Circa 1985, say, Rockwell Automation was largely still a white-shirt-and-tie engineering company, just as IBM was a white-shirt-and-tie information-technology company. The overwhelming influence since that time of Silicon Valley, culturally as well as technologically, changed those two companies and many others as well.

Still, it was noticed on the first day of the 23rd annual Rockwell Automation Fair, held November 9-10 in Anaheim, California, that the monogrammed shirts worn by Rockwell personnel on the show floor were in fact white. And a certain seriousness still pervades the company. A good thing, as no one seemed to miss, for example, the marching bands, baton twirlers and acrobats so often brought in for event kick-offs.

Another point of comparison betwixt IBM and Rockwell is the importance of services. It’s well known that some years ago IBM revamped itself to focus on services. Less well known is that Rockwell’s service revenues have been growing at double-digit rates for at least most of the last decade.

What they need

“There’s no question the end-user community is thinner than ever in terms of engineering expertise and that many corporate central-engineering groups are no longer what they were. That combined with the rapid introduction of new technologies adds up to a real challenge,” says Joseph A. Kann, Rockwell VP, global business development.

The emerging technologies of the moment Kann refers to are not those formerly associated with plant floors. They include fast-growing use of virtualization to free process-control software from the hardware it’s dependent on, networking, and cloud and fog computing. Application developers and analysts are in high demand. Mobility is big, but you know that already. And security is perhaps biggest of all, as the lack of it brings into question the whole integrate-and-optimize project upon which the process industries are embarked.   

“Over the last ten years, we’ve taken ‘break-call-fix’ and added extensions,” says Kann. “These can include contracted services to maintain a set of automation assets, without involvement in the process chemistry, although that can be a line difficult to draw.”

Others involved

Consulting is another aspect of services. “Much of this is pre-project and life-cycle related,” says Kann. “Security is an area where we have domain expertise. We are a leader in machine safety.”

In its role of merging “operations technology with information technology,” Rockwell partners with Cisco Systems on networking and collaborates with AT&T on remote asset utilization and connected machine management.  Just weeks ago it acquired ESC Services, a lockout-tagout service provider.

These service efforts extend to a capacious network of independent systems integrators well-versed in Rockwell technologies and to the OEMs machine builders that have instrumentation installed on their machines and that are under the same influences as end users to use operations and information technology to optimize production and thereby hasten a U.S. industrial renaissance.