Smart Machines & Factories
Connected ambitions
Published:  25 May, 2017

Aaron Blutstein caught up with Blake Moret, president and CEO of Rockwell Automation, for an exclusive interview with Smart Machines & Factories.

The advent of smart manufacturing is seen as the gateway to digital transformation. The various terms to describe this transformation include, Industry 4.0/ The Fourth Industrial Revolution/ IIOT, and more commonly referred to in the U.S as the Connected Enterprise.

One company that has been at the heart of this transformation is Rockwell Automation, which believes that the Connected Enterprise makes it possible for connected smart devices to open new windows of visibility into processes, highlighting that data and analytics enable better and faster decision making, and seamless connectivity spurs new collaboration.

The connected Enterprise, it says, converges plant-level and enterprise networks, and securely connects people, processes, and technologies.

Blake Moret, president and CEO of Rockwell Automation, who was recently in Germany to open its first Customer Centre for The Connected Enterprise in EMEA, spoke to Smart Machines & Factories’ Aaron Blutstein to discuss his aspirations, concerns as well as tips for the Connected Enterprise:

AB: What are your aspirations with regards to the Connected Enterprise?

BM: It’s central to Rockwell Automation’s strategy and to our plans going forward. Importantly the connected enterprise is not just about the high-level information software and services, it’s also about the smart products that we’ve been selling for years because that’s an important part of the foundation. So the Connected Enterprise really spans across all of our offerings. It’s the data that starts out on the plant floor, it is turned into useful information – it’s not just the technology, it’s the services to help reduce the risk and integrate everything together, all of that comprises the Connected Enterprise. So it really is our story about how we can enable even greater productivity than ever before.

AB: Why is it important to maximise the benefits of concepts like the Connected Enterprise?

BM: It’s important to be able to describe the benefits in the specific language of that manufacturer. So for instance, it’s about more efficient vehicle scheduling if you’re making cars. If you’re making cookies, for instance, it’s the ability to be able to compare and improve overall equipment efficiency across the fleet of lines around the world. If it’s in the oilfield it’s about optimising well output, producing oil or gas. So it’s important to be able to take these basic concepts and to be able to tailor them to that specific outcome that you’re looking for as a manufacturer.

AB: How can governments actively help encourage Industry 4.0 or the Connected Enterprise?

BM: I think there’s a couple of things, first of all to be able to encourage general R&D - to be able to create a favourable environment for innovation, which isn’t just the realm of the large companies by the way. A lot of new ideas are coming from smaller companies so as to be able to help that and promote a forum for sharing ideas about security, to be able to help facilitate the interaction between companies seeking to create a better security environment. And finally and maybe most importantly it’s about education - a skilled workforce needs to crucially remain (in fact more importantly than ever) able to maximise the effectiveness of these concepts. Making sure that we’re creating, attracting, and retaining workers who have the skills to be able to interact with this advanced manufacturing equipment and software is critically important. The government can play a role there since they are a source of the funding that goes into our traditional learning centres (schools).

AB: In terms of the US’ example, what are the biggest barriers that you’ve found to adopting the Connected Enterprise, and how can British manufacturers overcome these same barriers?

BM: I would start with the workforce issues. Starting with young men and women, to be able to acquaint them with the opportunities in manufacturing before they’ve left school, to let them know that there’s an opportunity to apply advanced technology in interesting applications that make things, so to speak – I think that’s an important barrier that has to be overcome. Then creating educational programmes that recognise that three or four year university degrees are not for everybody and not for everybody after they get out of high school in the case of the American system, but to provide more off-ramps to that education. Manufacturers also have to recognise their role in lifelong learning. That is no matter how much education and relevant experience you have when you’re a young man or woman, if you’re going to work over 30 or 40 years you have to continue to get that education and you need a company that you work for, an employer, that recognises that’s a strategic investment and not just a necessary cost to only do when times are good. I focus on the role of the government and the employer in workforce development because it’s so crucial it’s often overlooked. There’s no question that having a competitive tax code and sensible regulatory environment is important but the workforce is crucial.

AB: Is there a growing sense of complacency surrounding the concept of smart manufacturing?

BM: I think even now you have to bring it to life by talking about the specific benefits of a specific application in an industry. Until one can talk about connected production for an onshore/upstream oil and gas company, and to talk about the downhaul car looking at the pressure temperature and flow at the well head, those types of things, it really doesn’t bring it to life. In automobile producing, when you’re talking about vehicle scheduling and selectivity and those types of terms, those are the things that bring it to life. Talking about the track-and-trace, and serialisation concepts, for a pharmaceutical manufacturer – you have to get to that next level, and that’s one of the advantages that we think Rockwell has, in that we have that expertise, we’re working side-by-side with the actual machinery producers, we can apply our technology, we can help customers apply the technology that’s right for their specific application. Because there’s not a one size fits all.

AB: Are you concerned about the social implications of automation and smart engineering?

BM: Let me start by saying that the factory of the future still has people in it. Those people are not doing repetitive work that requires no decision making, rather they’re working collaboratively with advanced technology to create as productive an environment as possible. Of course the companies that do that will be successful, which will allow them to grow, which will of course foster more hiring of people in those businesses but it also gives them the ability to invest in new lines of business which again require the hiring of people. The number of jobs that can be completely eliminated with automation is growing smaller and smaller. However, there are parts of a number of jobs that can be automated so it’s going to change the work. The durable jobs are going to require some level of decision making and cross training and comfort with technology on the part of the workers.

AB: What do you believe can be done to mitigate the concerns of SMEs in transforming to a smart era?

BM: I think the Connected Enterprise helps to level the playing field. It helps a smaller manufacturer to reduce some of the advantages of scale that their larger competitors might have. Technologies like remote monitoring, for instance, allow a smaller competitor to be able to project expertise across distance rather than having to have that expertise right there. It allows people implementing good ideas with that technology to be able to dramatically increase the through put of their machinery, and to be able to connect equipment so that better decisions can be made reducing line inefficiency. So I really think that in the collaboration across multiple locations it can reduce the need to replicate redundant skills in multiple places.

AB: What advice would you give to those manufacturers who are just starting down the route to the Connected Enterprise?

BM: It really starts with a non-technical activity, and that is to look at an operation, get a good idea of what your biggest opportunities are – so before you’re even reaching for your toolset, think about the problems you’re trying to solve. High-level, your biggest sources of downtime, if you could speed up production or produce something at a higher quality it would give you the biggest benefit if you could get to market faster, where would that be most valuable to you…it starts there. And then it starts to get into the technology approaches. Rockwell and our partners, as well as others, provide consulting services to find those business problems and then you start moving further into the technology implementation. Once you get to that point we strongly encourage industrial companies to start with the pilot. Don’t try to do it all at once. Start with a pilot, where you can identify what winning looks like, you can do it for a relatively low amount of money and in a short period of time, to be able to quantify the benefits, and then decide how you want to expand and scale from there.

AB: Many people are concerned about cyber security. What can a smaller manufacturer do to alleviate such concerns? What advice would you give them?

BM: Start with that defence in depth approach. Don’t just assume that by having a secure network that that’s all you need. Consider the human and the process aspects of it; insider risk is a big part of the equation and it starts with the smart products to the secure networks and then obviously the people aspects of it. Look at your partners as well. Even on the factories that are completely standardised by Rockwell there’s other process-based equipment that has communication ports and software on it. So you have to take a holistic approach and think creatively, not just in a linear fashion to your potential risks.

AB: From a smart manufacturing perspective, how do you see Rockwell’s technology developing over the next 5 years?

BM: Increasingly differentiation exists around software and firmware, it’s also important to recognise the interaction of the domain expertise, the action know-how, and the technology. It’s also a willingness to look at the best available in the market before we automatically decide to develop it ourselves. There’re lots of good ideas out there, lots of good pieces of code, and if we can start there and integrate it into a thoughtful system that’s good for a particular application or industry then we’ll look at that.

Blake Moret

Blake Moret is president and chief executive officer of Rockwell Automation. He assumed the role on 1st July 2016. As CEO, Blake leads the world’s largest company focused on industrial automation.

In his previous role, he served five years as senior vice president of Control Products and Solutions (CP&S), one of the company’s two business segments.

Blake has 31 years of broad experience with the company including leadership roles in marketing, solutions, services, and product groups. He began his career in 1985 as a sales trainee, and subsequently served in senior positions across the organisation, including international assignments in Europe and Canada.

Blake is a graduate of Georgia Institute of Technology, where he earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. He is currently on the National Association of Manufacturers’ (NAM) Board of Directors and Executive Committee, and previously served as Chair of the Board of the NAM Manufacturing Institute.