Are You Ready to Be Part of the Electrical Plan?

One of the more exciting moments at the recent ARC Forum arose when ABB’s Jon Olson was publicly asked what he thought about the recent purchase of Invensys by Schneider Electric. Olson’s reply, to the effect that “It would be good for ABB to have a worthy competitor in the market,” seemed at the time to be just a platitude, but was recently given much more weight in a talk with Aveva’s Jack Stout.

The ongoing economic recovery and recent bonanza in petrochemicals, driven by advances in extraction including shale oil and gas, is powering huge capital investments in process facilities such as polymer plants, gas handling and transportation infrastructure, and floating production, offloading and storage (FPSO) vessels. Where the typical “large” project for the past 10 years has been in the $50 – 100 million range, these new projects often cost $2 billion to as much as $20 billion. Stout says the profitability of these huge projects depends a great deal on how fast they can be brought into production: the first producers will be best able to take advantage of low-cost feedstocks and high product prices before competition raises costs and lowers margins.

So there is considerable incentive to streamline engineering, construction, commissioning and operation – areas where using software from companies like Aveva, Intergraph and Bentley has been reducing project costs and delivery schedules as much as 30%. To accomplish such large savings, you actually have to do things differently, so instrumentation and control engineers are being involved much earlier and learning new ways of interacting with designers, builders and operators. You’ll see more about that in our May issue.

Meanwhile, companies like ABB that can do both the electrical and the automation parts of a project have few competitors – they’ve had to bid the parts separately, which limits their ability to take advantage of their integrated capabilities. Adding Invensys’ product lines puts Schneider potentially in the same league, so ABB will have a comparable supplier to bid against – “a worthy competitor in the market.”

What does this mean for control engineers -- does automation become a subset of the electrical plan? That’s a concept we’ll continue to examine and discuss. If you have something to say about it, comment here, post in the ControlGlobal LinkedIn group, or send me an e-mail at