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.

4 of 4 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 > View on one page

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.

4 of 4 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 > View on one page
Show Comments
Hide Comments

Join the discussion

We welcome your thoughtful comments.
All comments will display your user name.

Want to participate in the discussion?

Register for free

Log in for complete access.


No one has commented on this page yet.

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments