The manufacturing industry has operated with standardized processes and machinery for decades. Nowadays, many of these organizations are looking for new technical efficiencies and automation opportunities. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) and other cloud technologies are helping manufacturers increase their production visibility and improve workflows.
Rockwell Automation is a leading provider of industrial automation for manufacturing companies. Oliver Haya, commercial product manager for Rockwell, believes that SaaS and cloud technologies are transforming the industrial business model for their customers in several tangible ways.
Read on to learn more about what Rockwell Automation is doing to decrease longstanding pain points in the industry, and also what Haya believes are the most important current and future impacts of SaaS on manufacturing.
About Rockwell Automation and Industrial Automation
CIO Insight: What do you do in your current role with Rockwell Automation?
Haya: I’ve been at Rockwell for many years, but about a year and a half ago, I switched into a role leading some of our marketing efforts related to SaaS. This includes both product definition, as well as our go-to-market and marketing strategies around new SaaS and cloud products that we’re building.
These span the entire lifecycle of equipment, from the design of the equipment to the operation and optimization, as well as the maintenance of the equipment. I don’t lead any of the individual products, but more of how those products are designed to work together and fit into our new ecosystem.
CIO Insight: What does Rockwell Automation do as a company? What products and/or services do you offer?
Haya: Rockwell Automation is the world’s largest supplier of industrial automation that only does industrial automation equipment. We think this gives us a great focus and an ability to differentiate ourselves from some of our larger competitors that do other things like electrification, for example.
What we offer to our customers is a wide range of products, services, and solutions. Those products include the software and control aspects of industrial equipment, as well as many of the intelligent devices that are on those, such as variable frequency and servo drives, sensors, and power control. We also offer solutions and support that include building end-to-end solutions, such as control system design for our customers, as well as aftermarket service on our products.
CIO Insight: How did you first develop an interest in technology, process automation, and manufacturing?
Haya: The root cause of my failures as a human is probably LEGOs. I played with a ton of LEGOs as a kid, and I just loved it. I always liked building things and trying to figure out how to build them better. In college, I had a job in foodservice, and I was always trying to figure out how I could get from Step A to Step B faster. And so that idea of process optimization always kept going.
When I left college, I was looking for jobs, and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I wanted something that was dirtier than a clean room, but less dirty than an oilfield, and I found industrial automation to be the right blend of that — being able to service both of those industries.
The Great Resignation’s Impact on Digital Transformation
CIO Insight: What are current inefficiencies and challenges in the manufacturing world? What are your customers’ biggest pain points?
Haya: I think this is something we’re seeing across many industries, and ours is no exception, but there’s definitely a lack of time, resources, and staff skills. The Great Resignation in our industry has been going on for over a decade now, as many of the subject matter experts that grew up with the machinery in plants have started to retire. The people who could walk into a plant and hear that a machine was operating incorrectly from 100 feet away are really different from somebody who needs to log in with a computer.
“The people who could walk into a plant and hear that a machine was operating incorrectly from 100 feet away are really different from somebody who needs to log in with a computer.”
We want to make sure that a lot of these companies, as they’re losing some of their key staff and resources, have the capability to replace them, maybe not in kind, but with something that can achieve the same results. This comes down to the time, the training, the people, and the skill set.
And that’s a real challenge because technology is also evolving very quickly, so the skill sets that are going to be required over the next year or two or 10 are skill sets that have never been developed before. It’s not even a knowledge transfer that we’re looking to do; it is all new knowledge development.
We think there are some real opportunities there, specific to what we call operational technology, or what’s existing on the plant floor. There are real challenges with data. A lot of the plant floor equipment has been kept isolated and siloed for a variety of reasons. Some of those were for security, some of them were for lack of technical capability, or a lack of motivation to integrate them. And there’s been a recognition over the last decade or so that it’s really important to connect those data sources together.
“With greater data connectivity, fewer data silos, and better visibility to data, you can start to make your plants and operations much more efficient.”
With greater data connectivity, fewer data silos, and better visibility to data, you can start to make your plants and operations much more efficient. And because of a lot of those existing investments into the databases that maybe existed in silos, it’s been hard to convince the OT managers and the IT managers to really work together to break down those silos.
These are a lot of people’s passions about how they manage their data, and we need to look at them a little bit differently. Those are just some of the historical challenges that we have, and some are new or have been around for a decade or so.
Read more: COVID-19 Effects on Digital Transformation
The Cloud and SaaS in Manufacturing
CIO Insight: How can cloud technology and SaaS create new advantages for manufacturing companies?
Haya: When we talk about a small manufacturer, their ability to scale up or down is really important, and the cloud and SaaS can help provide that.
This will really simplify how people work. Rather than having to go buy hardware, and then spend time to install software on that hardware, and then maintain that over the years, you might be able to simplify your operations quite a bit with a SaaS subscription — where all of that’s managed by your vendor. And we’ve seen a lot of consumers go down that path for other parts of the business ecosystem.
I think another area that’s very exciting is that the cloud allows new scalability that didn’t exist before. I mentioned this earlier, but that ability to scale becomes really powerful when we start talking about innovation. One area that we’re looking at for SaaS is around simplifying some of the design processes, but also making those design processes more powerful.
Can you simulate an entire machine before you ever build it? That’s a really hard thing to do from a computing perspective, but if you can do it in a cloud sandbox that scales with you, that becomes much easier.
Advice for Manufacturing Leaders
CIO Insight: Have you witnessed any hesitation with your customers when you’re working on getting them to move to the cloud or a SaaS setup?
Haya: I’ve been working with SaaS in the manufacturing space for about eight or nine years now for a few different applications Rockwell has made. The first hesitation is always ‘IT will never let us. This is a security risk. We can’t go to the cloud.’ And what we found was that most people have such a big disconnect from what their IT departments actually want and what they think IT wants.
“The first hesitation is always ‘IT will never let us. This is a security risk. We can’t go to the cloud.'”
And so that’s a really big first step: figure out what your IT department actually wants. We’ve seen so many companies over the years have their IT department go towards the cloud very quietly, and manufacturing had no idea. And then manufacturing said, ‘Well, we got this app. We think it’s really cool. There’s no way you’ll let us do this, right, IT?’ And IT says, ‘That’s great. We’d actually prefer it if you did this.’
A lot of them are cultural as well; how do you create that change that can be really hard to do? People never like to change the way they’re doing things unless they’re really unhappy with the way they’re doing things — and that’s just not the case for a lot of people that we work with.
They all love what they do, so trying to get them to change the way they’re doing it to become more efficient requires a lot of showing why that would be more efficient. You have to show the end result before you can really engage early on in what would be a process change for them.
CIO Insight: What initial steps do manufacturers need to take before they can move processes and data into a SaaS cloud environment?
Haya: I think they need to set a goal. They need to understand what they’re trying to accomplish, because software-as-a-service does have some great benefits, but there’s other things that it can’t do as well.
SaaS presents a great opportunity, but figure out why you want to do it. Are you trying to lower your costs? Are you trying to become more agile? Are you trying to stay ahead of your IT department telling you what you need?
Set that goal, and figure out what your company’s tolerance is. If your company is already accepting of SaaS, that makes it a lot easier. If your company says ‘We only do that for our business systems, but not for our manufacturing systems,’ you need to understand why. Is that a fear of security? Is that a perception of cost or availability?
And then once you have those goals set aside, I think it becomes much easier to start to find the right solution.
Read more: Guide to the 5 Types of Change Management
Making the Case for SaaS in Manufacturing
CIO Insight: How can manufacturing leaders leverage SaaS cloud technology to work smarter and more efficiently?
Haya: We’ve identified five big value drivers that we think will have a huge influence in SaaS. One of them that I’m really passionate about is access everywhere. The idea that, no matter where you’re working, you should be able to access your data and you should be able to access the software and the systems that you’re working with, is really important.
As our own company has gone into more of a remote work scenario, we’ve found that many of our developers were working in a secure development environment that was specifically tied to their desk, and we had to learn how to adapt to be able to work more remotely.
As we work more remotely, that requires new access. And that access everywhere means a couple different things. One is geographic, but it also means access everywhere, through your devices, too.
I got a request not too long ago to approve, for my boss’s boss, a file that they needed to access. And I was not at my computer at the time, it was off working hours, but I got the notification on my phone. Being able to access that same kind of software on my phone, in this case, OneDrive, and then granting permission made a huge difference in my boss’s eyes about how devoted I was to work.
Another thing that we’ve identified as being really, really valuable is data sharing. We talked earlier about the idea of data silos, of information being stuck in certain places. And sharing data across different business functions and across different business systems can be really important to getting to new business outcomes.
“Sharing data across different business functions and across different business systems can be really important to getting to new business outcomes.”
You can do data sharing without the cloud and without SaaS, but it becomes a lot easier to do that data sharing when you can enable it through something that is already designed to be decentralized.
And this data sharing is not necessarily just within your own company. It may be beneficial to start to link systems with your suppliers and your vendors, or your customers to better understand what their demand needs are. It becomes a lot easier to make those kinds of connections when you’re using SaaS in the cloud, because those APIs and connectors are already built in.
So that’s two of the things we’ve identified. Another one that’s really cool is on-demand scaling. As a company grows, their software and their services should grow with them.
Asking a small business to invest in a major mainframe — because that’s the smallest size there is — isn’t ideal. Some of our new SaaS offerings start out as a free offering that you can scale up as you go and as you grow. The idea of ‘pay as you grow’ or ‘scale as you grow’ becomes really enticing to small companies that are trying new things.
“Asking a small business to invest in a major mainframe — because that’s the smallest size there is — isn’t ideal.”
But that on-demand scaling isn’t just limited to the users and the features of the software. It can also be the capabilities of the software as well. If you need to use a whole lot more one month, because you are in the business of making candy canes that are needed at Christmas time, you can scale up your resources, and then scale them back down.
And when you can do that on demand, and when you can do it automatically, it makes it a lot easier to adopt new software that you wouldn’t normally try. You can start to experiment with other software packages because that barrier to entry becomes almost negligible. It is just the time that you need to validate the product to use it rather than a big capital investment and a lot of approvals just to try it out.
So that’s one that I think presents a really interesting opportunity for a lot of software vendors to be able to bring their products to market more easily. And all of this has to be done at a cost that is comparable to what exists today, or ideally a lot cheaper.
There are additional benefits that come with this, but cost is really the fourth pillar that we’ve identified because we think that these costs can go way down. What’s interesting is that the costs on the surface may actually look more expensive. This is because SaaS puts a lot of the responsibility on the software vendor. They’re the ones supplying the hardware and the software and the maintenance of it. And so software-as-a-service, to accomplish the same function, may actually cost more on a month-to-month basis.
But if you look at the total cost of ownership, the total lifecycle, you don’t have the initial acquisition cost, and you don’t have the long term maintenance costs. A lot of those maintenance costs get hidden.
One example I have is I had to upgrade software that I have on my computer recently, and the software that was on my computer, not software-as-a-service, took me about four days from when I identified that I needed the software to when I was actually running because I had to download it. And then I had to install it, and then I had to shut down and restart my computer while it was installing, and then I had to continue the installer.
And this was all while I was juggling meetings and taking care of my daughter. I didn’t have a continuous block of time to do it. That time doesn’t get recorded anywhere. That doesn’t go into anybody’s cost accounting budget, so there’s a lot of hidden maintenance costs associated with traditional software licensing. SaaS takes care of all that; there are no hidden costs. It is all baked into the price you pay, which gets rid of a lot of those hidden inefficiencies.
The last pillar of SaaS that should get everybody excited is performance. This goes with the on-demand scalability and the cost quite well. When you’re using software-as-a-service in the cloud, you’re always getting the latest and greatest hardware because cloud providers are investing in that; they are putting the money into it. You’re also getting the incredible scalability of the cloud. I had somebody who once asked, ‘well, what about my data model, if it’s this big?’ And I said, ‘how big do you think the cloud is?’
“I had somebody who once asked, ‘well, what about my data model, if it’s this big?’ And I said, ‘how big do you think the cloud is?'”
We can scale the compute resources that are used to always optimize performance. Things that used to take days on your individual computer — running a simulation, for example — could be done much more quickly in the cloud by just pushing them to the cloud and having them run overnight and come back the next morning.
Those five pillars, we think, lay a really good setup for people to justify why they want to move to the cloud and software-as-a-service in the cloud.
Read more: Cloud Cost Management: Tips & Best Practices
Five Ways SaaS Can Revolutionize Manufacturing Operations
|Five Benefits of SaaS in Manufacturing|
|1. Access Everywhere||Securely access production systems from anywhere in the world.|
|2. Data Sharing||Maximize uptime and efficiency with enterprise data accessibility.|
|3. On-Demand Scaling||Easily add or remove compute power and users to adjust with your needs.|
|4. Cost||Reduce hardware and software capital expenses and IT on-site maintenance.|
|5. Performance||Access the latest fast computing hardware.|
(Source: Rockwell Automation)
Using SaaS to Support Manufacturing Talent
CIO Insight: In a world with increasingly distributed workforces and tech talent shortages, how can SaaS cloud technology alleviate personnel problems?
Haya: This is a very real need in our industry as well. When we look at our market, we sell to manufacturers and producers of all different sizes, and we look at our enterprise customers that are multinational conglomerates. They have engineers on staff that can build up their own data models in the cloud, and they can build their own tenants in the cloud.
But when we start looking at our small and medium-sized companies, there’s no way that they’re going to hire somebody that’s also looking at jobs at Silicon Valley, or Google, or as a data scientist at an international conglomerate. We want to be able to provide those opportunities for them.
The idea of SaaS in the cloud really allows us to build products that can scale to all different sizes, so that you don’t need to have a cloud engineer with data science experience on your staff to be able to reap the benefits of it.
You won’t get as much customization: one of the ideas of the cloud is that pretty much everybody’s using the same software most of the time. The idea of having one version of software that everyone uses is paramount to SaaS. And having that capability, you sacrifice a little bit in customization, but you gain so much more because you wouldn’t have had anything to work with at all.
“You sacrifice a little bit in customization, but you gain so much more because you wouldn’t have had anything to work with at all.”
The maintenance costs go down, and the maintenance personnel needs go down for software-as-a-service. You don’t need as large of an IT staff to support a fairly large SaaS footprint within your business. I think that this aligns really well with outcome-based models. You want to be able to get to a solution and an outcome, and even if you don’t have the staff on hand to support that, SaaS can help you get there.
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The Future of Process Automation and Scaling in Manufacturing
CIO Insight: How does Rockwell Automation commit itself to sustainability efforts? How important will these efforts be to the future of manufacturing?
Haya: That is a question that’s really near and dear to my heart. The whole idea of Rockwell Automation is helping to make our manufacturers more efficient in what they’re doing. And for so much of the world, sustainability has become an important part of their goals. The idea of being able to make things more efficiently involves making them more sustainably in almost every case.
“The idea of being able to make things more efficiently involves making them more sustainably in almost every case.”
As a company, we’re in a really good position to help our customers start to look at where they can save energy and how they can identify which plants can produce a product for less energy. And why is that? How can they relate those energy savings to where that energy is produced, how it’s produced, and be able to maybe shift production to more sustainable energy production facilities?
Energy is not the only way; there’s also water, and there’s also chemicals. Any way that we can help our customers optimize their process is going to improve their sustainability footprint.
We’re in a really unique position of being a company that helps customers do this with all of our devices, because we go from the device level — the variable frequency drive that’s controlling the agitator in a pharmaceutical batch — up to the software that’s controlling the process, and the software that’s ordering which batches need to get made and when.
That end-to-end view puts us in a unique position to help customers act more sustainably by seeing from where the actual data is being created up to where it’s being used. They’ve got better visibility than they’ve ever had before.
CIO Insight: What benefits do you expect your customers will see with SaaS, now and in the future?
Haya: We are very excited about the future of software-as-a-service and the cloud in manufacturing. We think that it has a tremendous opportunity to help our customers accelerate their time to value, we think that it can help boost collaboration and that it can really unlock a lot of the value that data has. I think this is really a powerful set of tools that we can help our customers unlock, and can help them be more efficient because of it.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
About Oliver Haya
Oliver Haya is the Commercial Product Manager at Rockwell Automation. With over 13 years of experience with Rockwell Automation, Oliver focuses on pushing the boundaries of automation in machine safety, flexible manufacturing, and industrial communications. He is now helping manufacturers take advantage of what the cloud can offer.