Control News from Europe June 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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Rockwell argues that its incremental approach is the surer route to success, and it cites ABB’s experience at the end of the last century to highlight the problems of integrating DCS vendor acquisitions. But of course, that’s not the only precedent―witness the consequences of Invensys’ failure to integrate its disparate acquisitions in the early days of this century. It’s only a couple of months since we asked Invensys chief strategist and Honeywell alumnus Chris Lyden whether he was concerned at the prospect of new entrants from the PLC world attempting to break into the process automation market. Not at all, he answered, “but I would be if they acquired an existing DCS vendor.”

Some commentators including, most prominently, Jim Pinto, believe Rockwell is currently itself a potential bid target for, among others, cash-rich ABB. It would be ironic indeed if fear of repeating ABB’s earlier mistakes prevented it from realizing its process automation ambitions and made Pinto’s prediction self-fulfilling.

  • Despite the three process acquisitions, it’s the alliance with Endress+Hauser which has arguably done most to raise Rockwell’s profile as a serious process automation contender. As E+H’s Tony Grassby pointed out, the alliance is completely complementary with little or no overlap. Moreover, E+H on its own, with no significant system capability, nevertheless ranks in the top ten of the world’s automation vendors, while a combination of Rockwell and E+H would, according to the last time we did the arithmetic, rank sixth in the U.S. automation market and eighth worldwide.

That, however, isn’t going to happen, at least as long as the current generation of the Endress family remains firmly in control. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the alliance is proving mutually beneficial, although who’s bringing most to it is debatable. Certainly Grassby seemed to suggest to INSIDER that E+H is probably bringing at least as much business to Rockwell as it’s gaining. Nevertheless, he sees major benefits, most notably in the area of integration. “Easy connectivity is the most important customer requirement, whether the protocol is HART, Foundation fieldbus, Profibus or whatever,” he said.

Specifically, and despite the interoperability arguments made for fieldbus, he still argues that what customers are interested in is minimization of risk and “Integration of devices from multiple vendors incurs risk of interoperability.” Thus, one of the major benefits of the alliance is the ability to offer solutions that have been pretested to ensure proven and fully documented interoperability. For the end user, he argues, that means reduced control system development time and, hence, shorter time to market. To that end, the two companies have jointly invested in an ‘Integration Office’ that proves the interoperability of solutions and creates preferred integration procedures in response to requests from a joint sales and marketing council. Nor is the integration activity confined to basic functionality. A key area has been the integration of asset management capabilities based on both companies’ commitment to FDT.

Acquisition integration

Less clear is how far last year’s acquisitions have benefited either Rockwell itself or the individual companies. Pavilion, for example, would undoubtedly be an asset to any company, although whether its ambition, as expressed by Robert Kranz, Pavilion’s former managing director for EMEA and current manager of global professional engineering services, to be “the world’s leading model based software provider” is enhanced by being associated with one particular system vendor may be debatable. Nevertheless, a company that can claim that 25% of all bio-ethanol in the U.S. is produced with its technology and that has particular strengths in such target industries as cement and polymers is certainly not going to impede Rockwell’s long term ambitions.

Less clear, even a year on from its acquisitions, is quite how ICS Triplex is going to fit into the overall scheme of things. Here there is an undoubted overlap, with Rockwell having its own safety solutions up to SIL2, which must to some degree compete with some elements of the recently introduce AAdvance. With the concept of integrated safety continuing to gain acceptance in the process sector, there is clearly a strong argument for an aspiring BPCS (Basic Process Control System) vendor acquiring a full-fledged SIL3 SIS (Safety Instrumented System) capability. The question for both Rockwell and its new acquisition, however, must be whether the BPCS is strong enough commercially to enable ICS Triplex to make the transition from third-party independence.

Finally, what of ProsCon, acquired, so rumor has it, to enable Rockwell to bid a major project from a pharmaceutical multinational that was subsequently lost and now described as Rockwell’s “Process Technology Centre of Excellence”? Certainly its expertise in such areas as batch, MES and what ProsCon’s Mick Horkan calls “paperless manufacture” can be seen as an asset, but whether the same can be said of its engineering and integration capability is more questionable. Specifically will the effect on Rockwell’s other integrators in the process sector of finding themselves competing with their own principal be to drive them into the arms of other vendors?

. . . and adds Incuity to its software portfolio

One of the final questions put to Richard Sturt at the end of last week’s Rockwell process presentation was whether there were still gaps in Rockwell’s portfolio and whether further acquisitions were planned in the process sector. Not surprisingly, he didn’t answer, but it did give him the opportunity to reveal with a flourish the previous weeks’ announcement of a definitive agreement to acquire Incuity Software.

INSIDER readers have been able to follow the Incuity story since the summer of 2005 when, under its former name of DataWorks Systems, it announced Incuity HDA (Historical Data Access), described at the time as “the only true upgrade” for Wonderware’s ActiveFactory 8.5. That claim had its origins in the fact that, while the DataWorks team had developed the original ActiveFactory and licensed it to Wonderware, that relationship had been terminated with effect from version 9.0.

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