Kris Dornan is marketing manager—software and control—large control, Rockwell Automation.
What have been the biggest improvements to machine-controls technology in the past five years?
Kris Dornan, marketing manager—software and control—large control, Rockwell Automation: One improvement is the integration of analytics and machine-learning capabilities within machine-control solutions. For example, some systems now use an algorithm to learn what type of diagnostic conditions or alarms are used or discarded by operators. The systems can then provide better future alarms based on those operator actions.
Some drives also have built-in predictive algorithms. They use built-in sensors to monitor stressors like temperature, voltage, current and speed. Then they convert those stressors into rate-of-life consumption data to predict when critical components on the drive will reach their end of life. This allows maintenance teams to see failures coming and make plans to proactively resolve them.
What’s the most innovative or efficient machine-controls technology application you’ve ever seen or been involved with?
Kris Dornan, marketing manager—software and control—large control, Rockwell Automation: Digital-twin software is changing so much about the design and performance of automation systems. The software can simulate a discrete application before the physical system has been built. This allows for earlier optimization of the application. It also allows you to test, debug and verify the system’s performance before you commission it. And it allows operators to learn and interact with the system to build their competency with it, all in the safety of a virtual environment.
How has machine-controls technology benefitted from remote monitoring and connectivity?
Kris Dornan, marketing manager—software and control—large control, Rockwell Automation: Technologies enabling remote monitoring and connectivity have made big strides during the pandemic. One of these technologies is thin-client management software that delivers production content to end-user devices. The software can now use Bluetooth connectivity to authorize a remote operator with proper credentials to take ownership of the HMI and can port that HMI application to a portable tablet allowing for remote operator access. This has even been combined with IP cameras to replace a physical operator in locations that can be hazardous for human work.
What future innovations will impact the use of machine-controls technology in discrete-manufacturing operations?
Kris Dornan, marketing manager—software and control—large control, Rockwell Automation: The usage of analytics and machine learning will only increase in industrial automation. Many companies are already integrating analytics to not only react but also predict future actions to help reduce downtime and increase efficiency. And the number of industrial control systems with built-in predictive-analytics capabilities will only continue to grow.
Also, adoption of robotics is growing across industries. But companies are realizing that today’s smarter, more capable industrial robots can’t exist as disparate systems. They require greater integration with plant control systems. Industrial control systems are increasingly helping ease this integration, such as by allowing robot and machine controllers to be connected via EtherNet/IP. Additionally, partnerships between automation and robot vendors are enabling unified machine control. This allows a machine controller to directly control a robot, reducing the need for a dedicated robot controller and associated components.
Tell us about your company’s state-of-the-art machine-controls technology for discrete manufacturing.
Kris Dornan, marketing manager—software and control—large control, Rockwell Automation: Smart manufacturing is a competitive necessity as you face pressures to increase efficiencies, boost throughputs and increase product customization. Our smart industrial control systems can help you more easily and fully realize the promise of smart manufacturing.
Our systems can simplify how you make your operations smarter, giving you options for a step-by-step, scalable process that can deliver quick return on investment (ROI) and be supportable over the long term. They can also capture production data right at its source. This can help your teams quickly gain meaningful insights and accurate reporting on overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) for improved decision making. And with solutions like flexible motion systems, we can help you accommodate new production needs more easily.
Our machine controllers have built-in cybersecurity technology and are designed for diverse applications. They range from ControlLogix controllers for high-availability, high-performance applications, to GuardLogix controllers for safety and standard control, to CompactLogix controllers for standalone equipment. This breadth of offerings can help standardize industrial control systems across your operations to simplify training and maintenance. This is especially critical today because the pandemic and retirements have greatly affected the availability of skilled workers.
Our systems also provide value in how they contextualize information to the specific roles at a facility. For example, our visualization library contains faceplates that are built for an operator’s day. We can give them a common way to see how to start, stop or jog the drive, while also highlighting any diagnostic conditions or interlocks that are prohibiting an operator’s action.