8.1.14

THE BENEFITS OF MINIATURIZATION.

Once upon a time, a console this small could control the loading of taconite in Two Harbors, Minnesota.


Unattributed Allen-Bradley photograph, circa 1982.

Those big square panels under the display of the ore dock contain programmable controllers.  That's a bank of eight-section digital readouts at right, with color-coded push-buttons below.

A second panel controlled additional conveyor and storage functions.


Unattributed Allen-Bradley photograph, circa 1982.

With miniaturization, Rockwell Automation, the current incarnation of Allen-Bradley, envisions enhanced industrial control, with fewer buttons to push.


Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel graphic.

The illustration does not mention smart factories, but that's simply putting more computing power into a smaller panel than the Two Harbors dock required.
Rockwell, known for 110 years for its made-in-Milwaukee factory controls, now is morphing into a web pioneer on an industrial scale, supplying routers, switches and other types of hardware that make up the backbone of the Internet.

Rockwell's engineers routinely take entire factories online, installing Internet-linked sensors across the factory floor to synchronize production and link machines to smart electricity grids that help reduce energy costs and to smartphones that can monitor processes and product lines remotely.

The company also meshes these "smart" factories, oil refineries, food processors and water treatment plants with networks of third-party suppliers and customers, so parts can be ordered and products delivered automatically and more efficiently than ever.
Those early solid-state industrial control panels were pretty smart. They required banks of logic cards, though, to perform functions that can now be etched on a single chip. And getting rookie electrical engineers to make the logical leap from low-power solid state controls to high-power machines posed challenges.  It's been worth it to Rockwell to meet the challenges.
Manufacturing "is by far the biggest opportunity across the entire Internet of Things landscape," [Rockwell chief executive Keith] Nosbusch said in an email to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Within the next two years, half of manufacturers will migrate their infrastructure to the cloud."

Nosbusch was appointed chief executive of Rockwell in 2004. An electrical engineer by training, Nosbusch decided early on to use standard Internet protocols for all of Rockwell's software and systems. The "connected enterprise" should be as compatible with the rest of the online world as possible, Nosbusch contends, even while some of his rivals in the automation industry went the other direction and developed "closed" or proprietary networks.

Rockwell and Cisco began a formal collaboration in 2007 that has led to the co-development of several products, including a line of Stratix routers and switches, as well as other products in the pipeline, [Rockwell chief technology officer Sujeet] Chand said. Unlike most Internet hardware, Stratix routers are meant to withstand extremes of heat and cold, as well as moisture, vibration and other contingencies of industrial environments, Chand said.

And the user-friendly Stratix systems are configured for factory workers — people for whom Internet protocols are often a foreign language, Chand said.
The article notes factory hands of the future will require "a programmer familiar with Internet standards."  So much for George Jetson wearing out his button-pushing finger.

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