Agreement on Wireless with Invensys Process Systems brings Motorola Another Step Closer to the Plant Floor

Yet more evidence of the increasing interest that higher level communications and IT vendors are showing in factory and process automation as a result of the rapid emergence of wireless as a key enabling technology comes with the news of a new partnership agreement between Motorola and Invensys Process Systems (IPS). That agreement follows fast on the heels of last month’s announcement of Motorola’s investment, through its venture capital arm Motorola Ventures, in Apprion, with whom IPS has had a relationship since 2005.

Although IPS’ new relationship with Motorola is formally one of authorized reseller and solutions provider, Hesh Kagan, who has headed up IPS’ move into wireless from the outset, suggested that the two companies would “develop different degrees of intimacy,” and that IPS already had staff undergoing training with Motorola. That said, like last year’s agreement between Cisco and Emerson Process Management, the arrangement is strictly non-exclusive, although, according to Kagan, Motorola’s only other industrial partner is Rockwell Automation, whose interest, despite its process aspirations, must be counted as primarily in the discrete automation sector.

Good fit

“Motorola is a good fit for Invensys and for this industry,” Kagan told INSIDER. “To us Motorola will be the primary source of hardware products.” As well as such products as wireless access points, IPS is particularly interested in the range of hazardous-area- ready mobile computing products – “Real enablers” to Kagan - brought into the Motorola portfolio when it acquired Symbol Technologies back in 2006. However, the partnership potentially extends well beyond hardware to include engineering and implementation services, enabling IPS to draw on the extensive resources of Motorola as the market for wireless solutions develops. “My belief is that this technology becomes compelling at the point where it reaches the top of the ‘S’ curve in three to five years time,” said Kagan. “At that point activity becomes frenetic. Even if we don’t focus on conquering the world, we’ll be servicing an installed base of thousands of systems.” Kagan also added that Motorola will be providing IPS with support for NOCs (Network Operation Centers) and SOCs (Security Operation Centers) “where that becomes a customer requirement.”

Apprion

So does this mean that IPS is abandoning Apprion? Apparently not, although Kagan does expect the relationship to change significantly, as will the relationship between Apprion and Motorola. “One of the issues with Apprion is scalability,” he said. “It solves more problems than many people have. The arrangement with Motorola means that the cost of entry has been reduced. The other issue is with a Motorola hardware base. They’re capable of supporting it throughout the world.”

Kagan, incidentally, denies that any underlying significance can be read into the appointment of former Invensys Wonderware president Mike Bradley as CEO of Apprion. “Invensys management weren’t even aware of Mike going to Apprion. We’re a happy, loving dysfunctional family!”

Apprion, said Kagan, is looking for a business model that makes sense, and he expects its relationship with IPS to continue as Motorola begins to adopt the Apprion software on its hardware. Indeed his personal view is that Apprion will eventually get out of the hardware business in its own right and focus purely on its software solutions.

So just how interested in the process automation market is Motorola? “Motorola sees this market as very important because it understands it, at least from a factory automation basis,” said Kagan. “Symbol, in particular, dominates a lot of wireless applications we’re involved in.”

And does that mean that they could eventually become competitors rather than partners? “Motorola is quite anxious for us to succeed, but they’re hedging their bets by having their own industrial focus, and they’re specifically developing industrial accounts.”

That, he believes, is because their assessment of the potential for industrial wireless in general and wireless in the process field accords with his own. “There’s a presumption that there’s something really big going on here,” he says. “Just from a hardware point of view, it’s significant, but from a software and solutions viewpoint there’s a huge opportunity.”

Just one example Kagan cited is the software and systems implications of the arrival of low cost, say $200, wireless condition-monitoring sensors. “That’s only a matter of time,” he says.

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