By Matt Migliore

“We all know these people in manufacturing organizations who have achieved rock star status because they can fix anything. But what do they do when things don’t break anymore? They need to reinvent themselves.”

This was the gist of an exchange during a panel discussion at Tuesday’s Automation Perspectives media event at the Rockwell Automation Fair in Chicago. In essence, the presenters made the point that as devices become smarter and provide more actionable data to improve the reliability and uptime of the overall process, the analytical skills required for ongoing process optimization will supplant the ability to “fix stuff” as the key skill set in industrial manufacturing.

At its annual Automation Fair Nov. 18-19, Rockwell did its best to position itself as the preferred automation supplier to provide actionable analytics for industrial applications.

IT-OT Convergence

During his opening presentation at Automation Perspectives, Keith Nosbusch, chairman and CEO of Rockwell Automation, touted Rockwell’s Connected Enterprise initiative as central to information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) convergence. “Integration of IT and OT is critical to the success of industrial organizations, but true convergence has been a challenge,” he said.

According to Rockwell, among the most notable obstacles for IT-OT convergence is the need for a common method to facilitate the sharing of information between the plant and the enterprise sides of the organization. For this task, Rockwell believes Ethernet is ideally positioned, since it has achieved a level of acceptance on the IT and OT sides of industry.

“Next-generation businesses need high-performance architectures instead of just a collection of products,” said Nosbusch. The ultimate goal, he said, is to facilitate open communication in a way that enables self-aware, system-aware smart assets.

The latest generation of Rockwell’s PlantPAx Distributed Control System (DCS) is at the center of Rockwell’s Connected Enterprise approach. An update to the Ethernet-based PlantPAx DCS was announced on Monday, with expanded estimation, design and development guides. According to Rockwell, the updated documentation and design capabilities help dramatically increase automation productivity; decrease the time required to deploy a maintainable and modern system; and reduce lifecycle costs.

Blake Moret, senior vice president for Rockwell Automation, said the adoption of IT methodologies on the OT side of the business shows that IT-OT convergence is gaining momentum. For example, he cited the purchase of software as a service, which has been commonplace in IT environments for many years and is now gaining traction for OT applications. Still, Moret said there is a need for process experts to ensure optimum data utilization. “So while IT may be helping with the technology piece, the process part will need to come from OT,” he said.

The Connected Enterprise

According to statistics cited during Automation Perspectives, only 14 percent of industrial machines are connected to the enterprise. By connecting the additional 86 percent of machines, Rockwell believes a tremendous opportunity exists to optimize industrial processes and drive bottom-line business results.

Rockwell’s belief in the power of its Connected Enterprise approach is rooted in its own pursuit to increase the visibility of its manufacturing process. Nosbusch said Rockwell developed a common way to gather data across its own organization. And now it can efficiently maneuver its processes from facility to facility to support any customer based on the demands and requirements of a given project. For example, when its production facilities in Japan were impacted by the 2011 tsunami, Nosbusch said Rockwell had a level of visibility into its process that allowed it to move its Japanese production to another facility and continue to fulfill orders.

During one of the panel discussions at Automation Perspectives, Jim Wetzel, technical director for General Mills, said General Mills began its journey toward the connected enterprise in 1993. “The topic of being connected for us started at the PLC level,” he said. “We bought all of the PLCs with Ethernet capability, and started capturing data.”

General Mills first step in becoming a connected enterprise was process visualization, and then it moved to data analytics. Now General Mills is heavily entrenched in developing smart manufacturing concepts, working as part of the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition, a U.S.-based consortium that is developing best practices and standards for collaborative industrial-networked information applications through at-scale demonstrations.

Art Clausen, CFO for Mullins Food Products, said one of the first connectivity applications he pursued was to provide visibility into the company’s tank farms. With real-time visibility into its tank farm, Clausen said Mullins Food Products now has a clear picture of what is coming in and going out, which has enabled it to reduce its chemical use by 50 percent, as well as make significant reductions in its water use and scrap.

Through added process visibility and data analytics, Clausen said Mullins Food Products has transitioned from an accounting system that is based on debits and credits to one that is based on the actual consumption of the process.

According to Rockwell, standardization is a crucial first step in the process of building a connected enterprise and leveraging data analytics for process optimization. A common language ensures everybody is looking at the same information, which allows users to make smart decisions.

“In order to do a good analysis of the information, you need to have somebody who is highly knowledgeable of the process itself,” said Fancisco Castillo, senior vice president and chief information officer for Maynilad Water Services. “This insight allows us to put the right information in front of the right people at the right time.”

The Cybersecurity Factor

Automation Perspectives also featured a panel on industrial cybersecurity, as Rockwell clearly recognizes how important security is to its Connected Enterprise approach. However, panelists said making the case for cybersecurity investments can be a challenge.

Tyler Williams, manager of industrial cybersecurity for Royal Dutch Shell, said he has been able to drive cybersecurity investment by presenting it from a business perspective. As such, he said Shell views cybersecurity as a competitive differentiator that will enable it to maintain the uptime of its process in the face of inevitable cyber attacks, putting it in a better business position than competitors who may not be so well prepared. In addition, he said aligning cybersecurity with the safety practice has been effective in moving cybersecurity up the organizational priority list.

Williams said Shell’s cybersecurity focus is heavy on fundamentals and entrenching best practices within its organization. By focusing on building a solid cybersecurity foundation, Williams said Shell is ensuring that it can implement advanced features, such as cloud-based solutions, as the need arises.

Jeff Jones, principal cybersecurity officer for Microsoft, said moving applications to a cloud-based environment in an industrial setting requires a high level of trust. While a cloud service provider might be providing a higher level of cybersecurity protection than an industrial organization can provide internally, he said the concept of giving up control over a piece of the process requires a change in mindset. As such, he said Microsoft is working with Rockwell to develop private and hybrid could-based solutions as a stepping stone to true cloud-based computing.

According to Maciej Kranz, VP of the Corporate Strategic Innovation Group for Cisco, the vast majority of cyber attacks target known vulnerabilities, so focusing on fundamental cybersecurity best practices is a great first step toward protecting a connected enterprise environment. At the same time, he said suppliers need to be more helpful to users who are struggling to keep up with the pace of change in cybersecurity by making systems that are backwards compatible.

Shell’s Williams said there is also a need to embed cybersecurity within the engineering discipline. He cited the Global Information Assurance Certification as one example of a program that is helping to bring cybersecurity skills to the industrial engineers.

Likewise, Microsoft’s Jones cited a need for more cybersecurity expertise within the engineering community. “We need to be building cybersecurity into the engineering skillset,” said Jones “It’s not a separate discipline.”

Matt Migliore has covered technology and industry for 15 years. He can be reached at or 484-255-9032.