PlantPAx Capabilities Quickly Maturing

Process Automation System Features Improved Performance and Scalability

By Walt Boyes

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Automation Fair 2012

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"The reason we expect to be able to double the process industry initiative business by 2017," said Steve Pulsifer, director of process market development, Rockwell Automation, "is because we already have delivered. I think that's why our CEO thinks we can do it. If you really look at it, we've concentrated on customer-focused innovation. And if you make customers happy and give them a world-class experience as they deal with you as a corporation, you're going to grow."

Pulsifer, along with Ben Mansfield, PlantPAx marketing manager, and Som Chakraborti, global director of Rockwell Automation's process business, discussed the status and future of the PlantPAx process automation system initiative.

"It's as simple as that, right?" Pulsifer added. "Customer satisfaction is the number one thing you have to supply. And that's the whole experience from technology to solutions and services and even the way we have selected some phenomenal partners has been extremely positive for the customers, and that builds the annuity stream."

"I think the path we have been on is testimony to the fact that doubling the business is possible," said Som Chakraborti. "Doubling is still a feat, and there's a combination of market factors and additional investments that the company is committed to making. We're focusing on certain industry groups where we expect the investment levels to continue as high as they are now."

Continued Enhancements Planned

"Adding to that," Chakraborti said, "while there are factors we can't control, the focus will be on the products we will be launching in the next fiscal year for us and into the next operating cycle. These include the general architecture areas that have an impact on all of our control products and then further enhancements to our DCS architecture. You already saw elements of what we have been achieving in the past twelve months, and that's going to continue, so I think you're going to see an unprecedented level of new product introductions that are going to take our architecture to completely new levels."

"There are areas of the process systems business that everybody has to do, common expectations of our customers, like high availability, redundancy, fault tolerance across the architecture, engineering efficiency," Chakraborti said. "There is also something that is truly disruptive, as a technology, but that can be embraced by the plant floor and that has a dramatic impact in the years to come. At that point it becomes a 'table stake' for the company. We believe that virtualization is one of those technology anchor points. It is a proven technology well-embraced by enterprise segments of our customers' businesses, but yet to be embraced on the plant floor. We have discovered a critical mass of our customers who are ready to embrace virtualization, and those are going to be our bellwether customers."

"Wall Street runs on virtualization," Steve Pulsifer added, "and if you consider the number of transactions that entails as opposed to the number that take place in a process plant application, there's just no comparison."

Responding to a comment that higher availability and security from having physical servers on the premises is actually a myth, Ben Mansfield noted, "All of these issues that disrupt operations, all the things that IT doesn't like or want to deal with, you can put into a virtual server. I think it is just a natural progression. More and more customers are embracing it as the future, and the industry is maturing. As a company we have been talking about convergence for a long time, and at the end of the day ‘IT as a partner to automation' is the future."

Pulsifer added, "But it is when customers can look at an economic benefit, as well as a technology benefit that things really move forward."

Chakraborti agreed. "Based on our success with EtherNet/IP, I suspect that virtualization will also become a mainstay of the automation space."

Migration More than Replacement

Segueing into a discussion of DCS migration, Mansfield said, "If I tell you I can migrate your iPad from iPad2 to iPad4, you could work with me. And if you decided that you wanted to migrate to a Google device, you'd still likely work with me because we already have a relationship. I understand your process and your intellectual property.

"What we find is that when we talk about migration to our customers, they tend to want to take the opportunity to not just change like for like, but to take their own technology and apply modern automation thinking to it," Mansfield said. "It's more than a DCS. You don't just plug and play."

This can become a virtuous cycle, so that after finishing a cycle of migration, end users will be ready to migrate to new systems yet again. And the other thing that a good and coherent migration strategy brings to customers is front-end thinking that can be applied to greenfield projects.

Mansfield said, "It's not just old code to new code. It's the customer's intellectual property. There's more money in the IP than in the technology from the customer's point of view. And we're providing tools like alarm management and the new automated sequencer that's based on the emerging ISA106 Modular Procedural Automation standard to help customers get over the knowledge drain that is endemic in the process industries."

The Measure of Success

"The real measure of success of our migration strategy is users really applying PlantPAx across an entire plant," Chakraborti said, citing several recent projects in India. "We recently did an entire greenfield blast furnace project for a company that until recently would only have used us as a PLC vendor; there would be another DCS company in the project also. This is a huge change in the way Rockwell Automation participates in projects. Now we are supplying the entire plant-wide automation system.

"We truly displaced an incumbent in a core market who had enjoyed that relationship for over a decade. And we broke that. And in the last 12 months, we have rounded out our DCS migration solutions in terms of I/O interfaces, cables and conversion utilities for targeted platforms that we believe are the most opportune for the industries we serve," Chakraborti said.

"Finally," Chakroborti said, "our Pavilion8 multivariable process control (MPC) projects are showing paybacks of less than three months. Even when combined with capital retrofit projects, we are looking at less than a year. So we've taken the step forward to launch a suite of five new apps for Pavilion8 focused on NGL (natural gas liquids). This is a Rockwell Automation sweet spot, and we're seeing interest in many places in the world, especially in North America."

"One last word. We partner like nobody else with the integrator community. We have over 175 companies in our solution partner program," Pulsifer said, "and that's a lot of expertise we can bring to both the design and commissioning and ongoing service of our customers' systems."

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