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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Jam tomorrow

All of which sounds fine, were it not for the fact that neither the unified real-time database nor the Real Time Production Organizer will be available before next year or possibly 2010. So at the end of the presentation, what we have is a new HMI, admittedly a highly sophisticated HMI, but an HMI nonetheless.

Its principal claim to fame is that it is the first from a DCS vendor, or rather more contentiously, “the first DCS” to run under Windows Vista. That isn’t quite as ground- breaking as it might appear, however, since in order to ensure that it can also run under XP, as not all users can be expected to put their faith in Vista, it doesn’t take advantage of Vista graphics. On the other hand, when it is run under Vista, it does allow users to exploit its extended security capabilities.

Described as “unified and intuitive,” the HMI is designed to provide a common interface across all classes of application. Displays are built up from a common set of facilities under a single fixed-system message banner with Explorer-like navigation tools in a side bar and rapid access to frequently or recently used displays or “view sets”—groups of graphics, trends and faceplates relating to particular units or operations. Within the HMI, Yokogawa has now settled on CAMS as its standard alarm viewer in line with an overall objective of providing less data but more information. As a result, the claim is that it doubles an operator’s speed of decision making and halves the time required to respond to an event with the necessary corrective action.

New hardware?

Despite the hype, however, CentumVP today consists essentially of Centum 3000 R4 with a new HMI and even by 2009 or 2010 what Yokogawa is proposing is essentially a software solution rather than anything resembling a fully fledged DCS.

So does it actually intend to introduce any new hardware, or is it coming round to the view that a process automation vendor no longer needs to develop or manufacture its own hardware? That issue had certainly been debated within Yokogawa, Wiegerinck told INSIDER, but new controllers and I/O, together with new engineering tools are planned as a further stage in the road map, presumably beyond 2010.

The Switzerland of the comms business

Two announcements from the Portland, Maine-based communications specialist Kepware point to an eventual confrontation between enterprise-level application providers and automation vendors in the no man’s land of MES. On the one hand, it has just renewed a five-year agreement under which it provides Rockwell Automation with third-party communications for its FactoryTalk View Site Edition and FactoryTalk View Machine Edition products. On the other, it has announced that its KEPServerEX OPC server is to be used by Oracle to provide plant-floor execution data to manufacturing applications in the Oracle E-Business Suite.

130 protocols

Kepware claims to be the leading supplier of drivers to the automation industry. With support for more than 130 protocols, it supplies some 100,000 drivers a year or, according to sales and marketing vice president, Roy Kok, more than most of its competitors have supplied in total. “It’s the most widely OEMed product in the industry,” he told INSIDER. As well as Rockwell and Oracle, key clients include Cutler Hammer, GE Fanuc and, perhaps surprisingly, Wonderware, while, at the enterprise level, it has also developed relationships in the SAP world with, among others, Lighthammer.

Explaining the logic behind the Oracle relationship, ARC Emerging Technology vice president Bob Mick commented “Oracle has been building out their Operations Management functions and has reached the stage where they need out-of-the-box access to a broad range of operations information, including legacy systems, to be successful.”

KEPServerEX is designed to allow users to set up communications from equipment to control and business systems using a wide range of “plug-in” device drivers and components. “Oracle wanted our product to provide the automation connectivity they need,” said Kok. “Using KEPServerEX means they only have to test one interface. We are their connectivity.”

As part of the Oracle agreement, Kepware is enhancing the product to provide OPC client functionality so that it can act as a gateway from any OPC server, including third-party device drivers, as well as higher level HMI/SCADA or historian products. It will thus enable Oracle to add an OPC client to its own system. Kepware is also adding a first level of data analytics to generate derived information from real-time plant floor data and provide support for complex data tags so that information can be aggregated into concise time- or event-relevant structures. These capabilities will also be made available to all Kepware customers, leading OPC Foundation president Thomas Burke to observe that “Kepware’s additional support to create complex data . . . will form the foundation for OPC-UA connectivity in the near future.”

Good partner

To some extent these developments might appear to conflict with Kepware’s avowed policy of not competing with its customers. “We’re seen as a good partner because we stay true to our core competencies”, explained Kok. However, it does already offer a range of basic logger—“not historian”—redundancy and gateway products as well as embedded functionality for non-Windows platforms.

In any case, says Kok, interest in MES is doing a lot to change the market. “Automation players are developing MES type products. What’s changing is that they don’t want to put a lot of investment into mature markets. There’s a buy-versus-build decision over drivers. Communication is something they can outsource—nobody sees it as a core competence.”

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