Upheavals elsewhere in Invensys Process Systems (IPS), including the sudden elevation of its president Sudipta Bhattacharya to interim IPS CEO and his replacement by Rashesh Mody, hasn’t prevented Wonderware from getting on with the day job, releasing updated versions of System Platform and InTouch and of the Object Toolkit for the ArchestrA architecture which underpins them.
Underlying the development of ArchestrA and System Platform ever since the mid 1990s has been the concept of providing a common platform of shared services into which individual applications can be plugged, thereby dramatically reducing the time and cost of development and implementation. It’s a highly seductive idea, particularly as the MES space has become the focus of industrial automation software development. It does however have two significant snags. One is that, if carried to its logical conclusion, it would require the development of new System Platform-ready versions of all of Wonderware’s existing applications, breaking continuity with their predecessors; the other that it imposes a significant overhead which, when amortized across a major, multi-application implementation, may seem comparatively insignificant, but which looks like a major hurdle if the user is only interested, at least initially, in a traditional SCADA/HMI tool with, perhaps, a historian.
Wonderware’s solution back in September 2007 was to ensure that InTouch 10.0, the newly developed object-oriented version of its SCADA/HMI flagship, could both perform stand-alone and plug in to System Platform. However, competitors now seem to be targeting the overhead issue as a key vulnerability. Thus recent launches against InFusion, IPS’s process industry implementation of System Platform, from both Emerson and Yokogawa stress that functionality can be added incrementally without the need to invest in an entire infrastructure at the outset. Others point out that ArchestrA is essentially 1990s technology which, they claim, has been largely overtaken by Microsoft’s own developments in general and by .Net in particular.
Perhaps to counter or deflect such attacks, the new releases focus largely on enhanced ease of use and productivity of the integrator and solution provider. Thus new configuration options in System Platform 3.1 are aimed at making it easier for users to engineer pilot projects and roll out applications across multiple locations, while InTouch 10.1 offers enhanced trending and alarm management and the facility to “internationalize” applications for reuse in different locations across the globe. Meanwhile what is described as the “significantly redesigned” ArchestrA Object Toolkit 3.1 aims to “free users from the internal workings of the software system, yet empower them to fully leverage the integration of custom-coded ArchestrA objects with Microsoft .Net technology,” which sounds like an admission that previous versions weren’t that user friendly.
The new System Platform and InTouch versions also address the needs of users seeking to implement highly distributed, networked software solutions. As well as scaling from 250 to more than a million I/O points, highly distributed applications can be optimized for peak performance over networks of various sizes and speeds. Wonderware Historian, the System Platform incarnation of the former Industrial SQL Server, is also said to now provide enhanced flexibility and configurability.
Coincident with the latest enhancements to Wonderware System Platform and InTouch, Wonderware has announced a new release of its InBatch batch management offering. Tightly integrated with System Platform 3.1, it offers batch execution and equipment history, material genealogy, security and Web-based reporting that are compliant with the requirements of FDA 21 CFR Part 11 and in line with the ISA S88 standard. Wonderware claims substantial engineering savings in the development and deployment of multi-plant implementations and in the addition of processing lines, manufacturing cells or operator nodes to existing installations.
The company says users can readily implement a logical ISA S88 plant model on top of existing PLC or automation system code. “Wonderware has not only taken flexible batch capabilities beyond traditional offerings, but has also provided customers easier and less costly ways to add these capabilities on top of existing automation system and PLC applications,” claimed Wonderware MES and EMI marketing program manager Maryanne Steidinger.