Emerson Overturns 35 Years of Industry Thinking on I/O

When DCSs first began to replace discrete recorders and controllers more than 30 years ago, the sight of operators seated in front of banks of VDUs rather than standing, white coated and clip board at the ready, in front of panels that stretched into the distance, seemed to usher in a brave new world. It was, of course, all an illusion, and an illusion that has been maintained in pretty much the same way for the intervening three decades. For behind the back wall of the control room, little or nothing has changed. Even today, nearly 10 years after ratification of the infamous IEC 61158 fieldbus standard, and just weeks after approval of its wireless cousin, ISA 100.11a, getting the signals from the field and into the DCS still for the most part requires the same thousands of miles of cable, serried ranks of marshalling cabinets and multiple racks of I/O as it did in the days of discrete controllers.

Fundamental Rethink

But not for much longer, or so Emerson would have us believe. Last week in Orlando, as vice president of platform strategy Duncan Schleiss had predicted back in July, Emerson took the opportunity of its Global Users Exchange in Orlando to reveal arguably the most fundamental rethink of the DCS since the then Fisher Rosemount introduced DeltaV in 1996.

In July, Schleiss had predicted that DeltaX, as it had been dubbed by industry pundits, would make an impact "at least as big as DeltaV SIS," the integrated safety solution which caused such consternation when it was first announced in 2004. What he now tells us he meant to say was "at least as big as DeltaV itself," but, in fact, the DeltaV S-series platform, as we must now get used to calling it, while the center piece, is nevertheless just one aspect of the version 11 release, which also includes major enhancements to all of the systems' I/O processing, operator displays, asset management, batch capability and system security. And even then, it's not at this stage clear whether it's as significant a development in the longer term as Emerson's simultaneous announcement of its Human Centered Design Institute whose origins, one suspects, can be found both in Chief Strategic Officer Peter Zornio's time with Honeywell and Schleiss' own acknowledged admiration, if that's the right word, for the Honeywell-led Abnormal Situations Management consortium.

Despite those caveats, however, there seems little doubt that it's the S-series platform and its innovative approach to I/O which most delegates, journalists and analysts will be recalling from their three days in the Florida sunshine. It is perhaps ironic that it was an almost as radical approach to I/O – buying it in from MTL – which was one of the key characteristics of the original DeltaV in 1996. S-series finally lays that concept to rest, however, with the introduction of what is being called 'I/O on Demand. '

What, When and Where

Because of its complexity, traditional I/O, wiring and marshalling had to be designed and committed to at an early stage in any project, with the inevitable later stage changes incurring high levels of additional cost and delay. By contrast DeltaV S-series allows users to decide what type of I/O they want, be it wireless, FF, HART, AI, AO, DI, DO, DP, T/C or RTD; when they want it, be that for late project changes, during start-up, during operation or for temporary installations; and where they want it, in rack rooms, remote locations, hazardous areas, safety systems or harsh environments.

Key to this flexibility is a second major innovation, Electronic Marshalling. Selectively previewed at last year's Emerson Exchange in Washington, it essentially eliminates the need for a physical path from signal source to controller. Instead new single channel CHARacterization ModuleS or CHARMS relay I/O information via the Ethernet backbone to any controller and provide single-channel integrity and flexibility down to the channel level. Not only does this approach drastically reduce engineering time, but it also ensures that changes to the original design can be readily accommodated without rewiring.

On a typical project with 15,341 hardwired points, Zornio claimed that Electronic Marshalling alone can cut the number of cabinets by 50% and their footprint by 40% while eliminating as much as 90% of intra-cabinet wiring. "We're completely eliminating the 'spaghetti wiring' used to connect marshalling terminals to I/O terminals and then to controllers," he said.

WirelessHART

But the benefits of the new technology aren't just confined to conventional wired I/O. The S-series also incorporates a major enhancement for WirelessHART networks which, in addition to the existing provision of native wireless integration, supports fully redundant communication and renders wireless applicable to a much wider range of monitoring and control applications. Indeed Schleiss claimed that "Forty-four percent of process control inputs can be wireless with no difficulty" while Zornio reckoned that I/O on Demand can cut wireless network design time by some 20%. "Getting rid of wires eliminates most activities associated with wiring design and installation. Cabinets, wire, terminations, cable tray design, fusing, installation drawings and a host of other activities are gone," he stressed.

More bad news for MTL and for all its rivals in the fieldbus power business comes in how the S-series handles Foundation fieldbus, integrating fieldbus power conditioners on to H1 cards and, thus, eliminating third-party power conditioners and bulk power supplies. "S-series I/O on Demand lowers costs and engineering, while built-in diagnostics also lower cost, eliminate special tools and special training," said Zornio.

Emerson claims that many of the enhancements incorporated in DeltaV S-series are a direct result of the new focus on usability at the center of its newly established Human Centered Design Institute. According to its director, Duane Toavs, the "virtual" institute was developed in collaboration with Carnegie Melon University and draws its staff from all of Emerson's brands. The institute had its origins in the original work to develop Smart Wireless. It approaches the analysis of user needs by developing "personas" and "stakeholder maps," based on interviews with actual users, which in turn led to an understanding of how users interact with technology. "Process control technologies have come a long way in the past 40 years," said Zornio. "But the industry has invested almost exclusively on feature and technology enhancement, instead of designing around how people actually use the technology."

The DeltaV S-series platform, with its claimed reductions in project engineering costs is one result of this new approach but just as profound is likely to be its effect on the day-to-day activities of operators and maintenance staff. "We evaluated device interfaces across the industry and found a common problem," said Zornio. "Routine steps which operators and maintenance personnel perform frequently were cumbersome, confusing and illogically laid out. It's an endemic problem throughout the industry."

Demographic Challenge

Based on that analysis, all Emerson's Device Dashboards have been overhauled while the same thinking has been incorporated into a complete set of new "visually focused" operator displays for DeltaV, designed to enable operators to recognize alerts more rapidly and gain access to the information needed to understand their nature and respond promptly and correctly. The contention is that only by putting usability and productivity at the heart of product design can the process industries meet the twin challenges of skills shortages in emerging markets and an aging experienced workforce in the developed world. "By putting increased emphasis on ease-of-use, we can meet this demographic challenge head-on and simply make it easier to extract value from technology investments," argued Zornio.

European journalists and analysts – and no doubt key users – will have the opportunity to make their own assessment when Zornio and Schleiss bring the S-series circus to Emerson's Rijswijk, Netherlands facility in mid-November.

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