Twenty-first century industrial automation services: from Reactive to Proactive, value add services

What additional value can we provide to our customers? Anyone who knows me will tell you that this question is never far from my lips. By Marc Baret, Director, EMEA industrial services, Rockwell Automation

I’m responsible for Rockwell Automation industrial automation services, EMEA. As such, I’m responsible for a large team that stretches from Portugal in the west to the Ukraine in the east, and from Russia in the north to South Africa in the south.

In many ways, it’s a perfect job for an international citizen like me who has lived in many countries over the last 20 years. This role also calls upon my experiences across the Rockwell Automation product and solutions portfolio too, since Industrial Services have evolved to become much more than traditional product support.

In fact, industrial automation services now have a much bigger value-add potential for industry than the traditional services of field support, spares and repairs.

So, what is ‘now’ for services, and what’s next?

I think it is a good start to set a modern definition for what services are in the 21st century – and there are FIVE key areas of servitisation that have come of age.

Second is product and application lifecycle support. This is an area which has become somewhat normalised in many industries and has really come of age in recent years with the addition of remote monitoring capabilities to the trouble-shooting capability that works across the design, integration and run phases of a system.

The third area also concerns remote monitoring, but rather than at the product lifecycle level, it is at the data level as servitisation of digital skills for analytics comes of age. Bridging the digital skills-gap seen in many industrial companies, outsourcing the vital function that turns the copious amounts of data into practical, applicable information to improve operations is becoming more common.

Asset management and reliability – a more traditional element of the services package is the fourth area to cover, and again, the ‘smart’ functionality of industry 4.0 opens up new capabilities for servitisation that can now deal in real-time information management remotely, offering servitised agreements that reduce both planned and unplanned downtime in the maintenance function.

Safety is the fifth key area of servitisation which is coming of age as technology migrates to the industry 4.0 era. Service offerings around electrical safety, arc-flash safety, lock-out tag-out safety, machine safety, and process safety can be resourced beyond the enterprise. They can be consultative assessments, engineering services and also, as with the other four areas, are coming of age with remote audit and tracking systems – the latter can help to constantly (remotely) track the enterprise against its required safety procedures, for example.

What’s next?

I believe that this is just the beginning – the “what’s next” involves services moving into areas like augmented reality (with remote serviced applications like the digital twin) and artificial intelligence (that relies on remote services and big data for advanced analytics). What we’re really talking about here is the observation that services are increasingly moving from a reactive, remedial approach, to a live, real-time and proactive approach that extends the enterprise far beyond the plant on site. It means that the skills available to improve output aren’t limited to those on premise but are always at hand; ready to be used at, and in even in anticipation of, the point of need.

The most exciting thing about the future of services is what it means to industrial leaders. Let’s take the example of a cookie manufacturer. The best way for a cookie manufacturer to continue to grow and improve as a business is to focus on making cookies; more of them, with different recipes perhaps, and more efficiently.

Servitisation is starting to ease the burden of many of the ancillary considerations that are outside of the cookie manufacturer’s core area of value-add. Security, asset management, safety, and data management all contribute to being able to produce the cookies sustainably, but these functions have little to do with how good the cookies taste.

The future for services is one in which, increasingly, industrial organisations can focus their resources on their own business. I believe this will help unlock vast potential and contribute significantly to the bottom line for enterprises able to take advantage of skills and resources available beyond the plant.

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