Fieldbus Markets Poised to Resume Growth

New data from Frost & Sullivan predicts that the European market for fieldbus devices in the process industries will grow from $448 million in 2008 to more than $760 million in 2015, driven by demand for real-time data and increased plant availability. The forecast, which covers HART, Foundation fieldbus, Profibus, Modbus and other fieldbus devices, also identifies increased functionality, reduced cabling, simple networking and ease of maintenance as further factors promoting growth. However, it suggests that, while users are willing to employ fieldbus technology on new projects and greenfield applications, they are less likely to do so on retrofits and existing projects as long as the economic outlook remains uncertain. And it warns that many end users still do not realize the long-term benefits of the technology, and suggests that vendors need to provide comprehensive training on the different protocols and explain the economic case for its predictive maintenance capabilities and asset life-cycle management.

Strong Rebound

While the Frost & Sullivan report focuses primarily on the process market, ARC meanwhile has released a new report on networking in the factory environment. That market, it predicts, will "strongly rebound in 2010," although actual growth rates will be determined primarily by the rate at which networked solutions displace conventional hard wiring schemes. Moreover, it argues, the emphasis on displacement applies not just between networks and hardwiring, but also between networks themselves, with much of the growth of Ethernet-based device networks resulting from successful competition with traditional serial device networks. Indeed Chantal Polsonetti, ARC vice president and author of "Factory Automation Networks Worldwide Outlook," says that "In some quarters, the growing movement toward a single network technology throughout the plant or enterprise increasingly overshadows the compelling wiring savings delivered by traditional serial device networks."

Key to the rise in Ethernet, despite its offering a less compelling wiring replacement proposition than other device level networks, is its higher-order value proposition, including that of integration with higher-level enterprise systems. Thus the basis of competition lies increasingly in the upper layers of the OSI network stack where the ability to port a media-independent protocol across a variety of network types delivers key advantages in areas such as software tools, command sets, HMIs, ease of integration, upgradeability and support base. Similarly convergence around a common protocol makes it easier to add incremental application-specific profiles and to expand the application base at will.

Field instrumentation shipments, which remained strong throughout 2008, are predicted by ARC to have been actually growing slightly in 2009 as a result of strong backlogs. However bookings were already slowing dramatically in the fourth quarter of 2008 and have continued to drop off through the current year with the result that a decline in shipments is expected through 2010 and into 2011.Unfortunately, sticking to its new policy, ARC's press release omits even the most general of numbers while predicting "drastic changes" in the market as the world adapts to the new economy.

One area largely immune from recessionary pressure, however, is the upstream oil and gas sector which perhaps explains why we're actually given one number from ARC's latest 'Automation Expenditures in Upstream Oil & Gas Worldwide Outlook,' that automation expenditure in the sector will grow at nearly 7% compound over the next five years. Oil and gas companies may have stepped back from some large projects in recent months, but they still plan to make major investments in the coming years to build capacity for an inevitable increase in demand over the longer term, argues the report.

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