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SA Instrumentation & Control Buyers' Guide


From the editor's desk: Rockwell Automation delivers technology and more at Houston Fair
January 2018, News

When Rockwell Automation CEO Blake Moret addressed the media at the opening press event of the 2017 Automation Fair in Houston, Texas, he chose not to dwell on annual reports or the recent run-up in the company’s stock price. Instead, it was refreshing to hear him speak of how the organisation’s future efforts will focus on skills development and productivity, as well as Rockwell Automation’s commitment to recovery efforts in the Houston area after the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey.

Moret stressed the need to connect industries through the digital technologies of the IIoT and the importance of a workforce empowered with the appropriate skills to achieve this.

Among the technology highlights, Frank Kulaszewicz, senior VP Architecture & Software, Rockwell Automation, explained that the company will concentrate its investment in the IIoT space on digital design and digital operations – the fundamental building blocks of what industry has christened the ‘digital twin’. The twin is a mixed reality solution that allows engineers to bring a new machine (or even an entire plant) to life digitally, before any physical construction actually exists. It is an extremely powerful idea that delegates were able to experience firsthand at the Innovations booth in the show area. One simply dons a Microsoft HoloLens headset and the Rockwell Automation Studio 5000 Application Code Manager does the rest. It is a surreal experience to be shown the features of a packaging machine that was not there moments before, and vanishes again as soon as the headset is removed. It allows new designs or modifications to be tested and debugged using technologies that are every bit as cool as anything the gaming industry has to offer. It also has applications in training, and the possibilities for new product demonstrations are unlimited.

Speaking of new products, Automation Fair took the opportunity to introduce delegates to the latest addition of the FactoryTalk analytics platform. Project Scio is the next step in advanced analytics for manufacturing, which automates the value-extraction process from production data without the need for any special expertise. Any authorised user can now access any existing data source and create actionable analytics in the form of personalised ‘storyboards’, which can be shared across the enterprise. Add device auto-discovery and flexible machine-learning algorithms to this open architecture solution and the result is an impressive tool that elevates the plant operator to the level of a data scientist able to drive profitable business outcomes. In addition to the platform solution, Rockwell Automation also offers a range of connected services to provide customers with a secure network infrastructure. What Moret described as: “All the tools to provide users at different levels in an organisation the information they need to influence profitable operations.”

In terms of developing these digital-savvy operators of the future, Rockwell Automation, together with its partner ManpowerGroup, had this covered as well. ManpowerGroup VP Chris Layden explained how many US military veterans already possess an advanced technical skill-set that can easily be realigned to suit the needs of the manufacturing industry. To this end, the companies have launched a 12-week programme at the Academy of Advanced Manufacturing. A few of the graduates of the inaugural course were on hand to share their experiences during one of the most interesting panel discussions I have ever witnessed at an automation conference. The discipline and team-orientated mindset of these veterans is every employers’ dream, and I was left to wonder if it might be possible to achieve something similar in South Africa.

Automation Fair 2017 was a slickly organised event that exceeded all expectations – 9500 visitors on the first day alone bear testament to this. What set it apart though was not just the impressive variety of new-age manufacturing technology on display. As part of the relief efforts in the aftermath of the recent flooding, the organisers joined forces with United Way to distribute over 8000 thanksgiving dinner kits to stricken residents in the area. Last November in Houston, Rockwell Automation and its Partner Network showed that they were prepared to deliver more than just technology, and that was good to see.

Interested readers can find the official conference press report in ‘Thousands convene in Houston to learn about the latest automation technology’ and more on the veterans programme in ‘Rockwell Automation hosts graduation ceremony for newly-skilled veterans at the Academy of Advanced Manufacturing’.

Steven Meyer

Editor: SA Instrumentation & Control

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