Rockwell Automation Product Philosophy

  • February 13, 2012
  • Feature
Interview with Sujeet Chand, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer
February 2012
By Bill Lydon, Editor
During the 2011 Rockwell Automation Fair, I had a discussion about Rockwell Automation’s product philosophy with Sujeet Chand, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Rockwell Automation. 
Chand leads the company's global R&D and industrial standards development teams in Asia, Europe and the Americas.   Prior to joining Rockwell Automation he led R&D in control systems and information sciences for 12 years at Rockwell Scientific Company.   Sujeet serves on a number of government, industry and higher education advisory boards including the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), FIRST Robotics, Wisconsin Technology Council, University of Wisconsin Foundation, and Robert W. Baird Venture Partners. Sujeet earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in electrical and computer engineering and a master's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Florida. He currently holds 15 patents and has published more than 75 technical papers. 
Process Control
Since there is a resurgence of discrete business, particularly automotive, I asked if there is a resource conflict between serving the process and discrete businesses. Rockwell’s strength has traditionally been in PLC and discrete controls. Chand noted that process is their fastest growing area and there is a resurgence of discrete particularly in the automotive industry. Further, he commented, “The way we do internal development is we build to an integrated architecture, so when you look internally within Rockwell Automation, when I look at how our engineers work, there is really no conflict between discrete and process because they are building capabilities that are applied in both areas.”
Connected Components and Logix
Based on this product design philosophy, I expressed that I am puzzled why Rockwell Automation has two major automation product lines, Connected Components and Logix.   I noted that there are other solutions in the industry that have uniform control and automation offerings with common software for configuration and operations that meet the range of applications from simple control to large systems. Chand explained, “What we have decided to do is segment the spaces that we go after.” “So in the recent past we have put a lot of emphasis on OEMs, machine builders, and our business with machine builders has grown significantly.” Chand noted that Rockwell designs to distinct segments of machine builders. “There are machine builders that we call component machine builders,” said Chand. In Rockwell Automation’s view, these machine builders don’t care about Ethernet, integrated safety, or the features of integrated architecture. These machine builders are asking for functionality that is, “very low end”, they want to do the system engineering to put together a drive with a servo with some logic and do that all together since the machines are going to be simple. “Logix is overkill for that,” said Chand. “If we go to them with a Logix controller and give them RSLogix 5000 with integrated safety, integrated motion, integrated drive, it is a bit of overkill for that.” 
Chand explained that any OEM who is building machines that need to be connected to other machines requiring safety, integrated motion, and integrated drives, they need to use Rockwell Logix products. He described how Rockwell Automation has created the L series of CompactLogix controllers that provide a lower cost controller for, “Logix Architecture OEMs,” who integrate safety, drives, motion, information, and configuration. Later while on the show floor, I checked the pricing of the new L Series controllers. The base controllers range from $1,400 to $4,500 list price. Chand noted that no other supplier has the full range of motion, drives, communications, and integrated safety as delivered by Rockwell Automation Logix.
We further discussed the relationship between cost and function. Chand expressed Rockwell Automation’s design philosophy as follows - the number of functions in a controller (such as motion, integrated safety, EtherNet/IP communication, process control, etc.) has a direct relationship to increasing cost and complexity.    The result of this philosophy is that Rockwell has a line of component products that are low function and cost. Chand said, “The Micro line is very low cost products with very limited functionality.” He described how Rockwell Automation has the Logix products for the “high end customers.” He acknowledged that the Connected Components and Logix have separate engineering tools. Chand explained the Rockwell Automation view that Connected Components and the Connected Components Workbench software is for people that are doing very simple machines.
Editor Note:  Micro800 product line has a number of processors and options, with processor prices ranging from $85 to $489 list price, which includes base I/O. To get a good understanding of the Mciro800 and the Connected Components Workbench software read the article at this link: Micro800 Standalone Machine Controller   
Chand expressed the view that in emerging markets there is a need for Connected Components style controllers that do not need much functionality, communications capability and integration of safety.   I challenged the idea that there is essentially no need for controllers to communicate with quality, business and/or information systems. He suggested a hypothetical example of a company in an emerging market making plastic cups using a plastic injection molding machine and noted that in China there are many companies like this that. Chand said, “They are not connected to SAP; they have no IT department.” 
Process Functions
With their commitment to the process industry, I asked if Rockwell Automation will be adding native support for Foundation Fieldbus to provide the ease of use and efficiency offered by DCS process control systems. Chand reported that they are working on this.
Chand also stated the case for one system architecture in process applications, Rockwell’s PlantPAx, noting that in a process plant if you adopt a DCS platform you cannot use it throughout your plant. You have to teach your operators multiple systems but with the Rockwell offering you have one system for all discrete and process functions.
I asked Chand about wireless developments.   His first response was that Rockwell is working with CISCO for a direct configuration of CISCO 802.11 access points from RSLogix 5000 software. Rockwell plans to be very open about this and is supporting or planning to support the various 802.15.4 wireless sensor standards.  The main point is that all other networks will be pulled into Rockwell controllers and normalized to the EtherNet/IP (CIP) standard.
Thoughts & Observations
Rockwell Automation representatives firmly believe there are users that only want simple controllers and users that want integrated control and information products. In order to meet these requirements Rockwell has two separate product and software architectures, Connected Components and Logix. I may only be talking to a small sample of users from around the world, but based on those conversations, I believe integrated information is important to most users. Users will ultimately make this decision with their purchases.
The concept of having scalable products from small to large or multiple products designed to specific needs is an age old argument within product companies.   It is not an easy decision to make particularly when customers demand lowest first cost vs. considering lifecycle cost including engineering, installation, spare parts, training, and future needs.
Rockwell remains agnostic about industrial wireless choosing to support them with third party interfaces. The software integration with CISCO products is interesting since in some way it ties Rockwell and CISCO products tightly together, making for easier configuration. This also ties the customer to CISCO products.

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