Manufacturing intelligence drive capitalizes on Rockwell/Microsoft partnership

As many a plant manager would attest, global manufacturing enterprises today expect unprecedented levels of detailed information about plant performance. One reason is the increasing scale of multi-plant operations, of extended supply chains, and of outsourced production, which call for the kinds of manufacturing intelligence that allows flexible, collaborative response to ongoing change and i...

By Malcolm Wheatley, Senior Contributing Editor August 1, 2007

As many a plant manager would attest, global manufacturing enterprises today expect unprecedented levels of detailed information about plant performance. One reason is the increasing scale of multi-plant operations, of extended supply chains, and of outsourced production, which call for the kinds of manufacturing intelligence that allows flexible, collaborative response to ongoing change and innovation.

Martinrea International supplies fluid systems and metal-formed parts such as chassis modules, frame assemblies, and steel stampings to North American automakers. The company, headquartered in Vaughan, Ontario, employs about 7,000 people in 32 plants in Canada, the United States, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. Revenues in its 2006 fiscal year were $871.5 million Canadian dollars. The company made two major acquisitions in 2006: automotive suppliers Thyssenkurpp Budd, and Depco International.

Darren Allison, IT manager at Martinrea International, says usage of Rockwell Software’s FactoryTalk Metric marked beginning of a successful manufacturing intelligence campaign.

Martinrea says it is thriving amidst “what seems a perfect storm” in the automotive industry through “its innovative approaches to product and production” and “continuous improvement in all aspects of our operations,” as it sees its customers “moving to global platforms and more commonality of product,” according to its most recent annual report.

As part of a corporate performance-improvement program, Martinrea’s Hopkinsville, Ky.-based plant—which produces more than 10,000 auto parts daily—needed more detailed analyses of its daily operations. But managers there found the plant’s manual data-collection processes didn’t yield the needed information.

The plant addressed the problem with a solution from Rockwell Automation. In the last several years, Rockwell, which has annual revenues of more than $5.5 billion, has taken steps to develop, acquire, and extend a plant IT infrastructure for production and performance management, called FactoryTalk, from Rockwell Software. It is one of several competing plant application suites being introduced to the manufacturing industries by major automation vendors and others.

The service-oriented architecture (SOA)-based infrastructure of these solutions, according to a July 2007 report, Defining Next-Generation Manufacturing , by Boston-based AMR Research ‘s Collin Masson, can by their nature support more flexible operations. Plants also are seen as a more suitable arena in which to widely apply SOA technologies, says Masson, than at the enterprise or supply chain level, given current technology constraints.

Microsoft technology and solutions also played a role at Martinrea Hopkinsville, and Rockwell has announced partnerships with data-historian vendor OSIsoft and networking vendor Cisco Systems to further deliver manufacturing intelligence capabilities (see sidebar, Data historian is key piece of plant puzzle , p. 17).

Step in the right direction

At the Hopkinsville plant, FactoryTalk’s SOA infrastructure supports a set of services for improved access to plant-floor information. The plant executes about 11.5 million data collection transactions per day to monitor inventory, product, budget, and other parameters. Just a few weeks into the engagement, detailed process data from 150 operations, 200 work cells, and 180 plant‑level controllers was being piped into Rockwell’s FactoryTalk Metrics application.

FactoryTalk Metrics is a complete system to monitor plant-floor equipment and machine performance, including event history. Its default KPIs calculate overall equipment efficiency (OEE). Configuration of custom formulas, calculations, and events also is possible.

At Hopkinsville, plant engineers, supervisors, maintenance technicians, and line managers for the first time saw up-to-the-minute performance data. Darren Allison, IT manager at Martinrea’s Hopkinsville plant, says that led to “definite improvements in our productivity, throughput, and rework levels.”

Matt Bauer , director of market development, Rockwell Software, says it “makes no sense” to replicate what other vendors do when partnering creates a better value proposition for users.

To start, real-time data access was accomplished via operator interfaces using FactoryTalk View. But “we wanted something that gave us more of a Microsoft ‘look and feel’,” says Allison. “Users were asking for custom reports, handing us a mock-up, and saying: ‘Here’s what we want it to look like,’—and what it looked like was an Excel or Word document. Everyone knows how to work in Excel, and they wanted to manipulate the data within Excel.”

Subsequently, a Microsoft SQL Server and SQL Server Reporting Services package was added to the mix. Allison says combining FactoryTalk Metrics and the Microsoft reporting capabilities gives the plant a solid and flexible data-management foundation that promotes report-structure reuse, and integrates easily with existing decision-support tools.

Familiarity breeds success

According to Matt Bauer, director of market development for Rockwell Software, collaborative efforts—such as those Rockwell and Microsoft exerted at Martinrea—are business-as-usual. “No company, not even Microsoft, has all the technology and domain expertise needed for these sophisticated solutions. They want to be with us in the manufacturing space.”

On the other hand, Microsoft is very important for Rockwell. Bauer says there are three key parameters for FactoryTalk, integration, collaboration, and visualization. While there are multiple ways of achieving integration, dependent, for example, on the middleware involved, Microsoft technology provides a solid framework for collaboration and visualization.

“Microsoft will commoditize those capabilities at the desktop. We’re working with them to ensure what’s needed for manufacturing is available,” says Bauer. “For example, they’ve taken their business intelligence tool set, leveraged it for the manufacturing industry, and augmented it with the advanced analysis and visualization technologies taken from their acquisition of ProClarity.”

Rockwell Software has taken steps to develop, acquire, and extend a plant IT infrastructure for production partnerships and performance management, and includes technology.

Chris Colyer, Microsoft worldwide solutions director for manufacturing operations, stresses the nuances of how Microsoft promotes the resulting Plant Floor Analytics initiative within manufacturing industries. “We’re not saying: Here’s our analytics application, but rather that Rockwell has the application, and we provide a superior analytics capability within it.”

Where it matters

By implementing Rockwell Automation and Microsoft reporting solutions, Martinrea has increased OEE and productivity at Hopkinsville. In addition, Six Sigma is at the heart of many of Martinrea International’s improvement initiatives.

“The data collection and analysis phases of a Six Sigma project usually are the biggest consumers of time and resources,” notes Allison. The company estimates that time spent on a Six Sigma project has been reduced by 50 percent, from six months to three months for standard processes. Further, the system proves an effective way to validate Six Sigma project results.

“The Six Sigma folks are moving from project to project a lot more quickly,” says Allison. “Getting the data, and then analyzing it, is a lot more straightforward than it used to be—and it’s easier to bring in people from the maintenance function, because the information they’re presented with is in a format they understand, and it references devices and fault codes in ways that are familiar to them.”

The combined Rockwell-Microsoft capability also makes a significant difference in the time it takes to bring a new production line up to targeted levels of productivity, throughput, and achieved product cost.

Traditionally, says Allison, it took six months of debugging, tweaking, and tuning until the line settled down to peak efficiency. Shortly after full implementation of the combined Rockwell-Microsoft solution, a line producing components for the Ford Mustang reached peak efficiency in three months—a feat that has been routinely achieved ever since.

Best of all, concludes Allison, “Now when a manager comes and says, ‘This is what we want,’ it’s easy to get the data into the format they want.”

Data historian is a key piece of plant puzzle for Rockwell, OSIsoft

Rockwell Automation develops solutions using Microsoft technology, and, as can be seen from the Martinrea International example, Rockell delivers manufacturing solutions in partnership with Microsoft. But Microsoft isn’t the only partner assisting Rockwell’s efforts to bolster manufacturing intelligence.

“If you look at the plant-floor data historian landscape, a clear leader is OSIsoft , which has the de facto standard for collating massive volumes of data,” explains Matt Bauer, director of market development, Rockwell Software. An agreement signed in October 2006 will put OSIsoft’s PI System and related components into the Rockwell FactoryTalk production and performance management suite.

OSIsoft PI, incorporated into FactoryTalk, will collect control-system data for sophisticated analysis and reporting using a tiered, distributed historian strategy that puts an embedded PI server at the device level—tuned for high affinity with Rockwell hardware—to collect data for transmission to PI servers at either the plant or enterprise levels, where it is joined by other data streams, including from third-party devices.

“It’s a smart way to get data from the Rockwell devices, and materially contributes to the formation of an active manufacturing intelligence layer,” says Gregg LeBlanc, director of technical strategy, OSIsoft.

The FactoryTalk machine edition will embed PI at the controller level. A new site edition of FactoryTalk is due for shipment in fourth-quarter 2007.

The implications of pairing OSIsoft PI with FactoryTalk may be even more far reaching than is apparent at first blush. According to a July 2007 report from Boston-based AMR Research , Defining Next-generation Manufacturing , “Data historians are now a critical foundation for emerging manufacturing SOAs. New-generation data historians do much more than aggregate, compress, archive, and trend real-time data. They are now huge and sometimes distributed state detection machines designed for complex definition and real-time evaluation of complex events.”

A third Rockwell alliance focuses on the network infrastructure for enterprise data integration. The problem here, says Beth Parkinson, Rockwell director of strategic alliances, has been a battle for mindshare—with manufacturers and vendors divided on how best to harness Ethernet.

“Typically you’ll find one approach to Ethernet on the plant floor, and another in the office environment,” she says. “Both approaches are valid within their own context, but manufacturers want a single approach to both.”

Rockwell is partnering with the leader in the field, Cisco Systems . The magnitude of the problem addressed surfaced when Rockwell and Cisco invited IT managers from both the production and enterprise sides of Fortune 100 companies to a “customer innovation council.”

Parkinson says senior IT people from the same companies—though from different sides of the IT spectrum—didn’t even know one another, let alone understand each other’s perspectives. “There was a gulf in terms of expectations, priorities, and agendas,” she relates.

Engineers from Rockwell and Cisco are developing a reference architecture that codifies agreed-upon best practices for Ethernet on the factory floor. A jointly authored design and implementation guide presently stands at 196 pages in its first edition. Parkinson says more volumes are planned, but in the meantime, “It’s been a real learning experience putting our two groups of engineers together,” she says.

Mark Wylie, Cisco technology partner manager and a former Rockwell executive, says Cisco developed a solution called Ethernet to the Factory, ”but we were held back because we didn’t have an adequate presence on the factory floor. Rockwell had a similar problem, but in reverse: they were talking to the IT function, and found buyers had different agendas, mind-sets, and hot buttons.”

From a manufacturing intelligence perspective, concludes Rockwell’s Bauer, the imperative is clear. “There’s an information revolution going on, and manufacturing intelligence creates a competitive edge for companies with world-class aspirations. Are they looking forward, or are they peering into the rear-view mirror? Our job is to help them look forward, and when we can’t do that on our own, we’ll partner with companies that can.”