The Factory of the Future: Connecting the Enterprise

Palm tree, blue skies, and warm breezes surrounded the Anaheim Convention Center, where Rockwell held its annual Automation Fair earlier this week. So not only did those of us fortunate enough to attend get to network and learn about new automation and control technologies, we also counted our lucky stars that we avoided the big freeze that evidently was hitting much of the rest of the country around that time. That aside, let's get down to business.

fairThe major theme of the event can be summed by what Rockwell Automation dubs "The Connected Enterprise." What does this phrase mean exactly? Rockwell believes that industrial and process enterprises can garner a large business value by marrying IT or information technology (ERP, CMS, quality, financials, logistics, supply chain management) with OT or operational technology (sensors, machines, controllers, actuators), which traditionally have remained separate silos. Smart plants connect their business and production floor environments to be able to mine data from both that can be turned into actionable intelligence. This approach comprises an ongoing journey that involves securely using everything from smart sensors and machines to scalable computing technology and advanced analytics.

Of course, there are always hackers who want to spoil things, and the connected enterprise must either try to stay one step ahead of cyber threats, or at least mitigate risk should criminals breach the firewall. One problem is that IT personnel are usually better trained on cybersecurity, while individuals in OT face issues like worker injury or damage to equipment. Therefore, subject matter experts in both worlds need to sit down together and exchange their knowledge.

Fortunately, as manufacturing and business systems become more connected, better firewalls and intrusion detectors are constantly being developed. The ongoing challenge remains innovating to stay one step ahead.  

As one Rockwell expert succinctly summed the connected enterprise concept,"In turning data into knowledge and then knowledge into wisdom, the connected enterprise leverages IT technologies that can talk to OT devices to make sense of the data, which then becomes actionable—this is the wisdom."