Control News from Europe

Here are excerpts from the November 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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ARC Tags ABB as DCS Market Leader

ARC guards its market share data jealously as we’ve noted in previous years, but that hasn’t prevented ABB from trumpeting the news that its continued leadership of the global DCS market was confirmed in the latest “Distributed Control Systems Worldwide Outlook,” released last month. What ABB didn’t say, however, was that while, according to ARC, the worldwide DCS market grew by an unprecedented 14% between 2005 and 2006 to reach $13.4 billion, the word on the Houston street during the ISA Show—sorry Expo—was that its own growth failed to keep pace, with the result that its market share actually fell.

ARC research director, Larry O’Brien, conceded as much when he said, “The rapid growth of the DCS market and the battle for the installed base, make it no easy task for the market leader.” Nevertheless, as a result if its acquisition-fest of the late ’90s, ABB, says O’Brien, “continues to enjoy the largest installed base of any supplier, and is making key strides in evolving its installed base forward to its System 800xA platform.”

That evolution was in part responsible for ABB’s being able to claim back in August of this year that it had sold more than 3,100 Industrial IT 800xA systems, incorporating over 14,000 AC800M controllers, since the introduction of the new system back in January 2004. Nevertheless, the word is that competitors still see ABB’s installed base as the most vulnerable of all the DCS vendors’ to penetration, and indeed identify it as the main source of their own penetration.

But if ABB, despite being the leader, is the biggest loser in the DCS market share stakes, others will certainly count themselves winners. Arguably the most notable of these is Emerson which, so rumor has it, and despite a marginal increase, has finally caught Invensys in terms of global market share, albeit with Siemens snapping at its heels. Emerson, however, probably derives greater satisfaction from having overtaken Honeywell as North American market leader. Biggest gainer, although frustratingly still without moving up the pecking order, is Yokogawa, while we understand that Rockwell has for the first time moved on to the leader board, albeit with a share only a fifth of that of the next largest contender.

When Is a Safety User Not a Safety User?

When a press briefing is given by two safety system vendors and two consultants, even if one of them was until recently Head of Electrical and Control Systems at the U.K. Health & Safety Executive (HSE), you’d think it was stretching a point to describe it as a presentation from the “Safety Users Group.” And to an extent you’d be right. It’s true that the one group notably absent from the briefing in London in mid-September—other than the editor of INSIDER who was unaccountably on holiday—were actual users of safety systems, but that was no doubt primarily because of a reluctance on their part to discuss their own safety issues in any kind of open forum, least of all one which includes the press. That said, however, and with perhaps one notable exception, the presenters managed to avoid making any overly partisan pitches and to stick reasonably closely to the theme outlined by Safety Users Group founder and president Didier Turcinovic, which was to emphasize the business case, as against the more obvious scare-you-out-of-your-wits case, for safety.

Turcinovic’s argument is essentially that safety makes good business sense. He cites International Labour Organisation evidence that not only is there “no statistical evidence that economies with lower occupational health and safety standards are more competitive,” but that, on the contrary, “the safest countries also have the best competitiveness ratings.” Moreover, he sees a direct parallel with the way attitudes to quality changed after the introduction of ISO9000 in the 1990s, delivering not just improved quality but cost savings, reduced product returns, improved efficiency and fewer disputes arising from poor organization. Far from diminishing performance, he argues that what he calls a ‘holistic’ approach to safety will have similar long term benefits, providing not just a license to operate, but clear differentiation from the competition by exceeding the increasing expectations of society.

Star turn of the event without doubt was Ron Bell, formerly of the HSE and now of Ron Bell Consulting (RBC), but most significantly in this context, chair of one of the two IEC working groups which was responsible for developing IEC 61508 and now of one of the two teams revising it. Bell wasn’t above waking his audience up with some spectacular Buncefield photographs before taking them through a brisk whistle-stop tour of functional safety in general and IEC 61508 in particular, but his most telling comments related to HSE’s and, by implication other regulatory authorities’, attitude to IEC61508 and its future evolution. “HSE will use IEC 61508 as a reference standard for determining whether a reasonably practicable level of safety has been achieved when E/E/PE systems are used to carry out safety functions.” The extent to which it does so will, of course, depend on individual circumstance, but in the specific case of the process and machinery sectors, “IEC 61511 and IEC 62061 will be used as reference standards for the process sector and for machinery respectively.”

Demand for complex safety systems can only increase, in line with increasing regulatory pressure. With ever more complex supply chains, the future focus will increasingly be on the organizational and personal competence of all those in the supply chain, with particular attention being paid to risk based approaches to the determination of system safety performance and to the performance and compliance of legacy systems.

On the specific subject of the revision of IEC61508, Bell said that the aim has been to ensure that any changes would add real value and that any perceived benefits would be balanced against their economic cost to users and, particularly, to organizations that have already invested in the current standard. Key issues considered in the revision of Parts 1 and 2 included the use of the concept of ‘Systematic Capability’ and the vexed question of safety manuals for compliant items. In the latter case, it is proposed that suppliers of products who claim compliance with the standard will have to provide a safety manual for each compliant item for which they claim compliance and document a justification for all the information in it.

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