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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Outgrowing the market

As a result, PI is now claiming that the total number of ProfiNet nodes installed between its launch in 2002 and the end of 2007 was 1.14 million. ARC predicts an annual growth rate of 27.5% compound for the industrial Ethernet device market as a whole over the next five years, but PI deputy chairman Joerg Freitag expects ProfiNet to do significantly better than that and to increase its market share further. “We estimate that 3 million ProfiNet nodes will have been installed by the end of 2010,” he says. “This corresponds to an average annual increase of 37%.”

Arguably more surprising than the rate of ProfiNet growth, which might in fact have been expected to have been greater, has been the continuing strength of the market for conventional Profibus. According to PI, 2007 saw the highest growth ever of installed Profibus nodes with the number purchased in the year reaching an all-time high of 4.5 million. As a result, the total number of Profibus nodes installed reached 23.3 million by the end of 2007, comfortably exceeding the late Edgar Kuester’s prediction of 20 million nodes by 2008. That success, however, hasn’t done a lot to help former Profibus marketing chief Geoff Hodgkinson’s prediction back in 2004 that the ProfiNet node count would overtake Profibus by 2010. With the difference at the end of 2007 a mere 22 million and with Profibus nodes growing at 4.5 million a year compared with ProfiNet’s current 420,000 a year it’s clearly going to be a year or two yet before that Hodgkinson prophecy is fulfilled. Indeed with Profibus doing to ProfiNet, what HART continues to do to fieldbuses in general, one can’t help feeling that it’s time to put aside some of the rosy predictions for industrial Ethernet, let alone wireless, and look a little more closely at why users are so reluctant to enter the promised land. Cue further incisive analysis from Walt Boyes.

Meanwhile, what of specifically process-oriented solutions? Again, the Profibus data doesn’t so much point to resounding success, as to the continuing resilience of non–fieldbus, or in other words 4-20mA and/or HART solutions. Thus, while the total number of Profibus nodes installed in what PI defines as process industry applications now amounts to 4 million, and while that figure grew by 700,000 nodes or 23% in 2007 ―almost exactly the same rate as Profibus nodes in general―Profibus PA devices increased by only 120,000 or 19% to total 750,000 nodes by the end of 2007.

Process failure

That seems to suggest two things: first, PA is pretty much level-pegging with Foundation fieldbus, for which the last figure we had was 800,000 nodes installed or shipping ,but second, and arguably more significant, that users who are quite happy to install a fieldbus solution in the non-process areas of their process sites are still reluctant to adopt the technology in continuous process applications requiring power over the bus and in hazardous areas. As has been pointed out a number of times before, that represents a failure for both PI and the Fieldbus Foundation—especially when one compares this level of success after so many years of supposed evangelism with the meteoric rates of growth achieved in the arguably far more contentious area of safety in discrete applications where, in 2007, PROFIsafe nodes increased by no less than 180,000 or 78% to 410,000 and PROFIsafe systems by 15,000 or 58% to 41,000.

One development that could further boost both ProfiNet and Profibus uptake is the release of the documents specifying the integration of IO-Link which, together with the existing physical layer and protocol specification, forms the basis for the wider deployment of IO-Link in both Profibus and ProfiNet systems.

Many sensor and I/O manufacturers have already introduced IO-Link products and some 30 companies have joined the IO-Link consortium. The IO-Link physical layer and protocol specification is fully independent of Profibus and ProfiNet, which means that IO-Link can be subordinated to any fieldbus or Ethernet-based system, with only the integration being specific to the particular bus. Work is currently in hand to define an appropriate independent IO Device Description (IODD).

Iconics presses home its Vista advantage . . .

Ever since PLC and DCS vendors began buying up small, innovative PC-based SCADA developers in the mid-1990s, industry watchers have debated whether it was possible to develop a thriving platform-independent software business within an organization primarily focused on moving its own hardware. Pretty much everyone who’s tried seems to have found at some stage that there’s just no way of stopping the hardware guys giving away the software to shift the boxes.

It’s a subject open to endless debate, not least because, for example, Wonderware’s relationship with Invensys Process Systems is vastly different from that of, say, the WinCC team to Siemens. What does seem significant, however, is that while the integrated vendors seek to extend their reach into the MES space either organically or through acquisition, it is the independents such as Copa-Data in Europe and Iconics in the U.S. who are actually driving the technology.

First Vista-based historian

That’s been most recently highlighted by reaction to the release of Windows Vista with Copa-Data first to market back in June of 2007 with a Vista-certified version of its flagship zenOn package, closely followed by Iconics with certification for Vista and Windows Server 2008. Now Iconics is rubbing that message in again with successive announcements first of the release of Genesis64, the latest 64-bit version if its HMI/SCADA suite, and second of Hyper Historian, claimed to be “the first plant historian to be certified for Microsoft Windows Vista and Microsoft Windows Server 2008.”

With the principal objective of reducing engineering costs, Genesis64 is described by Iconics president and CEO Russ Agrusa as “the first product for manufacturing and automation to take full advantage of the growing popularity of 64-bit computing technology.” As such, it ties into a host of Microsoft and Microsoft related technologies including the enhanced security features inherent in Vista.

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