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Four industrial trends and tools to navigate them

At Automation Fair, Rockwell Automation’s annual gathering, that took place in Boston this month, Tessa Myers, senior vice president of intelligent devices at Rockwell Automation, highlighted the latest innovations and envisioned future possibilities. Amid a series of recent acquisitions, Myers focused her keynote on how companies can achieve resilience, agility, and sustainability. “Complexity is increasing for industrial companies, and global value chains are transforming,” she noted.

This transformation combines technologies like production design, intelligent devices, production logistics, and edge-to-cloud solutions with expertise in cybersecurity, digital consulting, and industry-specific solutions. “We address your most pressing problems with technology solutions,” Myers said. “We aim to simplify your complex tasks. Over the next decade, supply chains will be powered by autonomous technology.”

Myers was joined by colleagues who discussed Rockwell Automation’s offerings to address significant technology trends: production-logistics transformation, rapid startup with new design tools, building resilience, and data-driven productivity and sustainability.

The rise of the robots

Matt Rendall, co-founder of Clearpath Robotics’ Otto Motors, a recent Rockwell Automation acquisition, along with Matheus Bulho, vice president and general manager of production automation, Andrew Ellis, vice president of global portfolio engineering, and Rachael Conrad, vice president of global enterprise customer experience, presented products designed for the next wave of automation.

“Logistics is an opportunity to optimise production and empower people,” Myers added. “We need to retool operations and increase output. Historically, we relied on manual labour to handle product variations, but that’s no longer viable.”

Rendall highlighted the use of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) to create safer and more productive workplaces. “Otto Motors AMRs are deployed worldwide. Labour shortages and an aging workforce challenge industrial operation,” he said. “Investing in new automation forms makes better use of the scarce talent available.”

He shared an example of a manufacturer in Indiana that increased productivity by reallocating employees from material-handling to operating an additional production line, thanks to Otto Motors AMRs. “Humans should focus on tasks they excel at, while robots handle repetitive work,” Rendall explained. “Autonomous technology is not science fiction. Our robots use lasers, cameras, and advanced AI to navigate and respond to their environment intelligently. Fleet Manager software ensures the right vehicle is assigned the right job, integrating with ERP systems to automate material handling.”

Using data for predictive maintenance

Next, a demonstration of machinery from Eagle Technologies, recently acquired by Convergix Automation Solutions, showcased how digital tools speed design and commissioning, providing data for predictive maintenance.

“We work globally to deploy new production systems and retool existing ones,” Bulho said. “Leveraging virtual design and commissioning tools, Convergix emulates devices and tests in a virtual environment, reducing design and commissioning time by 30%.”

FactoryTalk Twin Studio, part of the FactoryTalk Hub, hosts FactoryTalk Logix Echo and Emulate3D. “Independent cart technology frees equipment from mechanical constraints,” explained Bulho. “Other technologies like FactoryTalk Optix, Plex, and Fiix make machines information-ready.”

Data-driven productivity and sustainability

Rockwell Automation is enhancing its portfolio to make products smarter, enabling users to bring intelligence to the edge and cloud by creating the necessary infrastructure. “We’ve been investing in new capabilities,” said Ellis. “We’ve partnered with Microsoft to integrate best-in-class technologies.”

Ellis described starting with a digital twin to visualise a machine before fabrication. “We use data from intelligent devices, including 15 sensors, to drive productivity and efficiency. Armor PowerFlex drives provide an on-machine solution, reducing the overall footprint.”

Once data sources are established, they integrate with FactoryTalk Optix and Plex Asset Performance Management (APM) software for rapid integration of OT sources. “This allows production monitoring and reporting,” Ellis said. “With context from IT and OT data, we can be more predictive.”

Combating the threat of cyber attack

Finally, Conrad joined Myers to demonstrate cybersecurity at a fictitious water treatment plant. “We’ve faced disruptions like COVID, climate change, and cyber threats,” Myers noted. Using Rockwell Automation cyber tools and those from Cisco, Microsoft, CrowdStrike, Claroty, and Dragos, Conrad illustrated how to thwart cyber-attacks. “Delivering the right security requires an ecosystem,” Myers emphasized, recommending a zero-trust approach.

“We leverage a partner ecosystem,” Conrad added. “Verve Industrial’s vulnerability management platform, Rockwell Automation’s latest acquisition, aggregates data into a single pane of glass, addressing OT challenges with IT-level security.”

By combining technology and expertise, Rockwell Automation aims to navigate the complexities of modern industrial operations, ensuring resilience, agility, and sustainability.

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