Control News from Europe May 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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Wonderware West

One aspect of MOST’s business not affected by the GE Fanuc transaction, however, is the former STAC Wonderware distributorship in the US, recently rebadged as Wonderware West. That, perhaps not surprisingly, given the implications of its falling into GE’s hands, stays with MTL, with Dennis Gillespie continuing in charge. Indeed, according to Philp, it had for some time been effectively and organizationally separate from the rest of the MOST business with no common employees.” It’s actually extremely valuable to us not just because of the business itself ,but because of the insight it gives us into the HMI market, which provides us with intelligence which we can then use in our GECMA display business. ”

Returning to the disposal of MOST, Philp concedes that “It does seem a bit like the end of an era,” but it has not affected his own determination, following the Cooper acquisition, to stay with MTL for the foreseeable future. “There’s been an obvious need to integrate with them on things like finance and HR, but they’ve accepted from the outset that we’re a separate business with our own engineering, our own manufacturing and, even when we’re selling to the same customers, our own sales force. It’s early days yet, but so far they’ve been as good as their word.”

Whether there is such a thing as a programmable automation controller or PAC, the term coined by ARC’s Craig Resnick back in 2002, and, if there is, whether it differs in any real sense from a PLC are not questions it would be wise to ask at GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms at present, since they’re celebrating what they claim to be the fifth anniversary of the unveiling of the first of the genre. According to Control Systems Business vice president Bill Estep, what sets the company’s PACSystems apart and represents “a revolutionary change” in the industry is “control convergence rather than mere integration of disparate parts and pieces” based on “one engine, coupled with a single development tool.” Since 2003, GE Fanuc has released a steady stream of improvements and enhancements to its two platforms, the more affordable PACSystems RX3i and the mid-to-high-end RX7i. Most recent addition is the RX3i CPU320, incorporating an Intel 1GHz processor with 64Mbytes of user memory, which is claimed to have reduced logic execution times by more than 70%.

HART the only beneficiary as infighting continues . . .

Hard to believe, but it was back in January 2000 in our former guise of SCADA Insider that we somewhat optimistically suggested that ratification of IEC 61158 by 25 out of 29 national standards committees would “ring down the curtain on the fieldbus wars.” And in fact, as far as Europe has been concerned, and perhaps because of Profibus’ dominant position in the factory automation sector on this side of the water, that was largely correct.

Not so in the US, however. There Profibus has been up not just against the indigenous backing for Foundation fieldbus among process automation vendors, but against the entrenched position of DeviceNet and ControlNet in factory automation. That may go some way to explaining why hostilities have continued largely unabated since 2000, with increasingly heated exchanges between the Profibus Trade Organization (PTO) and the Fieldbus Foundation in recent months.

The North American edition of ProfiNews runs a column entitled “Debunking the Myths,” written, we understand, by PTO deputy director Carl Henning and aimed specifically and seemingly almost entirely at refuting what it sees as unsubstantiated claims or “parrot marketing” made about both protocols by the Fieldbus Foundation and its advocates, while at the same time promoting its own entirely objective assessments of both its own and its rival’s technology.

Gloves off

Until recently these exchanges had been relatively good-humoured if a trifle edgy, but the gloves came off in the March 2008 edition ( when Henning wrote that “we are already thinking of presenting the 2008 Golden Polly Award to Rich Timoney of the Fieldbus Foundation no less” for an article entitled “Choosing The Right Technology for a Digital Automation Architecture” ( which might, it has to be said, have been more correctly titled “What’s wonderful about Foundation fieldbus and awful about Profibus.”

It would require the wisdom of Solomon to determine who is less in the right or more in the wrong in this exchange. However, even those with a comparatively limited knowledge of this arcane subject would probably spot that Timoney’s statement that “Profibus now consists of three separate protocols grouped under the common umbrella name of Profibus . . . Profibus-FMS, Profibus-DP and Profibus-PA” is at best outdated—FMS faded away getting on for a decade ago—and at worst downright misleading. PA is a 100%-compatible derivative of DP. Similarly, however, Henning’s repeated assertion that both Foundation fieldbus and Profibus support function blocks, while undoubtedly true, skates over arguably the most important difference between the two, that Foundation fieldbus supports control in the field, whereas Profibus does not. To imply further that choosing to locate control in the host rather than in the field device is purely arbitrary and has no wider significance is again to be, at best, economical with the truth.

More important, however, than the rights or wrongs of the arguments themselves is the impression they give to the wider audience of potential users. As Walt Boyes points out in his Sound Off blog, ( more than two decades of this mud slinging has “left a terrible and lasting bad taste in the mouths of end users worldwide,” many of whom have as a consequence decided to “stick with the venerable 4-20mA DC-wired technology, with a HART overlay.” As evidence, Boyes points to the 26 million HART devices currently installed or shipping compared with 800,000 Foundation fieldbus devices and some 18 million Profibus/Profinet devices, the majority of which will presumably have gone into the factory automation sector. Nor do the repeated assertions from both camps—the one thing they do agree on—that HART can’t be counted as a true fieldbus, help their case; indeed it simply further undermines it. Just because it isn’t a true fieldbus doesn’t change the fact that it is their most formidable and successful competitor.

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