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Microsoft and Rockwell Automation collaborate on digital solutions for manufacturers

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This post has been co-authored by Andrew Ellis, Vice President of Global Portfolio Engineering (Rockwell Automation) 

Industrial leaders have worked for years to improve the efficiency of manufacturing processes through digital innovation. But finding a balance between informational technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) requirements in their facilities has been a challenge. Solutions designed to solve immediate operational problems come up short on scalability, security, and manageability. Conversely, solutions prioritizing scale and security do not always solve urgent operational problems and can be too complex or costly to justify.

Microsoft and Rockwell Automation believe well-designed digital solutions can address operational, system, workforce, and scale needs at the same time. That’s why we have partnered to build digital solutions that deliver transformational outcomes with immediate value and long-term scale, resilience, and agility. By working together, we can leverage our respective strengths and expertise to develop solutions that meet the needs of manufacturers.

Building solutions for both physical and digital operations

While collaborating with our customers to design, build, operate, and maintain digital solutions, we’ve discovered a series of digital accelerators that, when applied correctly, make a critical difference in a solution’s success. These accelerators can bridge the gap between immediate business needs on the factory floor and enterprise-scale requirements by:

Taking advantage of cloud-to-edge frameworks: Using the same programming models, tools, application program interfaces (APIs), and management systems for cloud and operational systems helps make sure that edge computing systems are interoperable with existing IT systems and infrastructure. This makes it easier to integrate an OT computing system into an organization’s existing workflow and processes.

Digital native best practices, including Microsoft Azure-to-edge development methods, help you to consistently build and operate modern cloud-based applications from the factory floor to the enterprise. These tools bring more consistency and flexibility into operations and can directly integrate with cloud services. They also allow your applications and dependencies to be packaged into lightweight containers, making them easily deployable on cloud and edge infrastructures.

Cloud-to-edge native management tools unify processes and data management across a company’s cloud, on-site, and edge systems. This can simplify daily operations and make data more visible and actionable while improving system resilience and security.
Leveraging cloud scalability for operational agility: Inherent cloud scalability is an accelerator for digital operations because it allows you to consistently deliver modern operational services to any geography and at any service level.

With cloud service flexibility, adding new functionalities does not impact the performance of existing applications, and expanding the delivery of capabilities across regions is frictionless and independent of scale.

Additionally, the cloud offers AI model development and training, as well as other services that were previously only available with on-premises computing. It can support model training and deployment to the edge and dramatically reduce data-transfer requirements. Once trained in the cloud, AI models can be deployed on the edge, where low latency and speed are critical in modern manufacturing processes.
Integrating IT and OT systems and data: IT and OT systems integration is an accelerator for digital operations because it allows you to feed modern applications with critical data needed to build effective digital feedback loops for operations.

An effective, well-designed digital feedback loop needs to enable data visibility and utilization across IT and OT systems to deliver better productivity and more uptime. Integrating data from both can help organizations to make more informed decisions by combining data from different sources, such as customer data from IT systems and production data from OT systems. It also helps organizations to improve productivity and uptime by enabling real-time monitoring and control of industrial processes. Rockwell Automation creates technology—from sensors to input and output control systems and operations software—that is vital in managing OT data at the edge and, with help from Microsoft platforms, integrating it with IT data.

When building solutions that integrate OT and IT data, it’s critical to include data and system security with Zero Trust as a key design principle. Access to operational systems, from networks to controllers, is typically granted based on implied trust. But this excess trust can be used by threat actors to breach networks. A Zero Trust approach improves cybersecurity by assuming no implicit trust and strengthening perimeters around business-critical assets. This includes securing OT data in transit and at rest, which ensures data confidentiality and integrity and certifies user identity.

How manufacturers are working with Microsoft and Rockwell Automation

Microsoft and Rockwell Automation are jointly delivering edge-to-cloud products that help you manage and make sense of the data in your factory. The result is actionable insights that can improve your business operations.

FactoryTalk InnovationSuite, powered by PTC, is a comprehensive set of tools that includes edge-to-enterprise analytics, machine learning, industrial internet of things (IIoT), and augmented reality. It is designed using the cloud-to-edge principle for building digital operations solutions, leverages cloud-native methods, takes advantage of IT and OT data integration, and is infinitely scalable when deployed on the Microsoft Azure cloud.
FactoryTalk Hub is a cloud-native approach to digital manufacturing operations, featuring tools under Design Hub, Operations Hub, and Maintenance Hub. Each hub consists of multiple solutions, born in the cloud and scalable for quick-time-to-value for manufacturers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and system integrators.

These solutions are helping Fonterra, a New Zealand-based dairy products co-operative owned by 9,000 farmers and families that are responsible for approximately 30 percent of the world’s dairy exports. Across 10 plants, Rockwell Automation-based solutions are capturing overall equipment and site-level efficiency data, which is then analyzed, summarized, and displayed locally. The data also is delivered to Microsoft Azure-based systems, which turn the data into insightful production reports that can be securely accessed across the company.

Learn more about our solutions

Rockwell Automation and Microsoft Azure are jointly helping other manufacturers to bridge the gap between IT and OT and create more efficient, resilient, and sustainable operations. Read more about what FactoryTalk InnovationSuite, powered by PTC and FactoryTalk Hub can do for your industrial business.