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5 min read

A System Integrator’s Take on the Top Features in Rockwell Automation’s FactoryTalk Design Studio

As part of our commitment to helping customers increase competitiveness, we believe it is important to stay at the forefront of the latest design tools and technologies. Recently, we took the opportunity to participate in an early adopter experience with Rockwell Automation’s FactoryTalk Design Studio, which is a collection of cloud-based collaborative design tools.

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During this program, we developed an application for one of our customers using FactoryTalk Design Studio, a cloud-native, multiuser design software, and used the FactoryTalk Vault storage tool. Overall, we see huge potential for FT Design Studio to connect design teams, streamline development, and boost productivity. Below is a summary of the features we found most helpful and are most excited about as development of these tools continues. 

Feature 1: A Collaborative Multiuser Environment

FT Design Studio offers a highly flexible environment that enables seamless collaboration and communication between users. Access is easy to configure for multiple users in geographically diverse locations. Once someone has a Design Studio entitlement, access can be granted to the organization’s account and their projects. In some future version, Rockwell has said that they plan to add further add access controls to projects so that end users are able to grant their vendors access to only the projects they need within design studio.

We also appreciated the modern workflows designed for collaboration. The software alerts you when someone makes changes you need to pull into your environment, or if you have changes that need to be pushed to the cloud (as shown in upload and download cloud icons near the top middle of Figure 1).

 

Figure 1. A screenshot from Design Studio showing that there one change made by another user needs to be pulled down from the cloud and one locally saved changed needs to be pushed to the cloud. 

Feature 2: A Purpose-Built Environment with Zero Software Footprint

Design Studio was built as a cloud-native environment, which means it is not just a version of existing software forced into the cloud. Instead, it was purpose built and runs on Microsoft Azure, giving users the ability to fully utilize the scale and performance of the cloud. Because of this, we also did not need to install any software or build a new virtual machine (VM), to use it. We see this as a huge benefit as it alleviates common issues with managing VMs and different software versions as well as complications with licensing that require the involvement of IT. Additionally, we found that the browser-based interface was well-designed and worked well in both Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge.

Feature 3: FactoryTalk Vault

As part of our pilot, we also used FactoryTalk Vault, which is the tool in Design Studio that provides secure cloud-based central storage. With Vault, we created a library of objects that we could reuse across other projects in that organization. This is a time-saving feature because, unlike traditional libraries that need to be loaded into each new configuration, once a library is deposited in Vault, it is automatically available when opening a new configuration. Vault also offers version tracking and storing of multiple versions of a program. As a result, you can compare changes between versions or revert to prior versions if necessary (Figure 2).

Figure 2. An example of a program saved to Vault and then migrated from firmware version 17 to firmware version 36. 

Feature 4: Access to the Code Base

In Design Studio, you can quickly switch between the typical graphical interface (ladder editor) and the code editor for the portion of the configuration you are working on. Not only can you make tweaks directly to the code base if you’d like, but this access has the potential to help users simplify programming by using external automated tools to generate code and objects that can be brought into the code. We saw a lot of potential for this feature during our early access period, and talked to the Rockwell team about the potential to quickly go from properly structured specification to Design Studio code, which could be a huge time saver. 

Bonus Feature: FactoryTalk Design Studio Copilot

One evolving feature that we think could have a big impact on programming productivity is the use of generative AI through the FactoryTalk Design Studio Copilot. With Copilot, you can write a query in plain text and the tool will generate the appropriate PLC code using Microsoft Azure’s Open AI platform. The Copilot feature can also be used to find information faster, such as feature explanations and operating instructions, and to perform troubleshooting. We are excited to see how this feature evolves in future releases.

During the early access period, we learned quite a bit and see the promise of, and place for using, the tools in Design Studio. We look forward to testing out new features as Rockwell evolves the capabilities of this tool and bringing the benefits to our customers where appropriate.

Learn more about our control system design services. For reference, here is a list of all the Design Hub tools.