New Era of Cooperation?

It lasted for considerably more than a week, from April 6 to April 19, and the latest rendition of National Brotherhood Week for the control industry saw old rivals, new rivals and friendly competitors joining hands in many ways.

 

In the old Tom Lehrer song, “National Brotherhood Week,” people who hated each other set aside their differences for only a single week. Lehrer sang:

 

“It's only for a week, so have no fear

Be grateful that it doesn't last all year!”

 

In this latest incarnation, we hope that the agreements and efforts last longer than a year.

 

On April 6, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) approved the HART Device Description Language (DDL) as an international standard. DDL has been around since 1990, so some might say it’s about time the IEC approved it.

 

As HART Communication Foundation director Ron Helson pointed out, “For more than a decade, DDL has proven its value to both users and manufacturers as a standard environment for accessing unique features of HART-enabled devices.”

 

It may be that the acceptance of DDL was urged on the IEC by the backers of Field Device Tool (FDT). The backers are primarily large European automation companies who invested heavily in FDT, but then received strong objections from many companies in the U.S., including Emerson Electric, when they tried to portray FDT as a universal fieldbus tool.

 HART's Ron Helson

 

Adopting DDL as part of FDT, and then making the IEC endorse DDL as a standard, will make it easier to get FDT into the U.S. market. Whatever the reason, it is good to see HART’s DDL getting the international recognition it deserves.

 

Solaia, Wherefore Art Thou?

In an equally interesting development, on April 12 Schneider Electric transferred its copyright to the Modbus protocol over to Modbus-IDA, a nonprofit organization formed in 2002. Modbus was originally developed by Modicon in 1979. Modicon later became part of Schneider Automation.

 

It may be that Schneider Electric is trying to make up for the ill-will it generates with its Solaia patent. As you may recall, Schneider transferred its interest in an obscure patent to Solaia, a mystery company whose only purpose in life appears to be filing lawsuits. The patent involves the transfer of data from a PLC to a Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, but Solaia has interpreted this to mean just about anything, and is suing end user companies left and right. Schneider refuses to explain the relationship between it and Solaia, leaving cynics to assume that Schneider is part of these nasty lawsuits. In the spirit of National Brotherhood Week, we hope the Solaia patent gets signed over to a similar nonprofit group next year.

 

On a friendlier note, on April 16 the World Batch Forum (WBF) and the Open Modular Architecture Controls (OMAC) Users Group announced that their first working session will soon be held to coordinate the development of manufacturing standards.

 

WBF follows the IEC/ISA88 standard for batch control while OMAC has the PackML state model for packaging.The two groups plan to develop guidelines that will extend across process, discrete, and batch manufacturing.

 

Making it a true National Brotherhood Week gathering, ISA and the OPC Foundation will also be present at the inaugural meeting.

 

In the same cooperative vein, on April 19 ODVA and ControlNet International formed two special interest groups (SIGs) to help develop safety protocols and motion applications.

 

ODVA is a group of automation companies that support network technologies built on the Common Industrial Protocol (CIP), including DeviceNet, EtherNet/IP, CIP Sync and CIP Safety. ControlNet International (CI) is an independent organization for users and vendors of ControlNet and EtherNet/IP products.

 

One might see them as competitive groups serving the same vendors and users but, during National Brotherhood Week, they are cooperating to develop standards that benefit users everywhere.

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