When it comes to factory and machine automation, Rockwell Automation is a longtime leader in both market and technology. But when it comes to process solutions—the traditional specialty of DCS suppliers—a fresh perspective and groundbreaking new technology have allowed Rockwell Automation to grow much more quickly than its competitors over the past several years, says John Genovesi. This is in no small part because Rockwell Automation can innovate more freely, unburdened by preconceived notions of what a DCS should be and do.
"We refer to PlantPAx as a modern DCS," said Genovesi, vice president and general manager of Rockwell Automation's information software and process business, to the more then 750 attendees from some 36 countries around the world attending this week's Process Solutions User Group (PSUG) meeting, held in Houston during the lead-up to the company's Automation Fair conference and event. "Rather than look backward, we're looking forward to new business problems and how we can evolve the architecture to address them."
Genovesi pointed to the company's vision of plant-wide control and the connected enterprise, a unified architecture for handling not just process control tasks, but all the other control and information management tasks required to optimally manage plant operations both safely and efficiently. "Whether it's a process application, a balance-of-plant application or a third-party skid, an integrated approach will result in less engineering effort, higher efficiency and reduced maintenance costs."
Also key to Rockwell Automation's continued advances in the process arena is its embrace of what some would call "disruptive" new technologies as enablers of improved plant performance, Genovesi said. "We want to help capture the 'big data' that's created by plant-floor devices and turn it into information that people can use to make better decisions, and in turn, deliver it to the mobile devices where they need it. And while we're making this information available, we know it must be secure."
While technology and implementation partners continue to be central to the Rockwell Automation strategy, the company also has continued to build out its own delivery capabilities, with 6,000 engineers now working on projects for customers around the world. "We want users to have integration choices," Genovesi explained. "We're striving for world-class execution and support, enhanced by unparalleled technology and delivery partners."
Three Strategic Priorities
The next keynote speaker to address the Houston PSUG meeting was Som Chakraborti, business director, process automation, Rockwell Automation. Chakraborti delved into greater detail on the three strategic priorities for the Rockwell Automation process solutions business moving forward: advancing the platform, leveraging sustainable technologies and expanding the company's portfolio of solutions.
As examples of the ways in which Rockwell Automation continues to advance its plant-wide control platform, Chakraborti cited the latest 3.0 release of the company's PlantPAx process automation system. "Many of the system's advanced new features were directly driven by user input," Chakraborti said. "QuickStart," for example, is a standard initial system setup that enhances consistency across large projects, especially when multiple parties are involved. Enhanced visualization toolkits, a new "Sequencer" procedural automation development platform and standards-based alarm management also were added in this latest release. Further, a new "Skid Workstation" product is designed to make it faster and easier to join up third-party skids developed concurrently with a plant-wide control project.
Virtualization, network communications and cyber security are among the frontiers where Rockwell Automation continues to leverage new technology, much of it adapted from the commercial sector to the unique demands of the industrial world, Chakraborti continued. "We believe in making sure your automation asset has the ability to support new capabilities as technology advances."
New on the virtualization front are templates for easier deployment of Rockwell Automation servers and workstations, as well as sizing and architecture rules. And while the company remains "agnostic" as far its support of networking protocols, it also sees Ethernet/IP as an increasingly core network for process automation, Chakraborti said. He pointed to Endress + Hauser's release of EtherNet/IP-based mass flow, electromagnetic flow and now analytical instruments as evidence of the continued convergence of process automation networks "from sensors to the highest levels of plant networks" around the protocol. Rockwell Automation also continues to invest in cyber-secure "hardened" networks and associated services that incorporate such measures as access control and tamper detection.
Finally, when it comes to expanding the portfolio, "we believe in partnerships and acquisitions too," Chakraborti said. He cited the just announced acquisition of vMonitor, a pioneer in digital oilfield implementation and remote operations worldwide. The company delivers monitoring and control solutions for wellhead and upstream applications that combine cutting-edge wireless instrumentation and communication with visualization software to help customers make more informed decisions and improve production. vMonitor's remote terminal unit (RTU) offering, in particular, plugs a capabilities gap in Rockwell Automation's current offering for oil and gas companies, Chakraborti said.
Further, he indicated that Rockwell Automation would continue to pursue partnerships, organic developments and acquisitions that increase the company's value proposition for oil and gas companies and for other industry verticals as well. "Remote monitoring and asset management, subsea technologies, big data and analytics, all are enabling technologies that will help us further boost process performance for our customers."