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Departures at less elevated, but equally, if not more, painful levels include all but one of the IPS Marketing Communications team, as MarComms follows the HQ team to Dallas.
Automation vendors have been vying with each other for some time now to incorporate the magic word ‘platform’ into their hardware and software product descriptions—Rockwell, for example uses the term to describe both FactoryTalk and Logix—and, even more innovatively, into actual product names such as Wonderware System Platform. Now, however, GE Fanuc Automation has raised the stakes even higher by renaming the whole company to incorporate it and, even more daringly, coupling it with another overworked adjective to create GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms. However, while the old name actually gave some indication of what the company was about, the new moniker leaves all but the most intimately initiated guessing.
Does the fact that the new branding was slipped out largely unannounced suggest that even within the hallowed halls of GE, there are those who are just the tiniest bit embarrassed? If they are, they’re just going to have to get used to it because the change of name presages the launch early in the new year of GE Fanuc’s own version of the platform concept under the entirely original name, Proficy Platform. Previewed by CEO Maryrose Sylvester at the company’s Discover 2007user conference in St Louis, Missouri, last month, this new platform and its companion, Proficy Workflow, will exploit the new Microsoft technologies to achieve what she called the ‘Googleization’ of manufacturing software. Hmmm!
Meanwhile, having got the serious matter of what the company is actually called out of the way, GE Fanuc has become the latest vendor to toss its hat into the increasingly crowded wireless ring by announcing TranSphere Wireless, a range of solutions embracing extended range IP networking, wireless IP/Ethernet connectivity, Ethernet and serial communications radio modem offerings and remote I/O for analog and discrete I/O signals. “Wireless communication is a major trend that is gathering strength in the automation arena,” explained Controllers product manager Bill Black who then damaged his own credibility somewhat by asserting that, in entering the market months if not years after some of its largest rivals, “GE Fanuc is at the forefront of this wave as we now offer our customers the ability to integrate wireless communications into their automation environments.”
TranSphere has more than a whiff of the OneWireless about it, being promoted as a means of reducing the integration, configuration and support costs incurred by what are referred to as ‘multi-box’ solutions. It is said to provide users with the freedom to align with their individual distance and I/O requirements, and it’s also being offered for off-site applications such as tank farms, pumping stations and treatment plants. The actual devices support multiple users connecting to multiple applications via multiple protocols on the same unit or the same network, and provide for multiple layers of protection, including 128-bit data encryption, two-way authentication, and dynamic key rotation. They’re also offered in 2.4GHz and 900MHz versions to cover the market requirements both inside and outside North America.
GE reckons that TranSphere offers the longest range industrial products in its class and that it supports open standards, although it doesn’t actually say which ones. To that extent it really is truly unique—a wireless offering announced without any mention of ISA 100 or WirelessHART!
The latest attempt by ARC to rewrite our automation vocabulary—remember Process Automation System or PAS for DCS and Programmable Automation Controller or PAC for PLC—comes with the launch of its Collaborative Production System or CPS model which had its first public outing at GE Fanuc Intelligent Platform’s Discover 2007 user conference in St Louis last month.
Developed by the ARC team of Larry O’Brien, Tom Fiske, and Craig Resnick, CPS “articulates the collapsing of the separate domains of automation, operations management and plant engineering and design, breaking down the barriers to information and forming a framework for operational excellence in the manufacturing industries” which, we gather from reports of Resnick’s presentation in St. Louis, is ARC speak for replacing MES.
And for once you can see why. MES, which is in any case in its second incarnation after a less than satisfactory and mercifully short life in the ’80s, has always meant pretty much whatever any vendor has wanted it to mean. It’s less a coherent concept than a rag bag of more or less independent applications, such as scheduling, inventory, OEE and quality.
ARC describes the new model as combining its Collaborative Process Automation Systems (CPAS) and Operations Management models, outlining both systems infrastructure and the requirements, functions, people and processes needed to achieve operational excellence. “Collaborative Production Systems prevent assets from being niche islands of information, and ensure that all assets are delivering their maximum return on investment to the manufacturers and their shareholders,” explains Resnick. “Collaborative Production Systems also eliminate manufacturers’ internal barriers that may exist between, for example, plant floor and IT personnel.”
The model also provides direction to manufacturers on how to apply the principles of collaboration to ensure that all of their production systems share relevant information with each other. The architecture reflects the increasingly distributed nature of applications, creating opportunities to improve performance in such areas as asset and equipment reliability, automation and information context, knowledge worker enablement, plant performance intelligence and common actionable KPIs. CPS also acknowledges the challenges presented to manufacturing companies by the “flattening” of the world as they respond by shifting focus to flexible customer-centric manufacturing to deal with demand fluctuations. “ARC is a strong advocate of manufacturers adopting solutions that subscribe to the CPS model which will go a long way to removing the barriers between Operations Management and Automation Control,” said Resnick.
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