Control News from Europe December 2007

Andrew Bond reports on process controls

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According to Harsh Chitale, vice president for strategy and global marketing, the issue is all about interoperability and flexibility and the management of the available spectrum. SP100, he argues, offers the more elegant and complete solution with a single network and, crucially, a single security solution for all protocols, including HART. Moreover, he claims, it provides the most effective means of ensuring that competing applications can coexist without interference either from each other or from applications on adjacent sites. “There’s only one spectrum to share. There has to be a holistic approach if users want to use wireless.”

With rather more confidence in the ability of the ISA100 committee to deliver than some would consider justified, he anticipates an ISA standard by the second half of 2008, which he suggests will be only a matter of a month or two after test and certification procedures are in place for WirelessHART. So, the argument goes, why rush ahead with a solution which only addresses device networking, when a solution for the entire gamut of applications will be available just months later? Or, to put it rather more colourfully,“Why would you want a pager when you can have a Blackberry?”

Interoperable

But the problem for Honeywell now is that we are where we are. So are they going to support WirelessHART now that it is a fact? Jean-Marie Alliet says “We will support it if we need to, that is if that is what customers are asking for.” For Chitale, however, the issue is how WirelessHART is accommodated within ISA 100. In the first release, the aim will be to make the two interoperable, but the ultimate aim should be to achieve seamless integration with a common communications stack. That’s possible, he says, but it will need movement on both sides, and at present he doesn’t see the necessary flexibility from the WirelessHART camp.

Given that they find themselves in a minority of one on WirelessHART, the Honeywell team seems remarkably relaxed. Will further delay hurt them? “It’s not a problem because for us sensors are only a part of it,” says Chitale. And what happens if there is no agreement? “It’s not going to be like the fieldbus wars. This time there is a clear economic benefit for the users and they will drive it.”

With all the arguments over standards, it’s easy to forget that there are some real divisions of opinion over the technology itself. One of the defining statements about the technology on which WirelessHART is based is the comment from BP’s David Lafferty that “It just works.”

Not according to Honeywell’s Yu-Gene Chen. “It doesn’t just work,” he says. “We have a self forming, self healing network too but there are still problems,” said Chen, highlighting what he believes is the fundamental importance of site surveys. “Other vendors say you just have to put in another node but if you do that you create other problems. Every time you make a hop, you cut throughput by half so, pretty soon, you have an unusable network.” Can’t think who those other vendors he’s referring to could be, but there might just be a response when Emerson brings its latest wireless offerings to Europe at the end of the month.


APV sale rekindles bid rumors at Invensys

Both GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms and Rockwell Automation are trying to present themselves as serious contenders for a share of the mainstream process automation market. Jim Pinto, of course, still has Rockwell down as an acquisition target for ABB, a fate which, he argues, can only be avoided by itself making a major acquisition, by which he means something an order of magnitude larger than any of its 2007 deals to date. This year saw Rockwell for the first time figuring in ARC’s global DCS market share rankings but it’s difficult to see how either it or GE Fanuc could make a significant impact on the rankings without buying into an existing contender’s installed base.

Who to acquire? One rumor current in the US, we’re told, has GE in the process of purchasing a company valued between $500m and $1b with batch, hybrid and DCS capabilities. That, so the argument runs, can only be the ‘hardware’ parts of Invensys - Foxboro, Triconex, Eurotherm, APV – whose disposal would leave IPS free to concentrate on software and services.

SPX

Unfortunately Invensys has somewhat spoilt this one by selling APV to SPX Corporation for £250m ($518) cash. APV has been a thorn in the Invensys side for years and, despite repeated efforts to improve its performance, has remained the group’s lowest margin unit. £70m of the proceeds will go to reducing the shortfall in the pension fund while the remainder will be used to pay down debt.

The news pushed the shares up nearly 6% on the day to close at 327p, and they’ve since been boosted further by speculation for the whole group at some 450p. Wiser heads, however, suggest that a serious bid is unlikely to materialize until Invensys has disposed of its other black sheep, its Controls division.

Departures

Meanwhile the word on the Foxboro street is of further turmoil within Invensys Process Systems (IPS) following Paulett Eberhart’s decision to move the IPS HQ to Dallas. Most prominent among the casualties are Measurements & Instruments business unit general manager Ken Brown and Wonderware president Mike Bradley. Brown, it will be recalled, was widely tipped for the top job after Mike Caliel’s departure in June 2006 and even took over the role until Eberhart’s appointment in January 2007. Meanwhile Bradley’s departure comes only weeks after the launch of InTouch 10.0 and System Platform 3.0, which he himself described as the most important announcements in Wonderware’s 20- year history. Bradley is, we understand, to be succeeded by Sudipta Bhattacharya, who joined from SAP only last August as Invensys’ chief software solutions officer, reporting to Bradley.

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