Interview: Keith Nosbusch, CEO of Rockwell Automation

Posted on 8 Nov 2012

The Manufacturer speaks with Keith Nosbusch, CEO of Rockwell Automation, who maps out a future for automation that transforms production standards in emerged markets that links with communication to give factory managers and operatives the ability to monitor energy usage in remote locations.

TM: Rockwell has placed a strong focus on services at this year’s Rockwell Automation Fair in Philadelphia. Why is this important to your customer?

KN: We’ve always been in that business a little bit but process is so important to us and those manufacturers expect the automation supplier to provide this solution.

For us to be a stronger player in process control we needed to improve our solutions capabilities. We’ve made acquisitions and are continuing to broaden our domain expertise in that area.

Services are very important in emerging markets. There is not a lot of skill or knowledge in emerging markets to apply automation. Our ability to have that knowledge enables a customer to deploy a standard solution inside a plant wherever they are in the world. [This will improve standards. In one cross-continent example, Ford factories typically run at around 15 jobs per hour in Asia but is around 60 in US/Europe. Quite a reason to standardise.]

TM: Will it result in automation skills leaving companies and residing with companies such as yours?

KN: Companies will focus on where they can add value so they are looking for third parties to do more of the system integration.

The system integrator community evolved from internal competence made external as they wanted to focus on things other than automation. No one has that skill set in emerging countries so it is a requirement to help them grow but over time you will see systems integrators evolving there too.

TM: Skills aren’t there in emerging markets – have you found skills are decreasing and so there is an increasing need for your service?

KN: That is happening. In mature economies engineers are retiring and not being replaced in the same way so they are looking for providers to give that support. In emerging markets the skills set doesn’t exist so they are looking for partners.

Manufacturing is growing outside of Europe and outside of the US so we have to be where our multinational customers are and they want a similar execution model wherever they go. They don’t have people [with automation skills] to put into China, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

Consumer goods companies value their brand so they want to make their processes similar so that there isn’t a problem that will influence their image in the global marketplace.

TM: Is there less interest in reducing energy usage in the emerging markets as it is a smaller cost?

KN: The difficulty isn’t energy costs but the availability of energy in emerging markets [a power outage left 600 million people in India without electricity for days during July]. They don’t have energy systems and networks so if industry wants to grow it has to reduce the amount of energy needed for manufacturing as they don’t have reliable power sources.

TM: At the Fair, you highlighted partnerships with Cisco and Microsoft over others today. Why was that?

KN: We believe network security is becoming a more important problem. Our clients are asking us about security more than ever and we believe that network infrastructure is key. We need to put plants and IT together so they can confidently connect to the plant floor and use remote connection.

[We also need to] extend hardware platforms even when new technology is coming in to maintain legacy systems with visualisation. With all the threats, such as government sponsored espionage and malware, people are concerned about their control systems. We need to visualise the data to highlight the truths.

TM: How do you envisage manufacturing plants looking in five to ten years time?

KN: Smart manufacturing is about the connected enterprise, the movement of information and knowledge for a more technology-rich platform – not just in automation – but to make decisions based on realtime information and having it available to the enterprise.

We’ll see convergence of network and unified communication of voice, data control and information on the plant floor. Manufacturing intelligence around data will give actionable knowledge to the operator, as integrated automation and information as a revolution of manufacturing and tightly integrate plant and supply network for the greater use of technology on the plant floor.

The challenge is having the skills and technology in the plant to work remote but still understand what’s going on inside. Remote monitoring is the future, particularly in difficult environments and geographies as opposed to remote sites.