The overriding themes from Rockwell at this year’s Automation Fair in Chicago are collaboration and acquisition. Not just collaboration for the sake of window dressing, but collaboration and acquisitions that can add true value into driving an increase in productivity.

The Milwaukee-based automation company is one year into a top-level partnership with software company PTC, the chief fruits of which is the FactoryTalk InnovationSuite powered by PTC. According to the partners it has been a year that has witnessed rapid growth of new customers and the significant industry recognition of the solution. Gauging exactly what the impact has been is difficult with the closest the companies come to revealing the exact benefits is to say that it has shown significant results, with a large number of new joint customers over the past twelve months.

A more recent partnership, unveiled in Chicago, is the collaboration with Accenture, that will see the pair develop a digital offering to help industrial clients move beyond existing manufacturing solutions to transform their entire connected enterprise. Aside from these two high profile alliances Blake Moret, Rockwell Automation Chairman and CEO spoke about collaboration with Schlumberger and Ansys along with the recent acquisitions of Mestech and Emulate3D

Digital oil and gas

The event in Chicago marked the first month of Rockwell’s collaboration with Schlumberger. The joint venture company, called Sensia, will make industrial-scale digitalization and seamless automation available to every oil and gas company so their assets can operate more productively and profitably.

“We just capped off the first month of our joint venture with Schlumberger, Sensia, which is a really unique combination of petroleum engineering know how and access to decision makers all around the world, with our process control expertise and analytics technology to be able to drive more efficiency out of operating oil and gas processes, whether it’s upstream, midstream or in processing,” Moret said. “We saw really good customer reception to what we’re offering, because it’s all about driving additional efficiency in their existing operations and in new operations regardless of what the price of a barrel of oil is.”

A digital view

Historically manufacturers would dedicate an unimaginable amount of time and money to develop and test physical product prototypes, but that has changed as digital tools gain maturity. With the advent of the digital twin manufacturers can design and test through simulation to accelerate development and analysis, improving product quality and reducing testing time across their organisation. In a new partnership that was announced at the event, Ansys and Rockwell Automation will help customers design simulation-based digital twins of products, processes or manufacturing.

“The ANSYS technology, developed with customers in mind, is a giant leap forward in the industrial sector,” Moret added. “Our collaboration has already shown how we can better serve customers, who are making better business decisions to save money and time because of their access to simulation-based digital twins in their manufacturing process.”

Adding value to the portfolio

Moret also spoke about two recent acquisitions, Indian systems integrator Mestech and Emulate 3d, a company based in the UK focused on simulation and emulation. “You have heard us talk a lot about information solutions and connected services that create new value to help customers squeeze even more productivity, out of their basic automation processes,” Moret added. “Mestech has been a partner for a long time. And we just became a formal part of the Rockwell family, to help us accelerate the ability to deliver those software-based solutions, all around the world.

“You have also heard a lot of talk about creating the digital thread; being able to digitise an operation throughout the value chain. And one of the key places that that can help customers save money is in the simulation of their processes, without having to run the equipment and run product in a lengthy commissioning process. Then once it is up and running to be able to optimise those processes. By taking the simulation know how and software that Emulate 3d provides with artificial intelligence we are combining those kinds of tools with augmented reality to bring about productivity that people would not have thought possible five years ago, and that you might not have associated with Rockwell Automation.”

Still living the connected enterprise

According to Moret, what has not changed throughout this spree of partnerships and acquisitions is Rockwell’s approach to bringing the connected enterprise to life. “It begins with an understanding of our customers’ best opportunities for productivity and that understanding fosters loyalty,” he explained. “It moves to combining technology innovation, with expertise to be able to bring about the best possible outcomes because at the end of the day we are not applying technology for technology’s sake, we are applying it to save time and money in industrial company processes. That’s what we do. And so, we have invested in both the technology and expertise, our own expertise, as well as the expertise of our customers to help them develop the workforce that they need to be comfortable with and in concert with the technology that we provide.”

But when it comes to defining what will bring success for Rockwell and its customers over the coming years, he has a straightforward message – simplifying automation. “I think this is really going to sort out the winners and the losers over the next ten years in our business,” he said. “It is reducing the complexity. And that speaks to both the technology, as well as the business models as simplification drives productivity. We see it in our own operations, it is why we are an efficient profitable company, but it also drives that productivity in our customers because complexity is the enemy of that simplification and higher efficiency.

“At the heart of this, it really is all about driving fundamental value for customers and we do it by helping them get their products to market faster, increase their operational productivity, improve their asset reliability and manage their risk. It is about something that we have been talking about for a while now, and that is to expand human possibility. And it might sound a little strange for an automation company to talk about human possibility, but it is absolutely at the heart of what we’re doing, we’re empowering people to be able to use and live to their highest potential.”