Innovative App Delivers Huge Advantage for Rockwell Automation

Business Situation

Manufacturing hardware margins are being compressed as the industry experiences increasing commoditization. To protect their market share and deliver smarter solutions to their clients, Rockwell Automation has continued to expand their software offering by bringing a host of industrial automation products to market, including the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) FactoryTalk Cloud platform.

FactoryTalk Cloud helps Rockwell Automation’s clients avoid catastrophic facility shutdowns. For example, if a paper machine at Kimberly-Clark goes down, it can cost millions of dollars in lost productivity as they try to identify and fix the issue. Companies can’t afford to let that happen.

With FactoryTalk Cloud, both Rockwell Automation and their client can remotely monitor all equipment, sensors, PLCs and data gateways. By using advanced algorithms and machine learning, it can predict when a piece of equipment needs to be serviced or may have a problem before it happens. When maintenance is needed, FactoryTalk Cloud can automatically schedule maintenance by interfacing with the Field Service module of Microsoft Dynamics 365. It also facilitates communication between users with Skype integration. For example, if someone in management is monitoring a remote facility and sees a problem, they can Skype the plant manager (who can be on the plant floor with his mobile device) and coordinate efforts to troubleshoot and repair the problem.

IoT is a key enabler of FactoryTalk’s Connected Enterprise. It delivers a real-time, personalized, and visual view of operations, allowing users to drill into data and collaborate with others who have a role in supporting production facilities. It is a critical piece of software for any manufacturing company, and Rockwell Automation was looking for help in how to visualize its capabilities.

"Core’s ability to quickly deliver such a high quality and innovative tool has delivered a truly transformative platform for Rockwell Automation. Its attractiveness and ease-of-use has given us a huge advantage in attracting new business."

John Dyck | Former Global Director of Software Business Development | Rockwell Automation

Our Solution

We met with Rockwell Automation to brainstorm how we could help them demonstrate FactoryTalk Cloud’s capabilities. What we came up with was creating a compelling and interactive demo that could reach several target audiences (end users, OEM, etc.) in different industry segments (manufacturing, automotive, oil & gas, etc.). The demo needed to show the flow of data from the plant floor up the supply chain and highlight the various Microsoft integrations (Power BI, Dynamics 365, Skype, etc.).

Rockwell Automation was sold on the idea, but there was just one problem: they needed it in 4 weeks to show at trade shows in Paris and Canada. A normal project of this scale would typically take months, so we employed DevOps to enable our team to decide what to do, design on the fly, and rapidly turn their ideas into a working application.

Consulting was Essential

We started by focusing on what Rockwell Automation wanted and how we could meet their needs. We spent a lot of time answering essential narrative user experience (UX) questions and made sure all stakeholders were present to get everyone on the same page. After we gathered their requirements, we created and presented a moodboard (to establish the look and feel) and a storyboard (to establish the user journey through the app). That foundation was essential to succeeding quickly.

“Tell us how we can make this attractive for our clients”

We created a story, developed personas, mapped UX, and designed it to align with how we advised Rockwell Automation to make it pop in a web environment. Since we weren’t experts on their content, we had their team members make sure the messaging was perfect. Letting them be the experts on what they’re good at and letting us be the experts at what we’re good at was (and is) essential to a respectful consultative partnership.

Clickable and Functional Prototype

The first deliverable was a clickable prototype they could use while we developed the finished web application. It was such high fidelity and high value that many thought it was the finished program. Using the prototype at tradeshows was beneficial because Rockwell Automation got real-time feedback from demonstrators and customers that we implemented in the final demo. Such live testing in the wild also saved time in development, which controlled and cut costs.

DevOps was Key to Rapid Development and Deployment

To hit our short deadline, we instituted short feedback loops in 1-week sprints. To run fast and lean, we implemented parallel design and development, which was seamlessly enabled by our unique combination of technologies and processes.

At one tradeshow, a Rockwell Automation employee noticed some lines of text wrapping on his monitor and verbiage he wanted to update. He sent us an email, which our project manager sent to our developers. They quickly fixed it, tested it, and moved it to production. From email to development, it took only 1 hour.

Game-Changing Trifecta of Tools, Processes, and People

To save time and guarantee alignment, our Sr. UI/UX Designer employed two powerful tools: InVision and Zeplin. Whatever he designed, he added to InVision, which seamlessly integrated with Zeplin. It was key for translating designs into development. Further, by enabling the developers to directly request items from our designer via Skype, we cut our development time in half.

By using InVision (a live prototyping tool), Rockwell Automation’s team was able to see, use, and comment on the most current version of the app. In meetings, we used InVision to show different concepts and make real-time iterations from their feedback. Since everything we made was reusable, we were able to quickly pivot. Plus, since our tools remotely synced in real-time, we were able to execute much faster than doing the same thing in person with different tools. Our tool combination gutted overhead by slashing the time between iterations from weeks down to mere hours or minutes.

The Results

In four weeks, Rockwell Automation had a working prototype they used at tradeshows worldwide. In two more weeks, we delivered a responsive web app with a compelling and visually appealing UI that demonstrates their connected enterprise on devices of all sizes. This app is now deployed at Microsoft Technology Centers and Rockwell Automation sales offices worldwide.

Flexible to Include Additional Users and Industries

The demo app is adaptable to many different users and industries. It shows different dashboards to different users whether they’re an executive, a plant manager, or in IT.

  • Executives can see what all facilities are doing and compare them based on capacity, part quality, and equipment to know what to do, where to invest, what to train on, etc.
  • Plant Managers can see exactly how equipment is running, predict maintenance, and make decisions based on local facilities – including when to take down equipment, when to replace parts, and when to order parts from Rockwell Automation so they’re on their way before failures occur.
  • IT can easily maintain data and connectivity to ensure facilities are working correctly.

Going Viral

The demo app has been received as one of the best demonstrations of what Rockwell Automation does today. It’s going viral within the automation space, enabling Rockwell Automation to better communicate their competitive advantage to targeted clients and prospects.

Rockwell Automation

Rockwell Automation, the world's largest company dedicated to industrial automation, makes its customers more productive and the world more sustainable. Throughout the world, their flagship Allen-Bradley® and Rockwell Software® product brands are recognized for innovation and excellence.

Technologies Used

Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Dynamics 365

Microsoft Power BI

Microsoft Skype for Business

Microsoft Visual Studios Online