ABB Process Automation

Digitalisation: Accelerating the road to production

Author : Sachin Mathur, Rockwell Automation & Sophia Bell, Acting Group Editor, Connectivity

22 June 2022

Sachin Mathur, Rockwell Automation
Sachin Mathur, Rockwell Automation

Digitalisation is not only transforming production systems, but also the way industry functions as a whole. Here, Connectivity’s Acting Group Editor, Sophia Bell, chats with Sachin Mathur, Director of Software & Control, EMEA at Rockwell Automation, about how digital transformation has accelerated over the last couple of years – in response to the unprecedented challenges wrought by Brexit, Covid-19 and supply chain disruptions – and how it can optimise manufacturing operations.

1. How have production systems developed in recent years and has this development kept pace with need?

The last decade has seen a massive disruption in availability, access and use of technology in the industrial sector. The pace of this evolution is a factor of at least 20 to 30 times that of what took place between Industry 2.0 and 3.0.

Traditionally, production systems have been managed through a myriad of individual siloed processes and products – both software and hardware. That is all changing with digital transformation – and the Connected Enterprise Production System (CEPS), Rockwell Automation’s integrated solution strategy, which creates a single digital thread that brings all these functions together.

I positively believe that the world is keeping up with the pace of technology and accessibility to it. Rockwell – alongside the general industry – is forging a very strong relationship between the domain expertise within the industrial space and the innovative technologies available today. This helps to uncover that previously hidden capability, or what we call the previously hidden data silos. 

And, most importantly, production systems have developed in terms of customer centricity: customers are now being put right in the middle of the process, to drive the right outcomes from a user’s perspective.

The strongest scientific and mathematical shape is the triangle, and I think these three dimensions of domain expertise, available technology and customers are forming a strong bond, to keep up the pace in industry for the development of products.

2. With the dual challenges of Brexit and the pandemic, more and more businesses are waking up to the need to digitalise their operations. How can Rockwell Automation’s Connected Enterprise Production System support customers in their digital transformation journey?

Economic and global events like Brexit and Covid have highlighted the need to be better prepared for disruptions. Technology today is an enabler rather than a driver, and these events have accelerated the need to put innovative technologies into play to bring a higher grade of flexibility and agility for our customers, so they can react to change at speed. 

Rockwell Automation’s Connected Enterprise Production System is bringing forth three key areas: transparency, responsiveness, and customer centricity. The system is both a strategic muscle and a tactical advantage for our company. It enables us to take customers on a journey – from the initial design phase, with simulation and emulation engineering capabilities, all the way through to the value outcomes of production operations, secure network and cyber communications, maintenance, and the supply chain. CEPS reduces the distinction between hardware and software, and provides a holistic system engineering approach. 

All these things are paving the way to deliver a more systematic, holistic and collaborative approach to our customers, based on their needs.

3. Disrupted supply chains are another key issue currently facing the industry. How can digital solutions help manufacturers navigate this unstable political and economic climate?

Global supply chain leaders have been forced fundamentally to rethink the traditional ways of the supply chain. What we’re looking at is building economically competitive products in high-cost locations. We also want to reduce the single points of failure within the supply chain, which is what we’re seeing with the unfortunate war between Ukraine and Russia and, of course, the Covid situation which still exists in China. 

A recent Harvard Business Reviews analysis revealed that about 70 percent of companies believe that their key supply chain capabilities need to be accelerated to have that digital maturity. Digital transformation is now required and is being put into play to optimise the entire supply chain. It’s not about single-point solutions anymore. Smart technologies and integrated systems allow real-time responsiveness so that uncertainty can be reduced as much as possible. 

4. With industrial automation companies looking to develop and offer software solutions and packages to customers and/or system integrators, what do you consider to be the pros and cons of proprietary versus open software, commercially and technologically?

When we talk about open-source software versus proprietary, we’ve got to look at what’s best for the end user. For me, it’s not a black-and-white answer, where one is better than the other – they both have their pros and cons. 

For example, proprietary software comes with a high level of security grading, whilst open-source software may not have that sort of focus. You’ve also got issues of reliability and support – again, lots of pros for proprietary rather than open-source software. 

Additionally, when end users are not hands-on with software technology, open-source software may not be suitable because it’s designed for native software developers (or in layman’s terms – geeks!). 

However, open-source software does have a lot of advantages in terms of non-complicated licensing models and allowing one to be truly innovative, by being hands-on. It also gives more flexibility than proprietary software. 

Therefore, it depends on what our customers want. There are a lot of factors to consider other than technology, such as upskilling. Due to the skills shortage happening around the world over the next five to seven years – with a lot of people retiring – we need to give a mix of capabilities to our customers to meet their demands.

5. Sustainability and energy efficiency are at the forefront of everyone’s minds at the moment. What relationship does smart manufacturing have with the movement to reduce carbon emissions?

Digitalisation provides a good transition into sustainable production systems. When we start talking about data, systems and processes connectivity, there is a very strong relationship between intelligent manufacturing and sustainable outcomes. 

There are numerous benefits we see with our customers in terms of reducing emissions. For instance, with full digital twin capability, unnecessary physical activities in prototyping or building real-world products are reduced by being able to digitalise all of that development process, thus saving on scrap, energy, and raw materials.

The benefit of digitalisation is extending the manufacturing life cycle of equipment. Being able to track and trace equipment health, thereby reducing failure, helps to ensure the optimum amount of energy is used and that the maintenance progress is based on usage rather than an offline Excel spreadsheet. Cloud-based software available today, including ones that are offered by Rockwell, helps customers avoid downtime and damaging parts. This leads to an extended lifetime and thus assists facilities in becoming more productive, as well as increasing yield and equipment effectiveness. 

A recent piece of industry research from IDC revealed that 60 percent of 2,000 top global companies will be using sustainability and ESG KPIs in their strategic outcomes in the next three to four years. There is clear evidence that showcases how the industry is moving forward and the thought process of big global players. Sustainability and ESG trends are driving strategic conversations with our customers, and digital and software innovations are helping to reach these goals. 

6. How do you think smart manufacturing and digital transformation will refine the way products are designed and manufactured over the next five years?

Innovation is speeding up – and will further speed up – the design and production efforts of end products. We see this trend from producing consumer products to, of course, industrial-grade products. Intelligent manufacturing will continue to increase the quality metrics by which the products are being manufactured, based on data insights and integrated systems, which will reduce wastage. 

Accelerating the adoption of new ways of manufacturing will also give way to a new culture of acceptance in terms of agility. Digital transformation will mean rethinking how to be more agile and accepting that as part of normal production behaviour. 

7. Where can readers find out more about the solutions Rockwell Automation offers customers?

Our single source of truth for our customers is our website. We have a huge host of public case studies that talk about digital transformation and sustainable automation, as well as specific industry outcomes. We also have regional and global offices around the world if people want to talk more about it with us. 

We take part in all the major industry events and shows globally, including Hannover Messe and SPS Nuremberg. We are also running one of the largest customer events, called ROK Live, which is going to be held in Sweden in October, where people can see, and get hands-on with, our information and our solutions. 

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