Rockwell Automation ups the ante with global process transformation

Rockwell Automation is best known as the leading U.S.-based automation vendor, but it's also a manufacturer in its own right. “We're a hardware manufacturer that makes thousands of products, most of them custom,” says Mike Jackson, VP of global business services and CIO. “We have 27 plants around the world and are doing more with partners and contract manufacturers.


Rockwell Automation is best known as the leading U.S.-based automation vendor, but it's also a manufacturer in its own right.

“We're a hardware manufacturer that makes thousands of products, most of them custom,” says Mike Jackson, VP of global business services and CIO. “We have 27 plants around the world and are doing more with partners and contract manufacturers.”

In 2003, when the Global Process Transformation (GPT) team tasked with engineering a single, worldwide plant-to-enterprise system footprint for Rockwell suggested changing the endeavor's name to reflect a systems perspective, “we got push back from top management,” says Jackson, who is the project lead.

“By the time we showed them what the company looked like with legacy systems in all the plants, and how we recommended taking a process perspective, top management had already gotten religion,” says Jackson. “They realized that to better serve customers, business and plant systems needed to be integrated, but so as to support operations globally from an end-to-end process perspective.”

According to Mike Reynolds, system integration manager and a key member of the GPT team, “We used to optimize plants locally, but now we're focused on optimizing processes as an enterprise.”

Do what it takes

The benefits come from sourcing, configuring, and customizing product from multiple facilities, if need be; and using available resources wherever located to meet cost and delivery expectations.

“Every organization struggles with the capacity to change,” Jackson says. “There's a lot of inherent risk in that. But we know we must be creative, innovative, and collaborative. We have to be able to synchronize across the supply chain and in the plant.”

One first step was consolidating all manufacturing into one organization. Another was ensuring strategy design and implementation was reflected equally with manufacturing and IT expertise. Further, three requirements central to the manufacturing IT vision were integrated control and safety, multiplant information management, and integrated visualization.

The amount of local customization of both business and operations systems meant “there wasn't much to leverage in terms of global processes,” Jackson says. Instead, Rockwell standardized on SAP ERP for a single source of enterprise data.

“Then we started to roll into the execution mode,” Jackson says. “We realized the huge variety of what was in the plants, with a lot of custom code—much of it solving the same problems in multiple ways, and people using the same applications in many different ways.

“We've already have several plants up and connected to SAP through Rockwell Software's FactoryTalk,” Jackson continues. “We use our own system because it's a good fit.”

Working into world-class

FactoryTalk will be the standard plant system going forward throughout Rockwell.

“Doing the interface link once takes a lot of risk out of later implementations,” says Jackson.

Central to Rockwell's Global Transformation Process is engineering world-class best practices, and the organization has made world-class best practice assessments part of annual budgeting cycles.

“We're up against a lot of astute competitors,” Jackson says. “We can't rely on only our own ideas. We look at what others in the industry and outside our industry are doing—including consumer products—to understand better how they serve their customers. We want to do the same.”

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