Rockwell Automation revolutionizes manufacturing decision-making with Microsoft IoT technology

For nearly every manufacturer, the holy grail is producing the greatest volume of high-quality products—and that requires optimizing operational efficiency and excellence. Yet many manufacturing companies lack the real-time shop floor visibility they need to make split-second decisions that can boost their profits.

At this year’s IoT Solutions World Congress, Rockwell Automation is sharing exactly how it’s solving this problem. The world’s largest company dedicated to industrial automation, Rockwell Automation is helping its customers get real-time operational insight into their manufacturing processes. The key? Integrating the Windows IoT 10 operating system with existing manufacturing equipment and software, and connecting manufacturers’ on-premises infrastructure to the Azure IoT Suite. By offering its customers a complete IoT solution, Rockwell Automation is enabling them to make on-the-spot decisions—while equipping them with the advanced analytics they need to optimize their operations.

The typical manufacturing company owns machines and software from multiple vendors, making it a tremendous challenge to consolidate information. Take a packaging line, for example. To optimize its operations, a manufacturer may need to monitor many variables. Yet until now, this was nearly impossible to accomplish in real time. An experienced operator might have manually observed manufacturing equipment while it was running to make sure it was operating properly. And at the end of the shift, a supervisor might have manually gathered production data while examining two or three production variables from a computer interface.

To help its customers track all their operational variables, Rockwell Automation is building Windows IoT 10 into its suite of Logix control systems, installing its own software and applications from third-party vendors directly on its customers’ manufacturing equipment. Not only does the solution enable manufacturers to make adjustments to their equipment in real time, but it seamlessly connects a customer’s IT environment to Azure IoT Suite so it can securely perform advanced analytics in the cloud.

In the case of the packaging line, the result is that all 15 variables can be examined simultaneously—enabling manufacturers to make quick adjustments without waiting until the end of the shift. “We’ve moved the time it takes to make decisions from hours to milliseconds,” says Dan DeYoung, market development director at Rockwell Automation.

What’s more, data can be processed both at the edge, allowing for fast decisions, and in the cloud, where machine learning and predictive analytics can be applied to optimize each operational variable based on past performance. “It’s really simple and seamless to move data into the cloud,” says John Dyck, software business development director at Rockwell Automation. “And if customers want to apply machine learning or predictive analytics, they can do so without additional complexity.”

A key benefit of the Rockwell Automation platform is that manufacturers can add new applications without having to rip-and-replace their existing hardware. Moreover, the solution is based on familiar Microsoft technologies, making it easier for customers to manage. “Customers don’t need to be IT experts to use Rockwell Automation products with Windows 10 IoT,” says Keith Staninger, global business director at Rockwell Automation. “It’s a way to reduce the learning curve and still have that rich data directly available on the plant floor.”

For its part, Rockwell Automation now has a flexible and scalable platform that’s positioning the company for future growth. “We can reuse applications and tailor them for different outcomes and products in the architecture,” says DeYoung. “That really helps speed our time-to-market and enables us to scale for different purposes.”

Microsoft’s IoT customer portfolio continues to grow

In addition to building on our relationship with Rockwell, Microsoft continues to strengthen its customer portfolio with recent wins announced at the Microsoft Ignite and Envision conferences last week. For example, Steelcase, a company with a 105-year history of designing for workplaces, is using Microsoft IoT technology to help organizations create workplaces that better meet the needs of the people who use them. With a network of wireless infrared sensors built upon the Microsoft Azure IoT platform, the company is analyzing which spaces are being used, which are not, and the possible reasons why.

Similarly, multinational company Honeywell is harnessing Microsoft Azure and Azure IoT Hub to create a new family of connected products for the home called Lyric. Lyric helps homeowners lower their energy usage, identify water leaks and break-ins, and handle other property issues from afar—saving them money by enabling them to deal with problems early. These are just a few companies that are tapping into the innovative capabilities of Microsoft IoT technology to improve their operations and create new revenue opportunities.

For more information on how businesses are using the power of IoT to transform their businesses, read the Rockwell Automation case study. Also, please read our recent Steelcase and Honeywell blog posts.

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