Moving towards the connected enterprise

The next industrial revolution is happening right now and the Connected Enterprise is the reason for a tectonic shift in operations and planning, especially in the energy sector, according to US technology services provider Rockwell Automation

The convergence of IT and OT is improving global production and overall business performance.
The convergence of IT and OT is improving global production and overall business performance.

As global pressures for goods and natural resources continue to grow, companies need to find new, innovative ways to use advancing Internet-ready technologies to meet demand.

The convergence of information technologies (IT) and operational technologies (OT) is improving global production, sustainability efforts and overall business. If companies aren’t on-board with this industrial shift, they will fall behind.

Rockwell Automation understands the evolving industry challenges confronting global manufacturers – because it is one. As an evolution of its decades-long commitment to capturing enterprise data to make better decisions, the company implemented an enterprise-wide strategy several years ago to better connect its global manufacturing facilities and accelerate the business value of its Connected Enterprise.

The Connected Enterprise – converging operations, automation control and IT to access and capitalise on operational, business and transactional data – connects people and processes for better collaboration, faster problem solving, and improved innovation within an organisation and its supply chain.

Rockwell Automation has implemented a new approach to manufacturing that includes a standardised, global information system occurring at nine sites from Asia to North America and Europe. It will expand the system and, by 2016, Rockwell Automation will have rolled it out across 95% of its manufacturing facilities.

By integrating information across IT and OT, and from the plant floor across the enterprise, Rockwell Automation has optimised its enterprise, plant and supply network performance and business agility. And now it’s helping customers do the same.

Speaking from experience, truly connecting an enterprise is far more complex than simply linking disparate systems.

“Enhancements will be made, and improvements will be needed – that’s the point,” said Bob Murphy, vice president of operations, Rockwell Automation.

“We’re constantly looking for opportunities to improve operations at individual plants and throughout the enterprise.”

Motivators for change

Like many industrial and manufacturing companies, Rockwell Automation has a diverse product portfolio. Its plants are spread across the globe and across a variety of manufacturing processes, averaging 200 different part numbers per order and a product life of 20 years.

Rockwell Automation’s plants – and those of its customers – need agility and flexibility to cater to the variety of manufacturing processes and supply chains at a faster rate. They also need to meet quality standards and control cost.

“When we talk about variety, we’re also talking about complexity,” said Ivan Ramirez, manager at one of Rockwell Automation’s facilities in Monterrey, Mexico.

“By having a connected system that provides the right data at the right time regardless of what manufacturing process is occurring, we can make faster, smarter decisions to help control quality and productivity. But figuring out how to achieve this isn’t a simple task,” Ramirez added.

Standardisation, a main driver in successfully connecting an enterprise, becomes a concern when a company has a wide variation in processes. To be efficient and competitive, the company needed a standard point of reference to gain consistent processes for quality control, purchasing and manufacturing engineering, and measure performance from one plant to the next.

Rockwell Automation says that having a connected system across the globe would allow you to respond quickly to issues anywhere. For example, if there is a surge in demand in China, its facility in Ohio would have visibility into its Singapore plant to respond and address production needs, and vice versa. The company would have an adequate contingency plan in place – a vital component for a global manufacturer.

The company also identified other areas for improvement. Each factory was running on its own enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and had its own custom applications that captured and analysed data in different ways. A large number of functional experts was needed to ensure the systems worked, and no single system could be easily adopted by other facilities – both cost-prohibitive concerns.

Knowing this, Rockwell Automation took the opportunity to re-evaluate its approach to manufacturing as it journeyed toward a truly Connected Enterprise.

The Connected Enterprise opportunities

Nearly a decade ago, Rockwell Automation committed to a global rollout of an ERP system to more easily manage its multiple systems that span the globe. As it was implemented in new plants and regions, the company wanted to make additional improvements within its operations.

The organisation developed a five-year plan that would restructure its facilities and supplier network entirely. The plan took into account individual locations and products produced at each facility; new technologies needed to tighten control of the supply chain; and new suppliers that would be needed to support the new layout.

To address and improve the technology component in the five-year plan, the company focused on updating the different manufacturing execution system (MES) technologies throughout its plants and facilities – each customised with little to no integration across the enterprise.

The Enterprise-wide solution

In the process Rockwell Automation realised it needed a cultural and technological change in order to improve its global manufacturing footprint while operating with speed, quality and consistency. The company’s strategy focused on three main components to achieve this goal: people, processes and technology. In order to create a unified culture that converges IT and OT.

Rockwell Automation needed to develop a centralised process that utilises a common technology. Each component is interdependent with the others, and each is crucial to success.

Through leadership support, the company was able to focus on creating a culture that encourages sustainable change by leveraging Integrated Control and Information (ICI) and the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT).

Creating the Connected Enterprise

In 2007, Rockwell Automation began construction on two greenfield plants in Monterrey, Mexico. This provided the company with an opportunity to design its manufacturing process in a way that could take advantage of the company-wide roll-out of the new ERP system and serve as a benchmark for new and existing plants.

To begin the implementation, the Monterrey teams underwent a business requirements analysis to identify all the layers of interactivity that would exist between plant equipment and the ERP. With nearly 3,000 unique products manufactured at the two facilities combined – including printed circuit board assemblies, motors, drives, power supplies and light curtains – connection between each layer was vital for success.

Since the plants were new, the team had the opportunity to implement the MES simultaneously with the new ERP roll-out. Rockwell Automation had its internal delivery team configure and extend a comprehensive MES application that would integrate communication between the plant floor and the enterprise. The application then went through three months of testing and was deployed for the first time in August 2008.

“The context-driven system presents work instructions and operator information in English or Spanish, allowing new employees to be easily trained within 30 minutes,” said Dionicio Hernandez, manufacturing engineering manager, Rockwell Automation, Monterrey, Mexico.

“And because there is only one system to learn, our operators can be easily cross-trained in other functional areas of the plant,” he added.

The new system provides data collection capabilities that significantly improve product quality. For example, information on each step of the process must be gathered, managed, tracked and made visible to plant operators so that they can identify areas of inefficiency, downtime or diminished quality within the process. Rather than relying on each station on the line to create its own documentation, FactoryTalk ProductionCentre software collects and sorts millions of data points in a systematic, more usable way. If a particular printed circuit board assembly, for example, consistently fails a quality check, plant engineers can now use that data to drive improvements in the process or product design.

“The impact on visibility into production with the FactoryTalk ProductionCentre system was dramatic,” Hernandez said.

“The software platform excels at feeding data in and out of the ERP system with the result of consistently reducing issue-resolution times and supporting leaner operations. And, like our customers, our output efficiencies are the key to our profitability in building products,” he added.

Expanding connectivity

After implementing a new MES at two plants in Monterrey, Rockwell Automation expanded the rollout of the new solution to an existing plant in Twinsburg, Ohio. The plant produces a wide variety of complex products – approximately 2,500 different products each year – and needed better information from the plant floor to enable operators to make more informed decisions to maximise efficiency. The company used the Monterrey plants’ successes and lessons learned, but ultimately used this rollout as a pilot for implementing the system in an existing plant.

The real-time display of metrics and performance in relation to expected output provided managers a more efficient way to measure success. From a quality standpoint, the system detects issues and provides feedback immediately, allowing managers and operators to address issues quickly and deliver feedback upstream.

Operators would often see periodic delays due to data collisions that would appear as efficiency declines, but they couldn’t see the cause. Now, with the new infrastructure and systems in place, operators don’t need to dig for the ‘why’.

“Previously, workers would estimate efficiency based on past experiences,” said Tom Blackburn, engineering and quality assurance manager, Rockwell Automation.

“We’ve eliminated the ‘guess’ factor. Our tools provide validation and allow us to be predictive rather than preventive.”

Mission accomplished

Five years after executing its plan, Rockwell lowered plant inventory from 120 to 82 days, and realised 30% savings annually in capital avoidance. Meanwhile, supply chain saw an increase in on-time delivery from the mid-80s to 96%, while lead times were reduced by 50%. In addition, better and faster decision-making, enabled by better information, helped deliver 4 to 5% annual productivity.

Rockwell says collaboration was one of the key ingredients for its success. Ensuring that the company’s people understand the systems and equipment at each site enables them to understand the same process at a different Rockwell Automation plant, it said.

“The Connected Enterprise is not just about implementing the right system,” said Ivan Ramirez, Monterrey plant manager, Rockwell Automation.

“A main component in this journey is our talent. Great automation engineers and operators understand how the equipment works with the systems, which is how we’re able to make the real connections.”

It is also important to connect as many people as possible to the project so various roles can understand and become familiar with the processes.

“The more people we connect to this, the better the results,” said Bob Murphy, vice president of operations at Rockwell Automation. He added: “Sometimes we can get trapped in thinking it should only go to manufacturing engineers.

“That’s not always the case. A project with this much impact should loop in as many people as possible.”

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