The transformative power of enterprise connectivity

Jan. 15, 2016
Rockwell Automation’s Connected Enterprise vision empowers people, processes and technology
“The Connected Enterprise is all about unprecedented visibility to see deeper into operations and logistics, and unprecedented collaboration between people, between teams and departments, and even between the machines themselves.” Rockwell Automation’s Beth Parkinson described how the company’s Connected Enterprise vision supports the Industrial Internet of Things for industrial firms.

The Industrial Internet of Things [IIoT] is on the minds of industrial company executives, and for good reason,” said Beth Parkinson, director of market development for Rockwell Automation’s Connected Enterprise initiative. “A recent survey showed that 84% of company leaders believe the IIoT will create new service-based income streams for their operations. They believe it will help long-term job growth, long-term revenue growth and productivity,” she said in her keynote presentation at Smart Industry 2015 in Chicago.

The IIoT and advances in enabling technologies, such as data analytics, remote monitoring and mobility, are presenting new opportunities through greater connectivity and information sharing, Parkinson said. “So people have a lot of questions about what value you can get from data—from process engineers and operations personnel, to the IT staff in charge of security.”

Rockwell Automation’s vision of the Connected Enterprise enables smart manufacturing by connecting people, processes and technology, she explained. “It allows the industrial environment to respond to ever-changing conditions. You can ask questions like, ‘How can we better connect the supply chain? How do we increase production?’ New technologies are changing what’s possible.”

Parkinson said that networks based on standard industrial Ethernet protocols are key to enabling this new reality. However, 48% of installed devices don’t use standard protocols, according to research by IHS. “Ethernet is practical and can be installed for less than $100,” she noted. “And there’s a massive wave of affordable connecting technology available.”

For example, cloud and virtualization technologies are enabling transformative gains, whether companies are using public, private or hybrid clouds. “And we all know about the flexibility of wireless and mobile technologies,” Parkinson said. “Managers and operators can be ‘tethered’ to machines to keep operations running, and executives can check plant performance no matter where they’re located.”


Rockwell’s own journey

Rockwell Automation has been on its own journey toward becoming a Connected Enterprise. In 2005, the company looked hard at its supply chain and realized it wasn’t meeting expectations of its customers. “We were hindering the company’s growth,” Parkinson said. “Maintaining customer satisfaction was a big challenge for us. Our North America-centric business model wasn’t sustainable, and we needed to re-globalize for our customers around the world.”

As a result, Rockwell Automation set the goal to operate its global operations with speed, quality and consistency of purpose. It faced some challenges similar to what other manufacturers face, including multiple custom applications developed for each purpose within every plant, numerous functional experts, and many independent enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems around the world. To move forward, the company created a five-year plan, dedicated the necessary resources, and developed a detailed “playbook,” Parkinson said.

The details in that playbook included taking steps to unify the production process globally. The company identified metrics it needed to collect to see what information it needed to run the business and considered how to eliminate redundant businesses. “We had to restructure some facilities and shut down others, build some new plants, and restructure how our suppliers were interacting with us,” Parkinson noted.

Rockwell Automation also identified the need for local teams that were agile enough to run the facilities around the world. This, of course, would require consistent processes for quality, purchasing and manufacturing engineering regardless of location. The company also needed a standard point of reference, such as how to measure plants against each other to make sure they’re as efficient as possible, and able to take innovations from one plant to the next.

“We also had to get manufacturing IT to work with corporate IT along with our operations technology [OT] organization working toward a common goal,” Parkinson said. “We realized we had to look at the transactional data that is often gathered by IT and bring it closer to the real-time data that’s happening in OT. That convergence was going to be the world we’d need to live in to have increased visibility.”

Implementing this Connected Enterprise in support of the IIoT has led to huge improvements, increasing on-time deliveries from 80% to 96%. Lead times have dropped by 50% and quality has increased by 50%, all while decreasing inventory by 33%. In addition, productivity has increased 5% annually.

From planning to reality

So how do you go from talking about the IIoT to making your own Connected Enterprise a reality? “It starts with identifying your organization’s needs,” Parkinson said. “Do an assessment of your current operation, capabilities, network security, automation environment modernization needs, whatever. Look at the data you have access to and what you want to do with it. Also look at collaboration, whether within your facility, across multiple facilities and across your suppliers and customers.”

“Collaboration is the key,” she added. “Work with the culture within your own company, as well as with your suppliers, industry consortia, standards organizations and government organizations. We can all learn from each other.”

Tyson Foods' Hillshire Brands is among those companies transforming its business with the help of technology from Rockwell Automation. Read more about their ongoing efforts to improve performance through improved visibility.