The path from data to wisdom

At Rockwell Automation Fair in Anaheim, California, this week, the Connected Enterprise is everywhere. I had the opportunity to sit down with Rockwell Chairman and CEO Keith Nosbusch and discuss the automation giant’s vision of the future and how big data can be parsed and analyzed to create information that helps companies to make better business decisions.

According to Industry Week, only 14% of machines are currently connected. And Rockwell’s customers on average are no different, which translates into a sizable opportunity, but the automation company is certainly practicing what it preaches. “Our customers reflect the statistic,” explained Nosbusch. “Inside our own enterprise, all three of our high-volume product manufacturing facilities are absolutely connected.” This has helped Rockwell to realize a 4-5% annual production increase, which makes the case for funding such an initiative.

The real trick is in turning the data into actionable information that can be delivered where and when it’s needed. “It’s about domain expertise,” explained Nosbusch. “It’s not just about gobs of data. It’s not putting that information into an historian. How do you relate what that data is telling you to the manufacturing processes? The data has to be turned into information, but the domain expertise turns it into knowledge. It’s that translation that makes it important. Ultimately, you want to be able to turn it into wisdom, so you can optimize the equipment, the line and the enterprise.”

The first step—turning data into information—requires context. “That has to be as close to the source as possible,” explained Nosbusch. “It can be analyzed at the machine. It can give insight to machine operators to make them more effective and efficient. We want to make sure we deliver this information so business decisions can be made. It’s about delivering the data to the right place at the right time.” A production line in Chicago, for example, might have an OEE of 6.5, but the one in Shanghai has an OEE of 8.2. Historical data comparisons can help you to understand what’s going on and make adjustments. However, delivering the necessary information to a line operator in real time can be equally beneficial.

“Real-time delivery is critical in manufacturing processes,” said Nosbusch. “It’s not critical when you’re comparing one line to another or looking at your results for the month. If you’re producing bad product for three days and you can look back, what good is that? Real-time information is what separates us from the enterprise people. We can be successful with our strategy because most people don’t understand that the plant floor is different.” It is a very short cycle time in which actions and decisions have to be made, he explained.

“It isn’t so much who owns the data,” said Nosbusch. “You have to create the connection. At the end of the day, it’s about who has the knowledge to be able to deal with the data that comes from that connection. No one machine manufacturer has all of the machines on a plant floor. The end user doesn’t want to have 15-20 people in the plant’s data network. That’s what we do with our network infrastructure services; we provide a single point of entry for our end users and our customers. What is the needed information, and who uses it? That is going to vary. Some OEMs have the skills, and some don’t. Rockwell will provide the connectivity, the infrastructure, and some machine builders might want to do it, or they don’t want to do it, and we can do it in a broader context. It’s a way of leveling the playing field for different OEMs. Ultimately, it has to be a value to the customer. It’s going to be a combination, but the end user’s IT organization will not allow 15-20 different pipes. It will be a Rockwell infrastructure and on a machine-builder-by-machine-builder basis.”