Control News from Europe April 2008

Read 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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The Dow announcement

Last month’s musings from INSIDER and others on the possible implications of Dow Chemicals’ decision to standardize on Siemens PCS7 for laboratory process control applications worldwide seems to have touched something of a raw nerve. ABB business intelligence manager Jo Emerson offered the following clarification: “Dow has had a number of questions regarding this and other articles regarding the Siemens announcement, and is working with ABB to ‘get the public story right.’

“Dow R&D selected a Siemens platform as the standard for lab automation system applications, and as the replacement for their aging ‘home-grown’ systems. This application is specific to very small-scale, laboratory solutions, and does not impact the intended use of ABB’s 800xA-based plant process automation solutions. In 2001, when Dow stated its “intent to sole source” ABB’s 800xA, this did not include R&D lab systems. Dow R&D lab systems are not considered part of their process control domain. It is important to understand that there is a difference between plant process automation and R&D lab automation.

“An agreement was reached two years ago between Dow Chemical and Siemens regarding control system usage in research labs only. There is no explanation as to why Siemens issued the press release now.”

One explanation might be that it takes that long to get a release through the Dow approvals system. Meanwhile what seems to be absent from the ‘clarification’ is an actual denial from Dow that it is “reassessing its DCS options as the end of its original 10 year supply agreement with ABB . . . approaches” as INSIDER suggested might be the case. It’s hard to believe that ABB didn’t ask them for one.

IPS will “invest to maintain leadership in DCS, SIS”

Flying five European hacks to Abu Dhabi for a long weekend might not be the best way to save the planet—1.4 tonnes of CO2 per head to add to the 0.13 tonnes generated 24 hours earlier on a Yokogawa day trip to Amsterdam—but it’s probably as effective a way as any of demonstrating Invensys Process Systems (IPS)’s recovering self-confidence. Unlike the Amsterdam outing on which, due to an administrative oversight, INSIDER had actually paid its own way, this was a press freebie in the grand tradition, so readers are advised that what follows carries the usual government objectivity warning.

Justification for that increased self-confidence came from Invensys Middle East managing director Nabil Kassem when he opened the 2008 IPS Business Technologies Conference, which attracted some 400 IPS users and potential users to the less-than- arduous environment of the Hotel Beach Rotana. Since he joined in 2005, IPS Middle East has increased its customer satisfaction rating from a less-than-inspiring 51% to 80%, its number of employees from 95 to 230, and the value of its contracts under execution from $206 m to $505 m, in the process handling 14 MAC projects, as well as four projects based on the recently introduced InFusion.

“Our aim is to be able to service the customers of the region from the countries of the region with staff from the region,” said Kassem. To that end he has recruited a total of 52 engineers from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) since 2005 so that Saudi and GCC professionals now make up 24% of the total Invensys Middle East workforce. Add to that the relocation of EMEA marketing vice president Ken Fox to the IPS Middle East HQ in Dubai, and it’s clear that the company is taking the region seriously.

Setting the technological scene for the event was Chris Lyden, chief strategist and the sole representative of the IPS top-brass in Dallas. Among the issues he suggested that the automation industry must now address and, hence, where IPS would be focussing its efforts are enterprise level integration—only 2% of process manufacturing companies have just one site, while more than half have 25 sites or more; a diminishing skills base—the average process engineer is now 47 years old; and the merging of automation with IT—25% of regulatory violations are due to report submission errors.

Lyden identified a range of transformational technologies which are now coming to maturity:

Sensor technologies – As technology enables more sensors per wafer, volumes are rising and units are falling, with MOTE technology allowing sensor, microprocessor and radio to be combined on a single chip. Such developments will eventually drive sensor costs so low that sensors will become ubiquitous.

Wireless – Closely associated with, but by no means confined to sensors is burgeoning wireless technology. “Wireless is everywhere,” said Lyden, extending both to the DCS and to the transmission of business data and information.

Batteries – Battery technology is currently the limiting factor. Control in the field based on wireless is not currently viable, but rapidly will become so once battery and energy scavenging technologies permit. Technologies such as “nanotube” capacitors offer the potential for smaller batteries than those based on conventional technologies, which can be fully charged instantaneously. Solving the power problem will lead to a further proliferation of wireless and to the widespread adoption of control in the field.

Service Oriented Architectures – SOAs provide the means to integrate applications with the information that is required.

Virtual reality – Virtual reality is becoming available in a form which will offset emerging skill-set issues.

Five layers into three

The results of these and other technological developments, said Lyden, will be to reshape the traditional Purdue reference model of the manufacturing IT hierarchy. Developments such as control in the field and wireless-enabled field workers in effect collapse the five layer model into just three layers. With the proliferation of sensors, measurements will no longer be made just for control of the process, but for assessing the health of the plant and its equipment. At the same time, instead of a variety of different HMIs and applications, a common service oriented architecture can cater for the specific needs of different users in, for example, operations, advanced process control or asset management.

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