AVATA will be integrated into Kalypso, which is a part of Rockwell’s Lifecycle Services business.

AVATA supports Rockwell’s recent cloud-native investments, building on its open architecture to extend the digital thread and enable powerful integrations with other leading technologies, now including Plex and Oracle Cloud.

Rockwell Automation and Battery Pioneer Cadenza Innovation to Explore Driving Energy Storage and Advance Sustainability

Rockwell Automation has begun collaborating with Cadenza Innovation, the award-winning provider of safe, low cost, and energy-dense Lithium-ion-based storage solutions, to define a strategic relationship including a   shared goal of building the industry’s highest performance battery cell production lines.

During 2022 the companies intend to collaborate to develop a customer cloud portal to manage deployed distributed energy resources, an end-to-end battery manufacturing execution system (MES), and equipment automation to support the expansion of Cadenza Innovation’s battery manufacturing in the US and abroad.

Rockwell Automation and Cadenza Innovation intend to create a full digital thread that feeds information from business systems to the factory floor and subsequently out to the field-deployed energy storage systems to ‘close the loop’ by feeding data from the field back into Cadenza Innovation’s connected operations. This, in turn, will ensure peak performance of customer systems.

Employee Well Being and Mentoring

What is your experience as an employee? I’d like to juxtapose two attitudes in this brief essay. The first one reveals the results of a survey that “finds a major disconnect between employees and HR in supporting wellbeing at work.” That one wasn’t surprising. My philosophy developed in the 70s holds that companies once had Personnel departments that viewed employees as people. These changed to Human Resources departments that viewed people as resources just like machines and switchgear and other resources.

Ken Bannister writes in the other piece about his experience with a mentor early in his career. Reading this one, consider people who have helped you along and who you should be helping now.

Major Disconnect Between Employees & HR in Supporting Wellbeing at Work

Half of employees feel stressed, and few are getting the support they need despite HR beliefs about wellbeing at work. Of the HR leaders polled, half (47%) say their company supports employee wellbeing, while just a quarter (24%) of employees agreeing — a major disconnect. That’s according to the new Empowering Employee Wellbeing in the New World of Work report from Achievers Workforce Institute (AWI). AWI is the research and insights arm of Achievers, the global leader in employee voice and recognition solutions that accelerate a culture of performance.

The global research surveyed more than 2,000 employed respondents and 950 HR leaders from Australia, Canada, UK and USA, and found just one in five (20%) employees say they feel physically and mentally healthy and less than one in five feel their physical wellbeing (17%) and mental wellbeing (18%) are supported by their employer. Nearly half (48%) of employees feel stressed, and of that group, two-thirds (63%) say their stress is related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we look ahead at the weeks and months to come, it’s easy to think that the worst is behind us with vaccinations on the rise and many businesses starting a phased return to the office. However, the wellbeing research from Achievers Workforce Institute shows that stress remains high, with COVID-19 as a key driver,” says Achievers Chief Workforce Scientist Dr. Natalie Baumgartner. “Almost one third of employees surveyed have taken leave due to stress, and this is even higher for marginalized groups. HR leaders need to understand how and why marginalized groups are experiencing heightened stress, otherwise inequities will deepen and result in cultural erosion over time.”

HR leaders are twice as likely as employees to say their organization supports employee wellbeing, including mental wellbeing. In addition, 40% of HR leaders feel their company offers employees resources to support their mental wellbeing, but just 18% of employees feel supported at work in managing their mental wellbeing.

This disconnect suggests one of two things: either existing programs are not being sufficiently communicated so employees are unaware of the available support, or these programs are reaching employees but not having the desired impact.

Achievers’ employee voice and recognition solutions bring your organization’s values and strategy to life by activating employee participation and accelerating a culture of performance. Achievers leverages the science behind behavior change, so your people and your organization can experience sustainable, data-driven business results.

Mentoring

I worked with Ken Bannister a bit when I detoured into working with a magazine called Maintenance Technology. He now works with a team of people I know who started a newsletter and website called The RAM Review. This essay can be found here.

As a young design engineer, I worked under the tutelage of my mentor Tedeus (Ted) Monkiewicz. Within this arrangement, I often accompanied him on visits to customer operations that were experiencing machine warranty issues/problems. At each sites, I was not to speak, but observe and record every little detail of the job, however inconsequential. Then, when we left a site, I would report to Ted on my findings, conclusions, and recommendations.

Ted typically would remind me in the customers’ parking lots to base my reports on my six senses. As he put it, “I want you to see with your fingertips, nose, and  ears, touch with your eyes, and say nothing until asked”.

In the process, Ted helped me to understand that a precision machine, built and set up correctly, should present only the faintest of vibration. (Any more than that level of vibration required further investigation into how the drivetrain components were fastened and aligned.) But, even more important, Ted taught me to ensure machine were treated with respect.

I would like to issue a challenge to all readers for the next time you approach a machine to troubleshoot a problem (as Ted always challenged me and his memory still does today). I challenge you to combine your training and experience with your six primary senses to “experience” and assess the problem in a unique, organic, and multi-dimensional way. Only this time, perform your sense assessment from the machine’s perspective.

Supply Chain Solution Provider Verusan Adds Executive Talent

I keep telling PR people that I’m not the supply chain specialist, but they assume among the 150,000 monthly viewers (estimated from my service provider) of this blog many will be involved with supply chain issues. I also seldom report on executive hires. In this case, I had an opportunity for a conversation with Christine Barnhart, new VP Product Strategy and Go-To-Market at Verusen, to discuss the career path of a woman in engineering.

Christine has an engineering degree. I related that in my freshman engineering class of 700 there were 7 women. One was in my engineering drawing class. The grad assistant would come in and give us the problem of the day. He’d leave a bunch of 18-year-olds (well, I was 17) alone for two hours. One guy was outspoken. He never directly harassed her, but he would say things generally designed to embarrass her. She just sat in the back corner quietly doing her work. Christine didn’t relate stories, but she did acknowledge that she had to develop the right attitude and learn to relate to a variety of other personalities.

That helped her in her first job following graduation working in maintenance at Whirlpool. I’ve could understand. Degreed engineers are already suspect among the workers. Go back 20-some years and women were also a rarity. She told me, “I never had the attitude that I knew more than other people.” That outlook on life will carry you a long way.

She also helped me understand more about what the PR people mean referring to supply chain. Her career path moved into materials management—inventory control, purchasing, and the like. I could understand that, because that’s where I began. She also lived through an SAP installation. Moving into the supplier side, she worked at Infor before leaving for this opportunity with a new company trying to forge a new path in the market.

In 2021 and 2018, Supply and Demand Chain Executive recognized Christine as one of the Top Women in Supply Chain. Christine has a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Evansville and she completed her MBA with distinction at the University of Louisville. She is certified in Production and Inventory Management (CPIM) through APICs (ASCM) and as a Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute.

In her new role, Christine will work closely with Verusen’s product management, sales, and marketing teams as the company continues to expand upon its delivery of industry-leading innovation for its customers. Verusen’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform digitally transforms the connected supply chain, helping global organizations take a more digital approach to their materials management strategy and challenges. Christine will report directly to Paul Noble, Verusen Founder and CEO.

“Christine’s deep background in supply chain management and extensive engineering experience in building data-driven systems is a huge asset to Verusen,” said Noble. “We are thrilled to have such a visionary product leader join our team as we continue to innovate by combining data + human intelligence to accelerate resilient supply chains.”

“Verusen is an incredibly innovative and disruptive force in the supply chain industry,” said Christine Barnhart. “I am excited to be a part of the team, delivering material truth for data, inventory optimization, and procurement intelligence to complex global supply chains. It’s a pivotal time in our industry right now, and I am looking forward to building on the company’s success and the unique opportunities we have to accelerate growth and drive further efficiencies.”

Verusen is a Supply Chain Intelligence company focused on materials management that uses AI to provide complex global supply chains material truth for data, inventory optimization, and procurement intelligence. The company’s platform harmonizes disparate material data across legacy systems and processes while providing trusted data across the enterprise to reduce supplier and operational risk. The result is a data foundation organizations can trust to fuel digital transformation and support related Industry 4.0 initiatives.

Solving Manufacturing Problems Case Study

Working on the factory floor early in my career taught me how much typical manufacturing workers know and care about the company’s products. Consultants came from time to time, studied, rearranged, left. Not much useful happened. But the individual guys (in those days) on the line knew more about what was going on than most of the supervisors and all of management.

Therefore, an opportunity to talk with Paul Vragel, Founder and President of 4aBetterBusiness in Evanston, IL to discuss his experiences as a project engineer and integrator was too good to pass up. After all, the values he learned and still implements include these:

  • Listen to people
  • Engage employees
  • Respect
  • Ask everyone to look for problems with no fault issued
  • Assume employees have needed knowledge

Vragel told me, “My initial education and experience is in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering – that is, ship design and construction. Building a ship involves building a hotel, a restaurant, a huge warehouse and a power plant, putting them all together, putting a propeller on it and sending it out on the ocean where there are no service stations. Ship design and construction is essentially a demanding, large-scale systems engineering project.”

After graduation from Webb Institute of Naval Architecture, he worked at Newport News Shipbuilding. After a year, 2 prior graduates of Webb Institute, working for Amoco Corporation, hired him, at the age of 22, to manage ship construction programs in Spain. “A couple weeks after I was hired, I was on a plane to Spain with my instruction set being, essentially, ‘figure out what you’re supposed to do, and do that’ ”.

After a year, one of the earlier ships built in the series came in to Lisbon for its guarantee drydocking and inspection. When we opened one of the crankshaft bearings of the 30,000 hp main diesel engine, we saw the bearing material, which was supposed to be in the bearing, was lying on the crankshaft journal, in pieces.

Talk about a complex situation—the ship was built by a company controlled by the Spanish Government. They were the holder of the guarantee. The engine was built by a different company, also controlled by the Spanish Government. Amoco had a contract with the shipyard, not the engine builder. And the engine was built under license from a company in Denmark.

Vragel was there as an observer for the new construction department. The ship was under the control of the operations department. I had no authority and no staff reporting to me. “I had no technical knowledge of poured metal bearings in high-powered diesel engines, I didn’t speak Portuguese or Spanish, I was 23 years old, and the instruction from my boss was very simple: ‘Fix It!’ To add to the urgency of the ship being out of service, the shipyard in Lisbon, where the ship was located, was charging $30,000/day (about $250,000 in today’s dollars), just for being there.”

Vragel went to the engine builder in Spain who said, “We don’t think we have a problem – we think the Danes have a problem. They designed the engine, we just built it according to their instructions.”

Figuring that getting the Danish engineers down to Spain for a meeting wouldn’t be productive, he decided the only thing to do was to go into the plant and talk to the people who made the bearings. One problem – they only spoke Spanish, and he only spoke English. But there are lots of ways to communicate if you really want to. “I observed what they were doing, pointed, asked a lot of questions – they learned a little English, I learned a little Spanish – and we sketched out how the bearings were made.”

After a couple of days, he thought he had figured out the cause of the problem, but “I had the good sense to shut up. While our communication had become pretty good, I was sure that there were other parts of the process they knew about that we hadn’t touched on that might be part of the problem or solution. If I just told them what I thought, everything would stop there without awareness of those elements and we wouldn’t get an effective solution. But if I could work with them through the process so they saw the issues, the employees would bring those additional elements to the table. We would have a full understanding of the system, the employees would be part of the solution. In this way, employees would have ownership in the results.”

“And that’s exactly what happened. With a little more effort we found and fixed the causes of the problem (which was causing porosity in the bearing).”

I had no authority, no technical expertise, no staff, I was 23 years old, I didn’t speak Portuguese or Spanish, and in a few days, working cross language and cross culture in an overseas plant I had never seen in a technology in which I had no experience, we together achieved a solution that permanently raised their manufacturing capability – that they owned.

This key formative experience led to the beliefs on which 4aBetter Business was founded:

  • We believe that employees are the world’s experts at knowing what they actually do every day – their local systems
  • We believe that 90% of the issues in a company are embedded in the way these local systems work and work together

This lesson applies to 22-year-olds and 52-year-olds alike. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own ideas that we overlook an obvious source of great expertise.

Future Operations, Maintenance, Reliability Workforce

An old friend and several acquaintances found themselves adrift when a magazine closed. All being entrepreneurial, they started a  website and newsletter—RAM Review (Reliability, Availability, Maintenance). Old friend Jane Alexander is the editor. Not meaning she’s old, just that we’ve known each other for many years.

I met Bob Williamson 10 or 12 years ago mostly around discussions of ISO 55000 on asset management. He wrote the lead essay for a recent email newsletter on workforce. Now, I have to admit that the only part of manufacturing I never worked in was maintenance and  reliability. I did work with skilled trades when I was a sales engineer, though. I considered them geniuses for the way they could fix things. One of the points of Bob’s essay is taking care of things before they break and need help.

The main workforce discussion in media concerns remote or hybrid work. Many engineering roles can be performed remotely. Many roles within manufacturing and production must be performed on site. With the current and projected future labor shortage, I like his closing paragraph except for the put down on current operators. I knew plenty who cared for their machine or process. Of course, many didn’t. Most likely a management failure. But cross-training people to be at least to some degree both competent operators and first-line RAM people seems to me to be a winning strategy. I’ve reprinted most of Bob’s essay below. You can read it on their website.

For many manufacturers, returning to traditional ways of work simply will not be an option. Something must change if they are to attract, hire, and retain a capable workforce. Therefore, I believe technology and desperately willing top-management teams will also help alter work cultures on factory floors. Respondents to the Manufacturing Alliance/Aon survey suggested offering “flexible working hours, compressed work weeks, split shifts, shift swapping, and part-time positions.”  Use of such enticements with plant-floor workforces would look very different than use among the carpet dwellers in front offices.

We have another option, of course: Technology can automate our manufacturing processes, and much of it is far more affordable than it was a decade ago. In fact, given the rising cost of labor over the past decade, with increasing healthcare-cost burdens and skills shortages, many businesses have already automated some of their labor-intensive processes. The times we are in call for—make that scream for—large-scale automation. Yet, while process automation can be easier for large, deep-pocketed companies than for the smalls, it’s still a huge challenge.

There are four big hurdles to be overcome when automating manufacturing processes: availability, installation, sustainable reliability, and work-culture change. And remember, skills and labor shortages are widespread in these post-pandemic times. Moreover, despite the supply chain’s efforts to heal and keep up, manufacturers of automation technologies aren’t immune to the production-barrier ills that others face these days.

To repeat: RAM professionals are on manufacturing’s front line. Skill shortages may be affecting our ranks, but there are recruiting and training efforts underway in many companies to remedy the situation. In addition, we have technologies for carrying out data collection, analysis, and problem-solving somewhat remotely. However, the boots-on-the-ground parts of reliability and maintenance will not be virtual or remote.

So, consider this option: Recruit and train displaced production workers to wear some RAM “boots.”  They’ll be familiar with industrial environments and the importance of plant equipment. Then, let’s train our current production workers to care more for their machines than they did in the past, and, in the process, become the eyes and ears for reliability, availability, and maintenance improvement.TRR

Partnership Enhances Skill Development Through Providing For Undergraduate Degrees

Employers finding ways to encourage employees to boost skills and grow is not a new phenomenon. However, this will only grow further for a while as the employee supply chain restocks and reorients following the pandemic. This is an example.

In order to meet new skills demands and develop the workforce of the future for the automotive industry, InStridetoday announced the launch of a pilot program with leading automotive technology company Magna International to develop strategic education programs for qualified employees to access undergraduate degrees and other learning and development opportunities. The company’s initial education offerings will be available for US-based employees beginning this month.

“We are incredibly excited to work with a global mobility powerhouse such as Magna and are looking forward to serving their employees through our academic partnerships,” said Vivek Sharma, CEO of InStride. “The executive team at Magna have been thoughtful in their strategic design of this pilot education program to ensure that Magna employee-learners have the opportunity to access life-changing credentials and skills.”

With this education initiative, internally known as EPIC (Educational Pathways for Innovative Careers), Magna looks to build on its culture of creating continuous, scalable, lifelong learning opportunities for its employees. One way they expect to achieve this objective is by establishing pathways to learning and educational opportunities using InStride’s strategic enterprise education programs. Magna will draw on relevant education providers from InStride’s leading academic network to address skills needs within their organization and support the career objectives of qualified employees. 

“The mobility industry is transforming rapidly and in need of ever-changing skill sets to meet new demands. As vehicles change, the way we design and build them will be drastically different, requiring employees to expand their knowledge to maintain our company’s competitive advantage,” said Aaron McCarthy, Magna Chief Human Resources Officer.“With the help of this pilot program, we hope to continue moving the company forward for and with our employees as part of our learning culture.”