Control News from Europe January 2008

Andrew Bond Reports from Europe

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TSMP—Does it or doesn’t it?

How does Emerson react to suggestions, such as those made at last month’s Honeywell European User Group meeting down the road in Salzburg, that the time-synchronized mesh protocol (TSMP) technology, on which WirelessHART is based “doesn’t just work,” but that installations do, in fact, require extensive site surveys. “Most of the installation planning for self-organizing mesh technology can actually be undertaken . . . within an office environment,” said European marketing manager for Smart Wireless Solutions, Mike Ferris. “You don’t need to go out in the plant and do point-to-point or line-of-sight or extensive climbing over pipe work to ensure you’ve got the visibility between the gateway and the measurement device.”

As to the suggestion made at the same meeting to incorporate additional nodes to ensure that a path can be found around particularly intractable obstacles, Ferris says, “Yes, it will increase the latency of the device network … but really, when you are looking at update rates of 15 seconds, it really is negligible and it is not an issue.”

Meanwhile how confident is the Emerson team that it has indeed backed the right horse at the device level, and that WirelessHART will not be stranded outside the eventual ISA 100 standard? Chief strategic officer Peter Zornio says that “We are pretty confident and comfortable that WirelessHART is a protected path within SP 100.”

All of which, rather strangely, was meant to be the preliminary to the main event, the announcement of the extension to Europe of the agreement, first announced in the U.S. in September, between Emerson and Cisco to deliver wireless plant networks and applications based on Cisco’s Unified Wireless Architecture.

Just who gets the best out of this deal is by no means clear. Emerson certainly gets the opportunity to thumb its collective nose at Honeywell by presenting an architecture so similar to the latter’s OneWireless above the device level as to be barely indistinguishable. Moreover what purists might argue it lacks in logical consistency and elegance, it looks like more than making up for in having the backing of one of the best-known brands in enterprise communications.

IT savvy

One of the key issues facing plants hoping to install such technology will be in allaying concerns at the enterprise level over security. “Cisco is trusted by IT people,” said Dunbar. “That’s a huge advantage,” a view reinforced by Zornio when he said that “IT needs to be sure that process applications comply with IT standards.”

But the advantage for Emerson seems to go further than that. Not only does the Cisco architecture support the full gamut of video, voice, mobility and tracking applications, but Emerson also will be able to leverage Cisco’s extensive partner network and, hence, allow its customers to choose their preferred partner for specific applications. Moreover, while Emerson continues to insist that users will not, in general, need help in deploying field device networks, they will, it concedes need support if they’re ambitions go further up into the plant hierarchy. Emerson is building up a global network of service and technical support resources and will design, specify, install and support both field networks and wireless plant networks, but it will also be able, as Zornio puts it, to “lean on Cisco’s expertise.”

Here comes Cisco

So what does Cisco get out of it? Well it clearly sees an opportunity to extend its reach deeper into the process industries, just as its partnership with Rockwell will allow it to penetrate the discrete market. But Mike Ferris’s diagram of what might constitute a combined Cisco/Emerson solution had rather less coloured Cisco than did that presented by Cisco’s Stuart Robinson. He heads up manufacturing and energy verticals for Cisco in Europe, and he drew the boundary of Cisco’s area of interest a good deal further down the page. In answer to a question from INSIDER, he said that “There is absolutely no intention of us moving elsewhere outside of the plant control network right now,” but there did seem to be an emphasis on the “now,” and he admitted in a subsequent conversation that Cisco’s ultimate aim is to see Ethernet and IP extending right down to the device level and replacing “proprietary protocols,” such as Profibus and Foundation fieldbus. Indeed in a splendidly indiscrete aside, he added that “Siemens would love to be free of Profibus.”

It’s also clear that Cisco’s ambitions don’t end with Emerson–or indeed Rockwell. “Cisco doesn’t do any exclusive deals,” said Robinson, although he added that “ … in terms of building a global market strategy, this is the only one that we are working on right now, and it doesn’t make any sense to introduce any new ones until we have established that we can actually do something together.”

So despite is non-exclusivity, the deal with Cisco allows Emerson to counter suggestions that its solution addresses only one part of the total plant wireless application space. At the same time, it enables it to differentiate that overall offering by allowing the user initially to address only that part which offers the best immediate ROI, be that at the device or the plant level. As Zornio put it, “You can do what you want, and you don’t have to do the whole thing.”

All of which sounds entirely plausible. So why did one gain the impression that there was more to this than met the eye? More than a decade ago, Emerson was in the forefront of the revolution which saw DCS vendors abandoning proprietary technology and embracing COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) technology in the form of Microsoft and Dell. Robinson’s second slide carried the caption “The Network as a Platform.” Could it be that a decade from now the process automation industry will be looking back at the Cisco-Emerson deal as the point when the network emerged as THE platform?

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