How manufacturers are bringing the cloud to the plant floor

A panel of experts from Rockwell Automation discuss how manufacturers are turning to the cloud to achieve their goals and revolutionise processes

Sean Dudley
Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley on 04 August 2017
How manufacturers are bringing the cloud to the plant floor

This article first appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of The Record.

What is the attitude towards the cloud in manufacturing?
John Dyck, director, Software Business Develop­ment, Rockwell Automation: Companies are now far more open to having the cloud conversation than they were three years ago. They are understanding the value of creative and compelling solutions around predictive analytics, machine learning and other cloud-based capabilities that are difficult to replicate on premise. Security is also less of a concern, as companies acknowledge the work we at Rockwell and cloud providers like Microsoft have been doing in this space.

What kind of data can be connected from the plant floor to the cloud to support analytics?
Sherman Joshua, global portfolio manager, Connected Services,  Rockwell Automation: This centres on what customers require to achieve the outcome they desire. That outcome needs be something they can measure and that they can get a return on investment from. It’s not necessarily about having all the data from the plant floor, but being able to put the data they need into the cloud to achieve a certain outcome. 

With predictive maintenance, for example, you’re taking sensor data from the plant floor and combining it with maintenance records. You’re putting that in the cloud to run analytics, and look for specific indicators that a piece of equipment is going to fail.

With process optimisation, you’re looking at things like recipe set points, real-time sensor data, performance and yield. You’re looking for that optimal or golden batch to replicate across your enterprise or predicting how natural variations in process or raw materials will affect the product.

The key is to start with the outcome in mind.

Can you highlight some advantages the cloud presents to employees? 
Doug Weber, manager, Connected Services Engineering, Rockwell Automation: One thing is obviously the alleviated need for employees who work on the factory floor to have to manage IT type assets. Moving to the cloud is moving the management of that infrastructure to a third party.

Paula Puess, manager, Market Development, Information Solutions, Rockwell Automation: One of the enormous benefits of the cloud is getting employees engaged. If an employee has to wait to get to the plant to get on a system to enter a piece of content or context around an event or alarm or quality issue, that can be inefficient. The cloud offers the opportunity for employees to be far more connected.

Dyck: There are also so many new capabilities possible with the cloud. You can’t really stand up artificial intelligence or a machine learning infrastructure as an ordinary manufacturer. The notion of quickly being able to apply this thinking on the plant floor data presents a remarkable new world of huge value to manufacturers.

Thanks to the innovation and investment companies like Rockwell Automation and Microsoft have made around the cloud, it’s also become cost effective to connect assets that were before not practical to do so. It’s now feasible to connect manufacturing assets that before companies couldn’t afford to.

Joshua: The cloud allows for ‘data + context’. Customers can collect data from 1,000 sensors, run analytics in the cloud, and add context to help turn those data points into actionable insights. Adding context turns that data into something meaningful, which a plant can consume and that a customer can really get value out of.

How is Rockwell Automation bringing the cloud to industrial manufacturing today?
Weber: At Rockwell Automation, we are using Microsoft Azure to deliver remote monitoring and analytics applications as part of an overall connected services offering. That includes doing things like collection and visualisation of data from remote assets. Our application is well suited to people that make equipment and want to monitor that equipment. We also are starting to introduce more advanced analytics, either diagnostic or predictive analytics, and working with customers to begin predicting performance, equipment or process failure situations. 

Dyck: Customer requirements have driven our roadmap in this area, and Rockwell has worked very aggressively with Microsoft to develop its capabilities, understand these technologies and identify how to create new service offerings and product-as-a-service offerings.

We recently launched FactoryTalk TeamONE, a mobility and collaboration platform that’s been designed from the ground up to harness the way people work on the plant floor and overcome a lot of the constraints traditional manufacturers face day to day. We’ve looked to create a platform that allows everyone from operators to engineers to production quality staff to do their job more effectively from the moment they download the app. Once they tell the app who they are and where they work, they’re able to be more productive. 


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