Rockwell Automation: Clocking In For A Greener Tomorrow

EP Editorial Staff | January 13, 2011


Sustainability has become a key part of this venerable company’s corporate strategy and its holistic solutions for customers.

Rockwell Automation president Keith Nosbusch opened the company’s 2009 Corporate Responsibility Report, titled “Smart, Safe and Sustainable Manufacturing,” with the following observation: “Our mission is to improve the standard of living for everyone by making the world more productive and sustainable. That’s what we do every day.” Difficult times, he added, had changed this well-known provider of automated and power solutions into “a very different company” than what it had been the year before.

Don’t be confused by the last sentence. While corporate-leadership statements like this are sometimes used as a caveat to temper expectations, that’s not the case here. Nosbusch’s comments preface an engaging, positive-result overview of this 107-year-old industrial giant’s efforts to tap new efficiencies for itself and its customers through a mission-changing commitment to safe, sustainable manufacturing practices. Rockwell Automation has embraced sustainability for the long run, and the best evidence may be its own headquarters facility.

0111sustain4The green roof
Fly, drive, train, bike or walk into Milwaukee and you can’t miss the company’s main headquarters building on South Second Street. Its 280-ft. clock tower, which features the one-time Guinness-certified largest four-faced clock in the world, overlooks the city’s South Side skyline. Built in 1962, the tower and large, international-style building that supports it were once Allen-Bradley’s world headquarters. Today, the Rockwell Automation name is prominently displayed on the structure—although it no longer houses manufacturing operations, it looks as if it still could. Many of the massive industrial buildings on this 80-acre campus appear unchanged from an era when manufacturing was king.

Unchanged, that is, until you reach the ninth floor of the clock-tower building. There, from a glass-lined hallway, the view opens to include a decidedly non-industrial expanse of green that covers a large portion of an adjoining flat roof all the way to the building’s edge. The green itself is alive with various species of sedum, the low, tough succulent plant that’s favored for use in hot, dry areas, making it perfect for today’s green roofs. The idea of putting 48,500 sq. ft. of it on the 71,000-sq.-ft. roof was to cut building energy and maintenance costs, and to reduce water runoff. Completed in October 2010—at a cost of just over $1 million—the green roof is Rockwell Automation’s latest, and perhaps most visible example of the company’s sustainability mission in action or, as those behind the effort call it, the company’s ability to “walk the talk.”

“We really see that the mission of our company is to make the world more efficient and productive,” says Majo Thurman, director, safety and environmental, echoing Nosbusch. “This is our definition of sustainability.” She explains that a “fundamental switch” in corporate philosophy occurred three years ago “when we really looked at how our products could help our customers become sustainable. But it’s the external messages,” she notes, “that really help from an internal point of view. Our senior leadership now invests more internally to make sure we’re doing those same practices in-house. You can see how our leadership has embraced sustainability.”

The green roof was not a slam-dunk. An earlier effort failed because “we couldn’t make the numbers work,” says Thurman. It took a city grant that covered 80% of the cost for Rockwell Automation leadership to green-light the project. The money came from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District for the roof’s projected ability to offset 1.3 million gallons of stormwater per year. Because grant rules required the company to pay for the project up front, then seek reimbursement, “it was still a cash-flow challenge,” says Thurman, who acknowledges that projects of this size are not for everybody. “But most states or utilities have a program to help identify and fund energy-efficiency projects,” she adds, “so it really helps to get to know the people who have the grant money.”

For Rockwell Automation, which had begun preaching sustainability worldwide for itself and its customers, the roof project made sense as both a symbol of its commitment to sustainability and for its practical potential to reduce facility costs. While the reduced-stormwater benefit only helps the city, the roof will do as much or more for the company. “We estimate the green roof will require us to do one less reroofing, which costs about $800,000,” Thurman reports. “That would have been 20 years out. Now we shouldn’t have to reroof for 40 years, so we undid one whole cycle.”


Majo Thurman, director, safety and environmental, stands on the green roof at Rockwell Automation’s Milwaukee, WI, headquarters, beneath the corporation’s landmark clock tower. Over time, the hearty sedum plantings (shown in the inset) that cover 48,500-sq.-ft. of roof surface are expected to help generate significant savings in a number of areas.

Its green roof was also expected to save the corporation about $50,000 annually in energy costs—though this could not be quantified until it actually was in place. To measure possible savings, sensors were installed on the new roof to record temperature and other environmental characteristics. These readings will tell the company how and when changes in the building’s energy use can be attributed to the roof’s insulating qualities. According to Thurman, for companies of Rockwell Automation’s size, $50,000 in potential savings isn’t enough on its own to justify such a project—but every little bit helps. As she puts it, “We’re looking at every little pocket we can.”

The green method
Looking at every little pocket is a key part of Rockwell Automation’s Industrial GreenPrint Methodology™, a sustainability initiative unveiled in its entirety in November 2010. As much an overarching framework for achieving industrial energy efficiency as a platform for Rockwell products and services, Industrial GreenPrint “helps companies view energy as a resource to be managed versus simply an unavoidable overhead cost,” according to the company’s 2009 report. “Our goal,” it continues, “is to transform manufacturers from passive energy users into strategic managers of their energy resources.” While the company makes equipment and software that can save or measure energy, the Industrial GreenPrint effort is not built exclusively around technology. As with most manufacturing initiatives, successful sustainability efforts at Rockwell Automation—and elsewhere—depend in large part on the ability of employees to grasp key concepts.

“We’ve been doing a lot of education on simple things like turning out the lights,” says Thurman. “We have light sensors in many of our offices, for example, but where we don’t, it must become behavioral.” She notes that other simple pursuits have included reprogramming electrical systems to not ramp up on holidays when most workers are not present. Rockwell Automation software and monitoring equipment had long provided this type of 24/7 usage data across the company, but, in Thurman’s words, “it took a new perspective to react to it in a sustainable way.”

For many behavior-based sustainable tasks like these, a little training or encouragement can be enough to make a difference. Others may need little more than common-sense engineering decisions, such as those involving equipment reductions. Thurman points to the fact that much of the company’s sustainable-related savings “have come from downsizing equipment to meet current demands.” For example, the corporation’s energy costs in Milwaukee dropped dramatically when compressors and transformers were downsized as the headquarters buildings transitioned away from manufacturing activities toward corporate, engineering and marketing functions.

For projects requiring investment (i.e., green roofs), it’s usually necessary to build a saving-based case for implementation. “They must show profit as the first step,” says Phil Kaufman, business manager for industrial energy management. It’s a case made through measurement.

“Most manufacturers are already measuring a variety of things for whatever they manufacture,” Kaufman says, “but probably for regulatory reasons or recipe optimization, not consumption purposes. So we say, leverage what you already have in sensors and bring that to where we can tie energy usage to manufacturing output.” He adds this should involve all aspects of manufacturing: production, maintenance, engineering, facilities management, safety and health.

This can also be where things get more complicated, and where expertise like Rockwell Automation’s can help make sustainable sense of the numbers. Kaufman finds that many customers “collect data, but don’t know what it’s telling them.” One of the biggest hurdles is getting manufacturers to look at real-time energy pricing. “People ignore their electrical bill. You need to translate into dollars what those numbers tell you and show what that means. Don’t just pay a bill every month,” says Kaufman. “Know where your energy is being consumed, and manage it as if it was a raw material.”

Kaufman notes that Rockwell Automation software can be used to create energy signatures that help improve asset performance and lead to “an energy roadmap that gets you to where you’re managing energy against production output, and becoming as efficient as possible. Once you have that information,” he says, “we start talking about Industrial GreenPrint: Get the drives in place. Get the motor-overload relays in place that have sensing capabilities. Get circuit breakers with sensing capabilities. Get these things where appropriate, virtualize where you don’t think it’s appropriate and understand where your accuracy lies.”

Recognizing where the accuracy lies can hinge on the proper interpretation of details, such as knowing the difference between efficiency and economy. Kaufman tells of a customer who managed a bank of eight chillers, some powered by steam, some by electricity. “They always picked the most efficient chillers to run,” he says, “but not always the most economical.” His distinction acknowledges a variable in the equation: real-time energy costs. In this case, regardless of which chiller units ran most efficiently, he says, it was the cost of energy at the time of use that determined the system’s true economy. When this customer needed to run more than two chillers at a time and mix energy sources, says Kaufman, “they didn’t know what they were doing, based on real-time pricing. We put in a solution that figured the total economic cost and saved them about $3 million per year, just by picking the right piece of equipment at the right time. Real-time pricing combined with the efficiency of the equipment,” he says, “changes your entire picture.”

To greener days
There are many ideas for new sustainability projects on Thurman’s wish list for the headquarters complex and Rockwell Automation’s 27 global manufacturing sites, including solar. Not all of them come from her, Kaufman or their staffs. “Everybody wants to get involved,” says Kaufman. “In the last two years, we’ve had people coming to us asking how they can help. Before, they didn’t have time for you.
It’s refreshing.”

Much of the forward-thinking momentum comes from the company’s employee-led Sustainability Task Force. With 80 members (located mostly at the company’s large Milwaukee and Cleveland sites), the force is about the employees having their own good ideas and implementing them within their sphere of influence. Self-governed and all-volunteer, the group advances sustainability in unique ways, including one that convinced suppliers to switch to paperless billing.

The company is also taking steps to reduce its worldwide carbon footprint, and to make sustainable-performance metrics broadly visible “so we can start to see baselines,” says Kaufman. The visualization effort involves making sustainability data “more available in our Web interfaces and in the plants as part of the Rockwell Automation Production System,” explains Thurman. The goal is to have the system scorecards that now include traditional manufacturing measurements “also show other measures like energy efficiency and safety on that same screen to engage our employees and get them to help bring the numbers down,” she says. “We’re working to manage that data so we can get it back out in a timely fashion.”

Thurman’s only regret so far is not being able to react to all the good sustainable ideas that come in. Kaufman agrees: “We’re too small a group to handle all of them.” But, he reflects, Rockwell Automation has always been about improving efficiencies for manufacturers and its own facilities—using its own products and systems. The difference now? “Scarcities and regulations have really started people thinking about consumption more than any other time in history, and we’ve looked hard at how we can rely on what we have to do this. In just the last two years,” he notes, “we created a real path to sustainability. Now we have to keep working it.” MT

Case in Point: Sustainability Simplified

Technicians at Rockwell Automation’s high-current test lab in Milwaukee recently took a giant leap toward sustainability simply by changing their daily routine. “We continually track what we consume in our peak energy periods, and have found a lot of things that go on during peak, which creates a huge spike,” notes Phil Kaufman, business manager for industrial energy management. At the test lab, a 12-hour demand schedule would begin each day just after 10:00 a.m., “when the price is the highest,” says Kaufman. He noticed, though, that the lab’s energy use spiked each morning at 10:15, the time technicians turned on their equipment and set up for the day. When Kaufman told the technicians they could reduce energy costs if they turned on their equipment just 30 minutes earlier, they gladly complied. “And when we reworked the numbers,” he says, “the savings was $90,000 a year, just by moving them ahead a half hour.”




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