The recent trend towards the appointment of Main Automation Contractors (MACs) on major projects is creating a serious challenge for independent instrument vendors and, to a lesser extent, for those process automation system vendors which ran down their measurement and instrumentation portfolios in the '80s and '90s. With ABB, Emerson, Yokogawa and, arguably, Siemens each being able to provide a more or less comprehensive and ever-expanding instrumentation offering to complement their systems businesses, it would be surprising if Endress+Hauser (E+H), the largest independent instrument vendor in the world and, even without a systems capability, the eighth largest automation vendor, were not determined to avoid becoming isolated. No surprise therefore to find senior E+H executives turning up at recent Honeywell User Group (HUG) events in both Europe and the United States or to hear that a joint marketing agreement has been concluded with Invensys Operations Management (IOM) in the Asia Pacific region which is now expected to be extended to cover the two companies' operations worldwide.
There's no sign as yet of E+H developing relationships with either Honeywell or IOM comparable with that which it has built up with Rockwell and which includes a joint 'Integration Office' to prove the interoperability of solutions based on the two companies' products and create preferred integration procedures. However, it would be no surprise to hear of similar relationships developing with other systems vendors in the future.
Meanwhile, ensuring trouble-free integration of its devices with host systems is a major preoccupation, as Raimund Sommer, managing director of E+H's Process Solutions business unit underlined during a visit INSIDER recently paid to the company's facility in the Reinach suburb of Basel, Switzerland.
Unlike those of its competitors who can look to their own systems operations to provide a significant proportion of their instrument business, E+H can',t afford to pick and choose which interfacing and integration standards and protocols to support but has to commit to all of at least the major standards including Profibus, Foundation fieldbus, DeviceNet, HART, EDDL and FDT. According to the theory of open systems, ensuring that devices conform to these standards should be the end of the integration issue. In fact, says Sommer, it's only the beginning because the real problems arise with each host system vendor'- interpretation and implementation of the standards. Hence the presence at Reinach of examples of every major DCS and PLC to enable the company to demonstrate that individual devices will indeed operate and interact as the customer might expect with any particular host system.
As a family owned business, one disadvantage E+H doesn't suffer from is having to adapt its strategy to the vagaries of stock market sentiment. That, arguably, makes it easier under current circumstances to pursue its other key strategy, that of maintaining competitive edge by a relentless devotion to quality and innovation and thereby ensuring that, wherever possible, and despite its competitors' ability to offer the attractions of a one-stop shop for systems and devices, user preference for its products will ensure that its name gets on to the bid list.
That's why, despite the current economic difficulties which corporate sales and marketing director and newly appointed executive board member Nikolaus Krüger agreed were significantly deeper than most process automation vendors had anticipated or were prepare to admit, the company is maintaining its R&D spend as a proportion of turnover and plans to invest some €100 million in the current year in its production facilities and sales and service network.
One manifestation of that approach is the state-of-the-art, fully automated Coriolis flowmeter calibration facilities at Reinach and the newly commissioned $18-million expansion of the company's flowmeter production and calibration facilities in the United States. These enable E+H to claim both that no company can calibrate Coriolis meters more accurately, and that it is the only company whose calibration rigs around the world are all accredited by the relevant national standards bodies to the ISO/IEC 17025 standard.