A New Fashion in Industrial Enclosures?

Will Electronic Marshalling Mean the End of the "Bespoke" Enclosure?

By Nancy Bartels

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Standard Issue

More standardization is also in the offing. Erik de Groot, marketing manager at Honeywell Process Solutions says, "There are always going to be places where you have a custom-built cabinet, but one of the things we're working at is putting together a cabinet that will have 64 I/O, and can be all bundled together with all the known parts. Customers don't want to specify all the individual parts that go into the cabinet. That's time-consuming. If you can stamp out the [required] cabinets and make them all identical, you don't have to do a FAT [factory acceptance test] on every one. We're exploring this with leading-edge customers."

Frost says this standardization is appealing to some of his largest customers. He tells the story of a large oil producer to whom he was pointing out the virtues of his system—the shortened wiring times, the ability to do remote configuration, the ease of late changes to the plans, the reduction of inventory, the lower costs.

The customer told him, "I don't care about all that. In a mega-project, those things amount to petty cash. What I do care about is the fact that we could take the cabinets full of intelligent marshalling modules, ship them to the site and finish them up there. What you have done is break the dependency between control system design and I/O system installation. This gives me schedule compression and makes scheduling easier."

Emerson Process Management offers its own enclosure options for DeltaV, version 11, systems. The "canned" solution is a factory-tested enclosure which will hold electronic marshalling equipment. The company also offers both configure-to-order and design-to-order enclosures.

A New Classic?

Software-based marshalling is beginning to look a lot like a new classic—say a pair of jeans for the I/O world. It won't happen overnight, of course. The process industries are full of "fast followers," waiting for the other guy to try it first. But ARC Advisory Group points out that the installed base of systems 20 years or older is $53 billion. Existing enclosures will have a much longer useful life, but upgrades, either using the old enclosures or new ones, are definitely on the horizon. As long as a customer is upgrading anyway, why not at least consider the new marshalling systems and their smaller enclosures?

Emerson's Pries says, "For migration, the path forward is easier because you have the option of wireless for field junction boxes or electronic marshalling." 

As for how this will affect the enclosures business, it will change too, if only incrementally.

Panduit's McGrath says, "Enclosure suppliers need to consider product mix as part of their business strategy. Large marshalling panels will diminish and be replaced with smaller panels in many cases. Panduit sees demand for a similar approach with network zone enclosures, so [we'll see] a building-block approach with smaller enclosures strategically deployed to provide plant coverage in harsh areas."

But there are also plenty of opportunities for new and different enclosures, he adds. "Custom enclosures will most certainly be required, as innovation never stops, and there are new devices, sensors and controllers that will require custom housing. The exciting part about standardization, though, is that as the industry advances, the building blocks will need to evolve and become smarter, providing advantages for customers that can adopt new technology with reduced risks and deployment times."

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