An Interview with Rockwell Automation President Shian: Digital Transformation is Not an Easy Move



Aug 28, 2023

In 2023, the emergence of large language models and generative AI quickly evolved from initial mystery and excitement to the thirst of a large number of vertical industries for their digital and intelligent application capabilities. In the past three years, regardless of scale, all enterprises worldwide have witnessed the profound impact of uncertainty, and even experienced regional and industry level stalling and shutdowns. Through these experiences, enterprises have become more deeply aware that digital transformation is a necessary and only path to be able to anticipate risks, have sufficient ability to combat uncertainty, and become a backbone in the industrial chain.

According to IDC’s “Global Digital Transformation Spending Guidelines”, the global digital transformation investment scale exceeded $1.5 trillion in 2022 and is expected to cross the $3 trillion mark in 2026. The five-year compound growth rate (CAGR) from 2021 to 2026 is approximately 16.7%.

Focusing on the Chinese market, with the support of favorable policies such as the “Overall Layout Plan for Digital China Construction”, the demand for digital transformation from end users in various industries is constantly increasing, and China’s digital transformation market will maintain a high-speed growth trend. The latest data from IDC shows that by 2026, the scale of China’s digital transformation expenditure is expected to exceed 600 billion US dollars, with a five-year compound growth rate of 17.9%, ranking among the top in the world.

Digital transformation is not achieved overnight, but rather from throttling to open source, from quantitative change to qualitative change, ultimately achieving disruption to reshape business models and promote industrial upgrading. “Shi An, President of Rockwell Automation (China) Co., Ltd., told 36 Kr: For example, the intelligent operation and maintenance Rockii solution is the foreshadowing laid by Rockwell Automation for future deep changes. After two years of development, its technological integrity, openness, and systematicity have continuously expanded and enriched, becoming a platform that can carry digital innovation in enterprises

Rockwell Automation is a leading global enterprise in industrial automation, informatization, and digital transformation. It has been entering and expanding into the Chinese market since 1988. As an international renowned enterprise with a history of over 120 years and always at the forefront of technology, Rockwell Automation has also experienced an elephant turn. Its internal transformation practices have also enabled it to better understand the core needs of enterprises for digital transformation in the context of globalization.

The wood that embraces, born in the end

When it comes to Rockwell Automation, industry insiders will think of its highly acclaimed PLC and frequency converter, ControlLogix ® The series holds a leading global market share in the large PLC field, with global giants such as Siemens and Schneider in the market.

In 1985, Rockwell International gradually established the main body of Rockwell Automation after acquiring AB (Allen Bradley).

Rockwell International’s predecessor was North American Airlines, founded in 1928. During World War II, it manufactured over 15000 AT-6 trainer aircraft and launched B-25 bombers and P-51 fighter jets in 1940.

In the 1960s, North American Airlines manufactured rocket launchers and spacecraft for the Apollo space program. In 1991, the space shuttle Endeavour was launched, while also constructing an energy system for the Free Space Station.

In 1996, the company implemented a significant strategic transformation and became a world leading electronics company in industrial automation, semiconductor systems, avionics systems, and communication systems.

At that time, it was a period of industry transformation after the birth of the Internet, and Rockwell Automation began its forward-looking transformation from an automation company to a digital company.

Shi An pointed out that as one of the mainstream players leading the fourth industrial revolution, Rockwell Automation is committed to continuously contributing a century long accumulation of automation, digitization, and intelligent cross-border innovation to ecological partners in various fields. As a trustworthy producer service chain owner, Rockwell Automation empowers customers through innovative technologies and solutions that integrate IT information technology and OT operation technology, Fully empowering partners with intelligent manufacturing upgrades, enabling them to adapt to various digital scenarios equivalent to the requirements and capabilities of lighthouse factories, and successfully transform and upgrade.

Rockwell Automation has its own unique path to digital transformation, effectively consolidating its digital ecosystem by building an alliance of industrial software vendors:

In 2018, invested $1 billion in PTC, an industrial software giant and one of the world’s three major CAD manufacturers;

In 2019, strategic cooperation was established with ANSYS, the world’s largest engineering simulation giant, to assist customers in developing digital twins based on simulation products, processes, or manufacturing;

In 2020, we announced a five-year cooperation expansion plan with Microsoft to provide customers with comprehensive and simple industrial IoT development and operation solutions, and to eliminate data silos that hinder industrial digital transformation plans.

In addition, Rockwell Automation also collaborates with giants in different fields such as Accenture and EPLAN to improve its digital circle of friends and build a complete digital ecosystem. Thanks to advanced deep layout, Rockwell Automation has launched an intelligent operation and maintenance Rockii solution, which was originally designed to address the challenges of personnel mobility and enterprise continuity production during the outbreak of the epidemic.

The intelligent operation and maintenance Rockii solution is supported by innovative technologies such as the Industrial Internet of Things, big data, artificial intelligence, AR/VR, and digital twins. It is a future oriented, industry end-to-end digital transformation platform created by Rockwell Automation, fully covering the SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS three-layer architecture of cloud services, with open, compatible, and sustainable expansion characteristics.

This solution can help customers develop the ability to quickly develop and deliver products, support enterprise independent control, development, and validation, redefine value creation, and achieve value increment. In 2022, at the 5th China International Import and Export Fair, Rockwell Automation established the Intelligent Operations and Maintenance Rockii Alliance. Shi An introduced that since its establishment, the alliance has collaborated with upstream and downstream enterprises in the industrial chain to gather wisdom and strategies, and helped more ecological partners trigger the qualitative change of open source through throttling, achieving the qualitative change of disruptive industries from the quantitative change of open source, and jointly creating new opportunities for cross-border cooperation and win-win cooperation.

Focus on big things and start small things

Nowadays, digital transformation has shifted from a conceptual stage to a large-scale implementation stage, and intelligent manufacturing upgrading is also becoming a “compulsory course”. However, a survey conducted by McKinsey&Company on over 800 traditional enterprises worldwide shows that although nearly 600 enterprises have started digitization, 71% of them are still in the pilot stage, and 85% of enterprises have stayed for more than a year, delaying the realization of large-scale promotion. Why are many enterprises still “feeling the stones and crossing the river” in the process of intelligent manufacturing transformation? Shi An believes that the most core challenges are overcapacity, high homogenization, and weak demand.

This year, in the eighth edition of Rockwell Automation’s annual “Intelligent Manufacturing Status Report”, it was stated that technology is crucial for mitigating risks and achieving growth. However, one-third of manufacturers still face limitations in the range of available systems and platforms, leading to “technological paralysis”, where decisions cannot be made between various solutions. Therefore, having partners with relevant industry expertise and experience is also crucial for enterprises to achieve intelligent manufacturing upgrades.

Shi An mentioned that Rockwell Automation has found that innovation and sustainable development are becoming increasingly important in the digital transformation process of enterprises in the process of sharing future blueprints with partners in different fields.

Firstly, people are the core. The disconnect between people, processes, and strategy is the main reason for the failure of digital transformation in enterprises; Secondly, how to effectively increase efficiency and reduce emissions, and accelerate the embrace of a net zero future, has also become a problem that many enterprises are considering; In addition, ecological partners in different industries may also face different challenges due to technological barriers in their respective environments or vastly different supply chain ecosystems.

How to break the game? Shi An believes that creating new demand is particularly crucial. He mentioned that in line with the importance attached by enterprises to green development, we believe that cross-border innovation and sustainable development thinking will play a very important role in the low-carbon and intelligent transformation of enterprises. Starting from the stage of scientific and technological innovation, we have implanted cross-border innovation and sustainable development thinking, and then enabling industrialization to have a systematic and large-scale system, and finally enabling commercialization to have a systematic and large-scale pattern. This whole set of thinking logic helps us think about how to continuously create new demands.

Carrying 120 years of accumulation, Rockwell Automation has accumulated rich industry knowledge and practical experience in segmented markets such as new energy vehicles, life sciences, and food and beverage industries. Shi An introduced that we have won recognition from many ecological partners, with approximately 95% of Fortune 100 industrial enterprises, 95% of Fortune 100 life science enterprises, over 80% of global Fortune 100 food enterprises, and almost all large automobile and electric vehicle manufacturers choosing Rockwell Automation and its partner products and solutions.In the process of assisting ecosystem partners in the transformation and upgrading of intelligent manufacturing, Rockwell Automation mainly empowers customers with core technologies from five aspects: early macro planning, application selection, benchmark construction, industry promotion and use case benchmarking, and talent cultivation, helping them achieve real-time monitoring and optimization control of factory energy consumption, thereby achieving significant efficiency and emission reduction. It is worth mentioning that, relying on a deep understanding of the needs of China’s ecological partners, Rockwell Automation has helped customers and partners cultivate and transport talents with cross-border thinking through an innovative end-to-end personnel training system, leveraging new changes in the development of more industries.

At present, Rockwell Automation is assisting well-known domestic battery company Honeycomb Energy in accurately positioning the implementation path of intelligent manufacturing transformation and priority areas. Through the implementation of intelligent manufacturing and artificial intelligence driven technologies, the transformation is expected to achieve a 20% increase in per capita output, a 20% reduction in manufacturing costs, a 5% increase in total output, and a 67% reduction in start-up period this year. Since 2018, the World Economic Forum and McKinsey&Company have initiated the selection of the “Lighthouse Factory” project globally. Enterprises in various fields such as consumer goods, automobiles, home appliances, steel, medical pharmaceuticals, industrial equipment, etc. have taken the intelligent manufacturing strength represented by the “Lighthouse Factory” as a benchmark and actively explored digital paths suitable for themselves.

Relying on the local ecosystem covering numerous industries, Rockwell Automation has been promoting the intersection of different industry application scenarios and innovative integration at the technical level, and working with ecosystem partners to build more sustainable lighthouse factories for the future. By linking cross-border thinking together, we can help replicate the lighthouse factory building model and promote the co construction of lighthouse factories in various industries.

Nanjing Puyuan, a domestic ice cream equipment manufacturer with a market share of 60% to 70%, has built an intelligent production line by utilizing Rockwell Automation’s intelligent operation and maintenance Rockii solution and upgrading OT operation technology with IT information technology. After achieving digital upgrading, Nanjing Puyuan will save up to 90% in labor costs, with an estimated annual reduction of 122 tons of waste emissions and a 30% increase in production capacity.

Nanjing Puyuan has changed its previous business model of focusing on equipment and production lines, shifting from OEM to ODM, becoming China’s first fully automated and intelligent ice cream manufacturing enterprise. While achieving leapfrog growth in revenue, it has also set a benchmark for the ice cream industry to further accelerate internal circulation and promote industrial transformation and upgrading. Rockwell Automation’s digital empowerment has successfully helped Nanjing Puyuan to be selected as one of Forbes China’s “Top 10 Industrial Digital Transformation Enterprises in 2021”.

The original intention is like a rock, steadfastly practicing and striving for success

Currently, China’s artificial intelligence is rapidly developing, with significant economic and social benefits in empowering the economy. The core industry scale of artificial intelligence exceeds 500 billion yuan. Artificial intelligence will accelerate the changes and advancement of the business model pattern in the industrial field, and allow the industry to explore potential business opportunities, and advance layout through digital means and advanced artificial intelligence technology.

In fact, artificial intelligence is not a new term in the industrial field, “Shi An explained in detail.” Decades ago, we used neural models of artificial intelligence to solve problems in the industrial field. Although the popularity is not as high as today, this concept has always existed. At present, I think it is very intuitive that the closed-loop system of artificial intelligence combined with automation will be the major trend in the future of the industrial sector, at least in the industrial automation sector, a closed-loop system can be formed. At the same time, we see that in the manufacturing industry, various digital and intelligent technologies represented by big data, AR/VR, and digital twins can help enterprises achieve further changes in quality and efficiency, and effectively expand the application of intelligent production in new scenarios, empowering many industries including new energy vehicles, life sciences, non-ferrous metals, food and beverage, oil and gas and chemical, subway, and water treatment to accelerate the pace of intelligent manufacturing transformation and upgrading.

As the leader of intelligent manufacturing, Rockwell Automation has deeply integrated a series of innovative technologies represented by industrial Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, big data, edge computing and AR/VR with its main core business platform. In the current wave of digitalization, relying on industry-leading intelligent manufacturing consulting services and end-to-end full lifecycle digital solutions, Rockwell Automation is sparing no effort to collaborate with customers in different fields to create a new pattern of “cross-border upgrading”, multi-dimensionally and comprehensively helping the upstream and downstream of the manufacturing industry to achieve excellent operations.

Its intelligent operation and maintenance Rockii solution can support independent development by enterprises in different industries, achieve continuous improvement, and meet the digital, intelligent, and remote operation and maintenance needs of enterprises in multiple fields. In recent years, Rockwell Automation has been working towards sustainable development through artificial intelligence technology, such as combining automation technology with artificial intelligence models to solve the problem of water treatment in China, and plans to have a positive impact on the daily water supply of 200 million people in China within two years.

In response to the needs of various ecological partners, Rockwell Automation adheres to the sustainable development SEEE value proposition of safety, energy conservation, environmental protection, and efficiency, and provides customized intelligent manufacturing consulting services from multiple dimensions such as cost, quality, delivery, technology, services, and sustainable development, Provide customers with comprehensive intelligent manufacturing planning at multiple levels from top-level design to application end, helping them apply innovative technologies and solutions more flexibly and successfully achieve the transformation and upgrading of intelligent manufacturing.

According to industry data, as of the end of 2021, China’s small and medium-sized enterprises accounted for 99%. In November 2022, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China issued the “Guidelines for Digital Transformation of Small and Medium sized Enterprises”, further proposing to promote digital transformation to enhance the comprehensive strength and core competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises. Therefore, accelerating the digital and green transformation of small and medium-sized enterprises and helping them achieve the upgrading of “specialization, precision, and novelty” will play an important role in building an internationally competitive digital industry cluster in the Chinese market and accelerating the process towards a net zero future in manufacturing.

Currently, Rockwell Automation continues to focus on empowering local small and medium-sized enterprises to achieve intelligent manufacturing upgrades. Shi An stated that we have confidence and the ability to promote cross-border innovation among many ecological partners, including small and medium-sized enterprises, from multiple dimensions, to help them forge core competitiveness, achieve customer promotion and expand the industrial chain, and expand the “width” of the blue ocean market.


In the past few years, Rockwell Automation has shared a series of energy-saving technologies and smart technology solutions with various industry partners through international communication platforms such as the World Artificial Intelligence Conference and the China International Import and Export Fair, and shared development opportunities in the context of digital development and the “dual carbon” goal. Looking forward to the future, Rockwell Automation hopes to help expand the layout of industrial automation, informatization, and digital transformation in multiple fields such as new energy vehicles, life sciences, food and beverage, and help China’s manufacturing industry create a more complete industrial chain and join the global mid to high end value chain.

Shi An stated that over thirty years of deep cultivation in the Chinese market, Rockwell Automation has cultivated and transported a large number of talents with cross-border thinking for China’s advanced manufacturing industry. In the future, we will continue to use our proud core technology, excellent operations, and cross-border ecology to persist in doing things that others cannot do and cannot refuse, and enable these things to be quickly and systematically replicated, leading to unlimited possibilities in the future.

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