In episode 108 of the IoT For All Podcast, Rockwell Automation’s Keith Higgins joins us to talk about the virtual side of digital transformation, namely digital threads and augmented reality. Keith shares some of the most transformative Applications he’s seen in the industry and how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed that.

Keith Higgins is Vice President of Marketing, Digital Transformation and Industrial IoT at Rockwell Automation. He previously served as Vice President of Marketing at FogHorn Systems, Inc, an edge AI software company. Prior to FogHorn, Keith Higgins served as CMO at RiskVision until its acquisition in 2017. Higgins was also CMO at Symphony Teleca Corporation.

Interested in connecting with Keith? Reach out to him on Linkedin!

About Rockwell Automation, Inc.: Rockwell Automation, Inc. (NYSE: ROK), is a global leader in industrial automation and digital transformation. We connect the imaginations of people with the potential of technology to expand what is humanly possible, making the world more productive and more sustainable. Headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Rockwell Automation employs approximately 23,000 problem solvers dedicated to our customers in more than 100 countries.

Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:

(00:40) Intro to Keith

(01:43) Intro to Rockwell Automation

(03:59) Are there any Applications at Rockwell that you can share?

(07:44) Are there any situations where you’ve developed an augmented reality solution? How did that work? Where do you see the future of augmented reality going in the digital workforce and productivity side of things?

(12:32) Are there any specific areas you’ve seen the pandemic exposing companies’ lack of preparation and forcing them to rethink their strategies?

(14:52) What is a digital thread?

(18:51) Has there been a common ROI or goal companies are looking to achieve when coming to you?

(24:26) Any news we should be on the lookout for from Rockwell Automation?


– [Announcer] You are listening to the IoT For All Media Network.

– [Ryan] Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the IoT For All Podcast on the IoT For All Media Network. I’m your host, Ryan Chacon, one of the Co-Creators of IoT For All. Now, before we jump into this episode, please don’t forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform or join our newsletter at to catch all the newest episodes as soon as they come out. So without further ado, please enjoy this episode of the IoT For All podcast. Welcome Keith to the IoT For All show. How are things going on your end?

– [Keith] Terrific, thanks. How about yourself?

– [Ryan] Not too bad, a little cold, finally getting some winter weather over this way, but other than that, can’t complain. I love you to start off by just kind of giving our audience a quick introduction to yourself. Talk a little bit about your background, the role you play at Rockwell and just kind of just an overview of you I think anything you think will be interesting for our audience to know.

– [Keith] Sure, sure, terrific. My name is Keith Higgins. I’m responsible for the marketing of Rockwell’s digital transformation solutions. And so what does that mean? It largely means the software and services that we deliver to our customers to help them as they go through their digital transformation and their digital journey across a number of different elements and solutions that I think we’ll talk about today. Rockwell, I think most people know actually 23,000 people worldwide very large industrial solutions company. We’ve been in business for over 100 years and have just about every company in every industry you can think of it is in the industrial space uses Rockwell in some form of fashion.

– [Ryan] Fantastic. Can you talk a little bit more in detail about the role you all play in the industrial space, kind of what pieces of the puzzle you’re kind of bringing to the table to help with IoT and digital transformation? And then in a second, I’ll dive more into some Applications to kind of bring it full circle for our audience.

– [Keith] So you know, the company has a long history in control and in automation and as the digital transformation market has matured increasingly the customers that Rockwell services are looking for software solutions many times cloud-based things that enable them to really generate significant business outcomes from understanding their data. And while correlating their data, visualizing their data and looking for different opportunities to depending on their industry, really improve their yield, really improve their uptime, really improve their quality, really improve their understanding of their entire supply chain in some cases. So lots of different applications of knowledge driven operations, which is a phrase you’ll hear a lot these days.

– [Ryan] That makes a lot of sense. Is there any particular kind of vertical focus for you all when you industrial obviously is pretty widespread? Is there any kind of specific focus or are you guys seem to run the full gamut of different types of industries when it’s connected to their industrial space?

– [Keith] I really can’t think of an industry today that isn’t moving towards digital transformation.

– [Ryan] Yeah, I agree.

– [Keith] There were some areas of early movers and things like life sciences or consumer packaged goods, automotive entire, what today with electric vehicles for example, you know, and there, but even things like mining and how do you do fleet management with intelligent operations, things like that. There’s every industry you can think of today is has begun this journey.

– [Ryan] Yeah, I totally agree. We’ve seen it in across the spectrum of every almost imaginable industry that you can think of or name and IoT and digital transformation is playing a pretty active role. I wanted to kinda connect this to some Applications and see if there were any specific Applications you would be interested in sharing that would kind of bring this full circle for our audience and talk a little bit more in detail to some common, I guess, problems companies come to you with, and then the solution you’re able to provide them again, talking more high-level. So we talked, you mentioned fleet management a second ago. But there were some that we kind of discussed ahead of time, scalable production management, asset optimization, real-time operational intelligence, digital workforce productivity. If you kind run us through at a high level, what those are and kind of what that looks like from your side.

– [Keith] Sure, well, we can just go through the four that you mentioned that at a very high level.

– [Ryan] Okay.

– [Keith] In manufacturing, getting the most out of your assets is a great way to improve your business performance. Some of these assets are very expensive, some assets if they’re down, contribute to a lot of downtime and lost production and lost revenue concept of intelligent asset optimization, or using the data that’s being generated to predict when something needs maintenance or to signal when conditions have changed and quality could be impacted, or to give you other insights into what could improve your overall manufacturing capacity that asset optimization piece is a really important element of it. You hear a lot about predictive maintenance and the value or moving to fixing things when they need fixed rather than scheduled maintenance like we think about with our cars, for example. Wouldn’t be nice if you just fixed something when it was actually going to break instead of doing it because it’s been so much runtime or miles, right? That really gels into the second area of this overall enterprise operational intelligence which is you know really how do you look at your entire organization and link different data sources correlate information into dashboards, some people call mashups start to develop a strategy to address the things like inconsistencies, for example across plants or cross factories or across geographies. How you really start to look at your overall enterprise, create benchmarks and dashboards based on different personas inside the company. So tying a lot of different data sources together into a dashboard that can allow you to do a lot of those macro insights is an evolution there as well. And that’s a very popular Applications today. You mentioned digital workforce productivity. I think one of the most exciting areas today is in the use of evolvement into reality.

– [Ryan] Yes, I agree.

– [Keith] We’re seeing especially in this pandemic environment where safety Applications are really front and center. And how do you do more things remote? How do you do more things in terms of employee efficiency? How do you transfer knowledge? And so the ability, for example, for a very experienced technician to wear an augmented reality headset and record a procedure that’s done in a manufacturing setting and then allow maybe a newer member of the team in another area to put that headset on and follow step-by-step annotated steps to do that same procedure, is just one example of the efficiencies that can be gained.

– [Ryan] Now let me ask you about augmented reality a bit more as is are there any particular situations where you’ve, you all have developed augmented reality solution for a company and how did that work? And then at the same time, where do you see the future of augmented reality, really playing a role in the digital workforce productivity side of things. Obviously being able to train and handle things remotely, analyze performance in real time, those kinds of areas, but augment reality has so much potential. I think long-term that I’d be curious to get your thoughts on kind of where it stands now where are you and where you think it can be going and then mix that in with some actual developments that you all have taken or at least played a role in on when it comes to working with potential customers of yours.

– [Keith] Sure, so augmented reality as you say, has great potential. It’s part of what we call innovation suite which is our software solution for manufacturers. And that is a solution that we’ve brought to market jointly with our partner PTC. PTC is the provider of the augmented reality elements of innovation suite. Their product name is called Vuforia.

– [Ryan] Okay.

– [Keith] It starts really with things like basic, almost industrial FaceTime and goes all the way up to, very sophisticated augmented reality solutions that allow you to do a terrific knowledge transfer. You hear a lot about the retiring workforce and all that knowledge that needs to be captured and passed on safety. We talked about earlier is another example of that. So there continues to be more and more Applications to help our customers most efficiently augment their workforce through the bringing together of the operational intelligence and the asset intelligence that we talked about earlier to pass that or extend that knowledge to the workforce through some various augmented technologies including augmented reality. So I think you’re going to continue to see that grow and be standard issue if you will for industrial workforce is moving forward.

– [Ryan] And how do you think that plays a role into just the general gap that’s seen in some industries around the skills required as far as helping, I assume this will help narrow kind of that skills gap and provide value basically across the board depending on obviously the use of the technology or how the technology is being used?

– [Keith] Absolutely, I think it’s a fantastic training aid, the ability to bring together augmented reality in video annotation in very specific environments of equipment and operating conditions where a lot of precision needs to be executed, to do a job, the use of this technology is invaluable.

– [Ryan] Yeah, I totally agree. I’m very excited to see, I mean, we’ve seen it obviously in kind of a recreational sense from time to time. Usually it’s kind of what catches the headlines, but as it relates to not just the industrial but even the enterprise side and understanding how it can play a role in the digital transformation of these organizations, I think is absolutely fascinating and very exciting to kind of keep an eye on.

– [Keith] Yeah, couldn’t agree more. In the last Applications that you mentioned around scalable production management that it has a lot to do with looking at the end environments or supply chain. And when COVID hit, for example in demand fell off, how many manufacturers were really able to correlate that with slowing down purchasing and not coming up with excess capacity. So how do you bring together your production management systems with the demand side, supply side all the different pieces of production in that instance, but more importantly if you’re expecting or managing your business based on a particular output or quality or things like that, this type of visibility into your production systems is really important. So there’s no surprises in the supply chain.

– [Ryan] It’s been interesting to kind of hear the stories of organizations as they’ve gone through this pandemic and how it’s taught them a lot of lessons and kind of, I guess brought to the attention a lot of areas that they could use technology to help improve their business. Are there any specific areas that you’ve kind of seen the pandemic really narrow in on for kind of exposing companies, maybe where they weren’t as prepared as maybe they thought they were, or maybe didn’t really need to consider being prepared in that area? But something like this pandemic kind of expose them and they’ve started to really rethink their kind of digital transformation strategy and the kinds of solutions and implementations that they’re looking to explore or I guess expand into?

– [Keith] I think there’s two themes that have emerged post pandemic that seem to get talked about the most. One is manufacturing agility. How do you start to make something else with the same assets that you basically had. How to move from making whiskey to making hand sanitizer, or how do you have a flexible manufacturing, so you can start to shift what you’re producing that’s in line with sudden changes much more sudden changes in the market than we’ve ever seen. And I think the second area really is safety. In this area of work cell redesign, this is social distancing, this new ways that humans interact with machines in this world, was a big change, I think for a lot of people. And there’s been fantastic examples of that. We could certainly share a number of them, but fantastic macro examples of how the manufacturers that had the best digital grasp of their operations, outperform those that did that. And you’ll hear that phrase a lot too. And I know we touched on this earlier, but the somewhat, the of all of this is a digital thread that really links all of this stuff together across, how you design your products and your production in your engineering of that, the operations of your global plants and ultimately, the inclusion and integration of your supply chain and how all that comes together, to make you as agile of a business as possible.

– [Ryan] Now, let me ask you about the digital thread a little bit more. Is that kind of the main focus is putting all this together to make you a company more agile or are there other benefits kind of bias? Could you expand on what you mean when you say digital thread? It’s not a term that I think has been brought up enough on our show. We talk about digital twins which I know kind of is connected to this topic. But just want to get your kind of expansion on what a digital thread is? What does it mean? What does it allow organizations to do? And then kind of how it combines with digital twins?

– [Keith] Yeah, it’s a great question. I mean, I think the simple answer really is that, digital thread allows you to connect your critical business functions together in a framework that really optimizes the lifecycle of something that you’re making, whether it’s a product or an asset or in their process industries, for example. And the approach really is trying to unify the data practices during the design phase, the simulation phase, you’re mentioning digital twin, right? So now you can do so much. One of our partners is Ansys that does multi-physics simulation of product development, for example, prior to physical production. So you can do so much more now virtually from a simulation perspective. It really streamlines the physical production and operations when you get there. I think if you were to ask, if you were to ask for the kind of top three benefits of a digital thread the first one really is accelerating innovation.

– [Ryan] Okay.

– [Keith] And how do you get to market faster? We talked about, for example, simulation in a digital world and what that can do to help you get to market faster. It also helps you really optimize your process towards improving quality. And so that idea of today I need to get to market as fast as possible with innovative products and services. That’s a big advantage of a digital thread. I’d say the second area and we touched on this earlier with augmented reality, but how do you really maximize the productivity of your workforce? How do you transfer that knowledge? How do you capture and store expertise from your experts and scale that out to a global workforce, and how do you bring new employees up to speed as fast as possible? These hands-free, step-by-step solutions that are being delivered using augmented reality really improved things like first time fix rates and making sure you have the right materials to do the job. And I think the third area that you’ve probably heard the most around is how do I get my operations to reach their full potential? How do I automate as much as possible? You hear things like lights out manufacturing. Like how do I remove the friction between my enterprise systems and have things operating around the world with as little or a minimum human intervention. Those are some of the big themes if you will, of the value of digital thread.

– [Ryan] That makes a lot of sense. I appreciate you kind of sharing those insights and kind of expanding on what that exactly means. One question I did wanna ask before we kinda get to wrapping up here in a second is in the work that you all do, kind of spanning a variety of industries in the industrial space, have there been a kind of a common ROI or common just kind of goal that most of these companies are looking to achieve, or maybe a couple? I know you’re talking about Applications earlier and it was a little more high level but just generally when companies are coming to you are they looking for improving efficiency? Is it really, or does it really all come down to money for most of these organizations? How are you seeing that play out and has the pandemic at all change that now with safety being something that is obviously higher priority for a lot of these companies and so forth. Just curious to your thoughts.

– [Keith] Yeah, it’s great question, right? If there’s a phrase in digital transformation we hear the most is ‘Applications.’ And there are certainly a lot of of course Applications that really almost every industry is adopting. And that has to do with real time visibility of my operations. Something that just about every industry is interested in. And you’ll hear things like OEE or overall equipment effectiveness, things like root cause analysis and quality and performance management. So those are things that you’ll hear a lot under the real-time kind of operations visibility. We talked earlier about asset management, reliability, performance, minimizing downtime. That’s another very common application of the digital transformation solutions in our portfolio. And then I’d say another one is the digital work construction the AR pieces that we talked about. And that certainly has accelerated with the pandemic. Anything you can do remotely, anything you can do at distance and really improve the human element of all of this. Sometimes we get so caught up in talking about the machines and the software, in the end, there’s a very very large human experience that goes into these organizations and what they produce and really bringing up the daily work experience of the average industrial individual is a great element of some of these augmented reality technologies.

– [Ryan] Absolutely, I really appreciate you sharing those. I think that’s always a good question that companies ask ’cause how ROIs are changing and what companies are actually looking to do at the heart of their reason for reaching out to a company like Rockwell and working to transform their business on the digital side, regardless of if it’s using IoT technologies, AR, VR you name it, whatever they’re using, I’m always curious to hear what is the root cause of these companies coming and seeking you all out. So that’s fantastic.

– [Keith] It’s really, it’s a great question because a couple of years ago people felt like, “Well I need a new digital transformation “and I’ll figure out the business case later “and I’ll do some pie.” But now people see the early movers in this market, they’re making more tires, they’re improving their yield, they’re seeing massive bottom line benefits in some of these areas of quality, of output, of reliability and customer satisfaction and efficiency, energy use. Now the number of areas you can tap for a monetary or business outcome gains using these kinds of technologies is expanding every day. We just completed a work with an analyst where they documented 83 Applications today for digital transformation.

– [Ryan] Wow.

– [Keith] and so it’s really spreading and most companies are moving from first Applications success now to scale. And did I build the right foundation to do multiple Applications with the same infrastructure and roll this out to lots of locations globally

– [Ryan] That super interesting. We talk a lot about kind that industry here and to just see the expansion of potential for what these technologies can do and not just what they can do but also that companies are seeing value in the actual results that these can produce. Because for a long time a lot of these were nice to have type opportunities. And now they’re turning into almost must have opportunities and solutions that companies have to embark on and adopt in order to stay relevant. And they weren’t thinking about it in those terms. I think until recently

– [Keith] I think you’re exactly right. I think people realize that the companies that are gonna be most successful in the future are the ones that most quickly adopt these kinds of intelligent operations and manufacturing because there’s just so much efficiency to be gained.

– [Ryan] Absolutely, and I think it’s important for companies to understand that not every ROI can be traced back to a monetary figure. Sometimes there are other things at play that are important for them to consider installing types of solutions that can help achieve other goals besides just the bottom line. And I think that’s sort of coming to light now more than it has before.

– [Keith] Absolutely, couldn’t agree with you more.

– [Ryan] So as we kind of finish up here, I wanted to ask on the Rockwell automation side, is there any kind of news or anything new happening kind of in the next couple of months that you they’ll be relevant to kind of share with our audience, they should be able to look out for? And then in addition to that, if anybody had any follow up questions or wanting to kind of engage further to learn a little bit more, what’s the best way to do so?

– [Keith] Sure, well, I’m always a little bit hamstrung of what I can say about the future but I will say, we announced earnings today and that’s always an interesting time to look at the last quarter. Some of the things in the earnings script around customer stories and whatnot we’ve made some exciting acquisitions recently, most recently, a company called Fix, which is a computerized maintenance CMMS system, cloud-based a lot of people are very excited about. So you’ll definitely hear more from Rockwell. We have our big rock live event coming up soon in a number of other activities. And we’re like everybody else going through this somewhat pivot to virtual, then a lot of these events. So that’s always exciting. And the good news is we ended up with a lot more recorded material that can be shared.

– [Ryan] Yes, I agree.

– [Keith] And so for anything on the latest to Rockwell, you can always go to Rockwell or look to our social channels. They usually do a pretty good job of getting the latest out.

– [Ryan] Fantastic. Well, I appreciate your time today, Keith it’s been fantastic. I think some of those things you actually just mentioned there at the end on the educational front-end and materials front, we’d love to get out to our audience if it would be helpful for you all even promote the events. So maybe we can talk about that offline. But other than that you’ve been you’ve shared some incredible insights today. I really appreciate your time and hopefully could have you back on sometime maybe later this year to see what’s going on your end.

– [Keith] That sounds great, Ryan. Thanks very much for the time today.

– [Ryan] Thank you.

– [Keith] Bye-bye.

– [Ryan] All right everyone thanks again for joining us this week on the IoT For All Podcast. I hope you enjoyed this episode and if you did please leave us a rating or review and be sure to subscribe to our podcast on whichever platform you’re listening to us on. Also, if you have a guest you’d like to see on the show please drop us a note at and we’ll do everything we can to get them as a featured guest. Other than that thanks again for listening. And we’ll see you next time.

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IoT For All is creating resources to enable companies of all sizes to leverage IoT. From technical deep-dives, to IoT ecosystem overviews, to evergreen resources, IoT For All is the best place to keep up with what's going on in IoT.
IoT For All is creating resources to enable companies of all sizes to leverage IoT. From technical deep-dives, to IoT ecosystem overviews, to evergreen resources, IoT For All is the best place to keep up with what's going on in IoT.