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The 'Smart' in Smart Manufacturing Shows Up in Off-the-Shelf Appliance

Rockwell Automation, device analytics, smart manufacturing
Rockwell has created a digital analytics tool to spot and solve maintenance problems faster.

One of the remarkable automation trends in recent years is vendor community’s ability to embed plant intelligence into the control system and its devices. The embedded digital intelligence frees control personnel from the considerable burden of original programming. To some extent, the equipment and its software have closed the skills gap by making the system smarter.

A recent example is Rockwell Automation’s tools that enable teams on the plant floor to make better, faster decisions by using an Analytics for Devices appliance and app. These off-the-shelf tools are designed to require minimal configuration while helping to solve common maintenance problems faster. The goal is to keep unplanned downtime to a minimum. The tools are intended to monitor the health of equipment and improve reaction time for maintenance.

Rockwell’s goal was to make it easier for plant staff adopt equipment analytics by creating a quickly deployable appliance to do the analytics. “Our strategy is to remove barriers and make people more productive – to get customers going on analytics, and to inspire them to do more,” Kyle Reissner, a digital leader at Rockwell, told Design News. “The bar to entry for analytics has been difficult, so we wanted to reduce the friction so people could get value out of analytics.”

The appliance combs the network for devices, completes analytics on the devices, then sends the results to all the team members on the network. “These tools scan your network and come up with instant analytics. All the user needs to do is download the app – which is free. Then the user can collaborate with colleagues on the plant floor to be more productive,” said Reissner. “We also have a fee-based version with enhanced alarms and other features.”

Ease of Use on the Plant Floor

Rockwell sees this appliance as a step in the trend of automation technology that deploys quickly and offers clear value. “We are playing into the macro trend of creating products that are instantly digestible. In the past, it took years for people to get value out of the system,” said Reissner. “Right out of the gate, this appliance provides descriptive analytics. Over the next 12 to 18 months, it will move into predictive analytics.”

These tools are some of the first subscription offerings from Rockwell. To further streamline the adoption process, an e-commerce portal is used to manage the appliance. All subscriptions and management are designed to take place within a single, self-service portal. 

Keeping the appliance simple is part of Rockwell’s strategy for making sure the bar to adoption remains low. “The result is an appliance that can be used by anyone. You can log into a browser and see all the disparate systems,” said Reissner. “The maintenance team can post a live trend that Joe in the back shop saw yesterday. This helps the team on the ground respond rapidly.”

Monitoring A Range of Devices

Part of the value of the appliance is that it can provide analytics on a wide range of devices. This embedded knowledge goes beyond Rockwell’s collection of Allen-Bradley equipment. “The appliance will perform basic analytics on anything it finds on the network. It tells you what the device is and how healthy it is,” said Reissner. “We have templates inside the appliance itself that move beyond basic analytics. The appliance knows the Allen-Bradly devices, but it also can do the analytics on any EtherNet-connected device. Each appliance can monitor 100 devices, plus you can add more appliances to monitor more devices.”

The appliance will be updated regularly to expand functionality as well as keep up on security and bugs. “The app is designed for continual updates. We’ve done nine updates in the last 12 months. We’re expecting to do an update every six weeks,” said Reissner. “The updates have a heavy focus on offering more features and functions while including bug fixes, additional analytics as well as support and security.”

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

Images courtesy of Rockwell Automation.

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