“Don’t come with someone from SAP because that will mean we have to involve IT,” has been a typical response. That said, however, it is clear that integration with the enterprise is the key motivator for users considering investment in InFusion, a strength to which IPS is playing by further developing its already close relationship with SAP.
Invensys announced SAP Netweaver certification last October, but that only put it on a par with a number of other MES vendors. Far more significant is the more recent joint development of two Packaged Composite Applications (PCAs). As Wallraf explained, certification as a PCA is the key step towards a solution becoming an SAP-Endorsed Business Solution or EBS and that, in turn, certifies Invensys to implement and sell SAP software products to customers. To date InFusion includes two PCAs, Real-Time Finance and Real-Time Production Execution, both of which tie into the SAP ERP environment within SAP/R3 through xMII (Manufacturing Integration and Intelligence), as Lighthammer’s Illuminator product was renamed after its acquisition by SAP.
Real-Time Finance, which was certified as a PCA by SAP in March of this year, combines InFusion real-time accounting, the concept developed by IPS’ Dr Peter Martin, with elements of real-time finance. “Basically Real-Time Finance simplifies the exchange of data between InFusion and SAP,” explained Wallraf. “In the past, experts with detailed knowledge of the SAP infrastructure had to develop specific business application process interfaces to facilitate data exchange. Now . . . it is much easier and quicker to define the data links between the Industrial SQL in the InFusion History Engine and the associated data tables in the SAP/R3 modules. It’s as easy as working with Excel tables.”
That’s a highly significant remark because, as Wallraf explained, as IPS has delved ever deeper into the world of production planning—“far more complicated than simply running production” —it has discovered that “more than 90% of production planning in the process industries is still done in Exce.” And it’s the vulnerabilities involved in relying on such complex, custom-built applications, often only properly understood by a small number of individuals, that has led users such as BASF and Saudi Aramco to adopt InFusion as a solution to the production planning problems involved in, for example, managing a naphtha cracker or a gas separation plant.
Integration with PI
Implementations in such brownfield applications have required the development of interfaces between InFusion and existing plant historians such as OSIsoft’s PI System and Aspentech’s solution, since users are understandably resistant to having to replace a perfectly good historian package with InFusion’s own historian, based on Wonderware’s Industrial SQLserver. That, however, has proved less of a problem in greenfield situations where EPCs are increasingly being asked by their clients to deliver MES functionality.
“That’s something they’re not used to,” said Fox. “The scope of the enquiry is being extended.”
Clearly IPS isn’t going to stop at just two PCAs, but plans to use its hard-won in depth knowledge of SAP and xMII to develop further solutions. At the same time, the aim is to develop similar solutions for other ERP systems based on the same PCA and xMII technology. Meanwhile IPS seems to be trying to establish itself as SAP’s preferred solution provider for integration with the, to it, arcane world of the continuous process industries and by users in those industries as the automatic choice for SAP integration, irrespective of which particular vendor supplies the DCS.
That will inevitably raise speculation over whether the success of InFusion is dependent on or perhaps even impeded by IPS’ role as a DCS vendor. Wallraf believes that you can’t be an MAC (Main Automation Contractor) without being a DCS vendor, simply because the EPCs and end users want to deal with a single company with overall project management responsibility.
And you can see his point—after all, IA currently generates vastly more revenue for IPS than does InFusion. On the other hand, while acknowledging its very different route to market, you can’t help drawing the parallel with Wonderware whose very strength is its independence from any single hardware vendor.
- InFusion isn’t just about SAP integration. Indeed, in the longer term it may be areas such as asset management or rather ‘Asset Performance Management’ (APM) that have the greater impact. APM, another concept originating in the fertile brain of Peter Martin, aims to maximize the business value of each individual plant asset by achieving the optimum balance between availability and utilization. Key to that is the new release of InFusion Condition Manager which goes far beyond simple condition monitoring of field devices, collecting, aggregating and analyzing data from all classes of plant assets, including sensors and actuators, pumps, motors, compressors, turbines, dryers, heat exchangers and complete process units. InFusion also allows integration with other Invensys and third-party applications and makes information previously only available on asset management or computerized maintenance management systems, such as IPS’ own Avantis, available for display on both process control and engineering workstations.
Key to the further development of this capability is IPS’ approach to wireless which is now being seen as an integral part of the InFusion portfolio. “We don’t see wireless being used for critical measurement and control,” said Hartmut Wallraf, “but it fits well into such areas as rotating equipment.” That’s important because, as data from BP has shown, 70% to 75% of plant shutdowns are related to rotating equipment.