Andrew Bond Covers Process Automation in Europe

Here are excerpts from the October 2007 issue of Andrew Bond’s Industrial Automation Insider, a monthly newsletter covering the important industrial automation news and issues as seen from the U.K.

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Rockwell Automation expects ICS Triplex's modular safety system to ‘AAdvance’ to Go and collect £110m

It’s just two months since Rockwell Automation completed its £110m acquisition, first announced in May of this year, of Maldon, U.K.-based safety system specialist ICS Triplex However, the company, or at least the product offering, already looks very different from the one that was acquired.

At that time ICS Triplex had all the appearance of a “one trick pony,” that trick being Trusted, its widely accepted and well-respected monolithic TMR (Triple Modular Redundant) Safety Instrumented System (SIS). That and its independence from any one of the mainstream DCS vendors placed it firmly in the “separatist” camp alongside vendors such as Invensys’ Triconex and HIMA in the recent debate between advocates of functionally separate, physically integrated SISs on the one hand and total physical separation of SIS and BPCS (Basic Process Control System) on the other. Now however, with the introduction of its new AAdvance system—pronounced as if it only had one ‘A’, the other standing for Automation—at last week’s Offshore Europe show in Aberdeen, not only has ICS Triplex revealed that Rockwell got a whole lot more than one trick for its £110m, but it has also opened up a completely new front in the integrated versus independent battle.

Ever since Emerson Process Management announced DeltaV SIS in February 2004, separatists have been attacking the new generation of integrated safety systems for undermining the basic tenets of the safety system creed through their physical integration with the BPCS, their use of a common hardware platform and their reliance on dual or quad architectures with diagnostics. However, it’s arguable that what really put the wind up them was the scalability of the new offerings in general and of DeltaV SIS in particular.

Traditional TMR solutions such as Trusted may offer the highest levels of availability and freedom from spurious trips, but they require the user to invest in a fully featured system capable of supporting potentially hundreds of critical I/O, even when the application itself involves only a handful of SIL3 or SIL2 loops. Hardly surprising then that when Emerson came along with a solution which purported to offer SIS support on a per loop basis, many users were prepared to overcome their initial reservations. Nor is Emerson the only vendor to have made converts to the integrated approach. Indeed, only the other week Yokogawa was telling INSIDER that its ProSafe RS integrated SIS is now their users’ preferred solution on major projects involving both a DCS and an SIS.

Scalability

ICS Triplex’s AAdvance is designed to counter that trend by offering scalability in terms not just of loops, but also of SIL level and availability and fault tolerance. Moreover, in contrast to what ICS Triplex chief technology officer Allan Rentcombe believes is a limitation of the Emerson solution to relatively small numbers of loops, it is said to scale all the way from the smallest to the very largest applications. It also allows the hardware to be distributed and located close to the plant or process unit being protected, while the new software environment maintains centralized control over the entire safety management system.

AAdvance is not designed to replace Trusted, says sales and marketing director Martin Snow, but to complement and integrate with it. Indeed Trusted will, in effect, become part of AAdvance, providing the necessary capability where high concentrations of high integrity SIL3 loops are required in AAdvance installations. Rather than impacting Trusted sales, both Snow and Rentcombe believe that the main effect of the new system will be to give the company access to markets from which it has previously been excluded. “Safety is an expanding market embracing TMC (Turbo Machinery Control), critical control and high availability as well as SIL levels,” explains Snow.

Compromise

AAdvance represents arguably the first real attempt by the independent SIS camp to respond to the DCS vendors’ safety challenge other than by seeking to undermine confidence in their technology. As Martin Snow says, “There’s always a compromise between what the customer wants and what he will accept.” ICS Triplex expects to start taking orders for AAdvance in early 2008 and to start shipping the following May. Only then will it be possible to see how successful they have been in shifting the balance of that compromise back in favour of independence—and whether Rockwell is going to get a worthwhile return on its £110m investment.


Wallraf and Fox reprise their InFusion show

Some 18 months ago, ahead of Invensys Process Systems (IPS)’s launch of its InFusion “Enterprise Control System” (ECS) in Boston in April 2006, Hartmut Wallraf, vice president and chief technology officer for EMEA and Ken Fox, vice president of international marketing, toured Europe and the Middle East in a softening-up exercise designed to ensure that, when the system was launched, editors had at least some inkling of what it was all about.

In effect InFusion is the process automation implementation of ArchestrA and hence to the continuous process industries what Wonderware’s System Platform is to the discrete industries. As such, it provides integration both horizontally between applications and real-time data sources such as DCSs and PLCs and vertically with the enterprise which, as Wallraf explained, means, for 90% of IPS clients, with SAP. “The market response has been slow, but the recognition is growing,” he said. Part of the reason for such a gradual build up has been the time required to get from initial enquiry to implementation—typically 18 months—which is why the majority of early applications are only now coming to fulfillment. Not only do they require detailed analysis of what the user is actually trying to achieve, but they can also raise delicate political issues between plant managers and their counterparts at the corporate level.

“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.

SAP certification

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.

Single source

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.

Wireless

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.

Ken Fox sees the key advantages of wireless in such areas as being its low installation cost, greatly increased bandwidth compared with conventional fieldbus, the fact that it raises few security issues when not related to critical control and the value it can deliver directly to customers. “Wireless is a fact,” said Wallraf. “It’s reality and it’s in use. We are already having installations.”


Lego Mindstorms Upgrade

National Instruments and the Lego Group have announced a software update for the Lego
Mindstorms NXT robotics invention system. The software is powered by National Instruments’
LabVIEW and now provides support for Windows Vista and for Intel-based Macintosh computers. It also improves memory usage on the NXT Intelligent Brick resulting from smaller compiled programs and compressed sound files. As a result users will enjoy increased system performance, particularly when creating more complex programs. The updated software remains compatible with the NI LabVIEW Toolkit for Lego Mindstorms NXT which allows LabVIEW users to create and download VIs to operate and control the robotics platform. Third-party software and hardware users can also create native blocks using the toolkit for development on
Lego Mindstorms NXT.


Wonderware launch heralds convergence on IT

There’s a certain amount of confusion about the significance of last week’s launch in California of InTouch 10.0 and System Platform 3.0, which UK journalists witnessed via a live web cast at the impressive new headquarters just outside Manchester of U.K. and Ireland Wonderware distributor solutionsPT.

Via the webcast, we saw a somewhat jerky Mark Davidson, Wonderware’s vice president of global marketing, describe the event as the most significant launch since the introduction of InTouch, while president Mike Bradley said that it was the most important announcement in the company’s 20 year history. However Bill Sherwood, president of leading U.S. integrator Progressive Software Solutions or PS2, was somewhat more modest in his assessment, describing it as the biggest release since InTouch was network-enabled.

Given that it’s Sherwood and his peers who will actually have to build their businesses around it, we’re inclined to accept his view, and indeed to give the greater credence to his assessment of the key issues. These, in his view, are the common development ‘Studio,’ the use of standard objects and templates, the support for powerful scripting. A common development environment, he says, eliminates the need for developers to learn multiple platforms since they can now do everything in the one environment, while support for object technology means that changes can be propagated throughout a system and “If you can’t see the power in that you should be reporting for some other magazine,” he told the assembled hacks. The collaborative environment means fewer errors during development and the scripting capability uses the same syntax as .net. What that all adds up to is a 25% saving in engineering during application development, said Sherwood, who emphasized the point with a Tony Blair like assertion that the three most important aspects are “Reuse, reuse and reuse.”

Back to the future

But why, if it’s constantly referred to as a single launch, were two products announced last week? The answer seems to lie in the history of software development at Wonderware since its acquisition by Invensys/Siebe nine years ago. While Invensys continued to invest in Wonderware and in what came to be known as ArchestrA, even during the darkest days of financial meltdown, the then CEO Rick Haythornthwaite and COO Leo Quin felt obliged to make product announcements if only to indicate to shareholders and analysts that they were getting something for their money. But ArchestrA isn’t a product, and the announcements served more to confuse than to enlighten. Nor did subsequent releases of Application Server and more recently System Platform do much to reduce potential users’ confusion.

So the real significance of this latest launch is not that it’s the biggest or most important since some arbitrary point in the past, but that it marks the point when the product structure originally intended and implied by the development of ArchestrA is finally put in place. And that means, paradoxically that, with a great sigh of relief, the rest of us can finally stop worrying about the fact that we don’t really understand it. That’s because, while its based on ArchestrA, System Platform 3.0 does something which pretty much all of us can understand, namely provide a common platform of services including, for example, security and scripting, a common ‘Development Studio’, and central management and distribution of applications – what was Application Server – into which individual applications can then be “plugged.”

Many of those applications are the latest version, of what used to make up Factory Suite but, whereas that was essentially a collection of independent products, all will now be fully integrated through the common System Platform and all get new names. Thus InTrack becomes the Wonderware Manufacturing Execution Module and Industrial SQL becomes Wonderware Historian.

SCADA/HMI Module?

Logically, on that basis, InTouch should become the Wonderware SCADA/HMI Module but that would present problems in keeping the tens of thousands of existing InTouch users on side. So instead we have InTouch 10.0 which is designed both to plug in to System Platform and at the same time provide a standalone upgrade path for existing InTouch users going right back to the original release 20 years ago.

According to Rashesh Mody, one time CTO but now vice president of the HMI & SCADA business focus areas, the new release supports all the existing capabilities of InTouch and includes a further 200 enhancements. Arguably the most important is the ArchestrA based vector graphics which allow the same InTouch application to be deployed on the full range of devices right down to and including CE-based hardware HMIs. Moreover to further lower the entry point, Wonderware is introducing a new range of CE-based hardware HMIs embedding InTouch 10.0. Other operating systems supported include XP, Windows Server 2003 and Vista although, perhaps surprisingly, given the degree to which it has been highlighted by rival SCADA vendor Copa-Data, there was no mention of Vista certification. That, as we understand it, is key to being able to take advantage of the new security features within Vista but John Bailey and his team at Solutions PT were unable to give any indication of whether or when certification might be forthcoming.

Integration with IT

For Brad Wise of Maverick Technologies, the second US integrator to contribute to the event, the most significant aspect of the introduction was the tighter integration it would enable between IT and automation and specifically the improvement in security through IT levels of patch management. Customers, he said, are looking for a single platform offering IT platform compatibility. And that view was echoed by Microsoft’s own world wide director of manufacturing operations strategy, Chris Colyer, who variously described the new releases as “People ready for manufacturing” and, with a perfectly straight face, “Making software cool for manufacturing.” Rather more to the point, he said that “the convergence of IT and manufacturing operations is becoming absolutely real” and asserted that “50% of CIOs now have responsibility for everything above the PLC in manufacturing.” Microsoft, he said, is now “bringing IT resources into manufacturing.”

Wonderware, as we were once again reminded by Mike Bradley, claims to have its software running in a third of all the manufacturing plants in the world, with 450,000 licenses in 100,000 locations, and has its eyes firmly set on the other two-thirds. Echoing Colyer, he argued that the market structure is now changing with the HMI and MES layers merging into a single real time operations layer. Wonderware’s ambitions in that layer could not be clearer. “We want to own the real-time space in manufacturing and infrastructure across the globe.”


WirelessHART approval doesn’t end the arguments

The HART Communication Foundation (HCF) will have brought smiles of satisfaction to the faces of the Emerson Process Management top brass as this week’s Global Users Exchange opened in Dallas by announcing on the previous Friday the official release of the HART 7 Specification which, most significantly, includes WirelessHART. It’s just two years since Emerson effectively lit the blue touch paper under the wireless debate, again at its user conference, by revealing just how far down the road its wireless developments had gone.
Stealing a march on its rivals, not only did it demonstrate working prototypes of devices which looked just like conventional Rosemount transmitters and Fisher valve positioners, but it also wheeled out a BP spokesman to explain how, in its own trials on real plants, wireless devices based on HART had cut the cost of installation by an order of magnitude, from $10k to $1k for a $1k transmitter. Since then Emerson has released products in advance of agreement on the standard with an understanding that users would be able to migrate to the standard once it had been agreed, a process which will now presumably be put in hand.

Since then the arguments over wireless standards have reached levels not seen or heard since the end of the fieldbus wars at the turn of the millennium, culminating in a last ditch attempt by Honeywell Process Solutions president Jack Bolick to persuade HCF board members to vote against release of the standard, despite the membership having overwhelmingly voted in its favor back in June. In an open letter to U.S. magazine editors explaining why Honeywell was itself going to vote ‘NO,’ even though it was one of the HCF member companies acknowledged as having contributed to its development in the subsequent press release from the Foundation, Bolick expressed Honeywell’s concern that “the industry is heading down a path that creates confusion and slows innovation through the adoption of two industrial wireless protocols … while WirelessHART is designed to support the HART protocol only, the ISA100 standard is designed to support multiple protocols, including HART.”

In a striking parallel with the arguments which bedevilled the fieldbus deliberations of the 1990s, Bolick argues in favor of the role of ISA100 “as a universal network, transporting information from all types of industrial wireless protocols” which, he suggests, “obviates the need for single- protocol networks like WirelessHART,” and in the process explains, by implication, why, at the launch of Honeywell’s own ‘OneWireless’ offering in June of this year, the company refused to be drawn on whether it supported Wireless HART, although it would support HART over wireless.

While giving them the benefit of the doubt as to whether this is or is not purely a spoiling operation, the problem for Honeywell and other less vociferous opponents of WirelessHART is that, with last Friday’s release of the standard, it is currently the only game in town. Moreover, while Bolick suggests in his letter that, once test and certification requirements have been taken into account, WirelessHART and ISA100 “will be available in a similar timeframe,” there’s no real guarantee they will be. Indeed there are some pretty clear indications that the SP 100 committee will not be able to meet its current timetable.

One inevitable consequence of an extended public row over competing standards will be to reduce user confidence in the technology as a whole and to delay adoption until the picture becomes clearer. Indeed it is ironic that the current strength of HART stems to a great extent from the protracted arguments over fieldbus which led users to avoid making a decision and to adopt a half way house. With most users likely to want to dip their toes into the wireless waters, the stage is set for HART not just to extend but to reinforce that dominance. Notwithstanding the Honeywell arguments, it’s difficult to see why SP100 can’t accept a fait accompli and incorporate WirelessHART into its more comprehensive standard, whenever that finally sees the light of day.

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