GEIP Challenges Rockwell and Wonderware
Just how crowded the space between the plant floor and the enterprise level is becoming is indicated by last month's release of two new software applications from GE Intelligent Platforms (GEIP), the one offering 'out-of-the-box' integration of production systems with the enterprise, the other consolidation of disparate data from multiple sources into a single viewpoint. As such, they compete in the same space as, and appear to offer similar functionality to Invensys Operations Management (IOM)'s ArchestrA-based InFusion and Wonderware System Platform, SAP's Lighthammer and Rockwell's FactoryTalk and FactoryTalk VantagePoint, as InCuity is now called.
What that tends to suggest, despite claims from every vendor that their own system is a unique concept, is that these different offerings in what is variously called the MES or Operations Management space are rapidly converging and, dare one say it, becoming increasingly commoditized. Quite where that leaves such claims of competitive advantage as that from IOM CEO Sudipta Bhattacharya that "If someone wanted to launch or build similar products (to InFusion and ArchestrA), it would take them probably three to four years to get them to market" is clearly open to question.
Of the two new GEIP applications, arguably the most interesting is Proficy Pulse, described as a "new visualization software solution … which empowers operators, engineers and analysts to view, analyze and co-relate real-time operational situations and historical intelligence." Explaining the thinking behind the new software, GEIP automation software general manager Claire Cerrato said that today's operators need "to have access to as much operational information as they can get in the environment that they are most used to. Therefore, companies are looking for that 'ergonomic' HMI that presents operational data beyond the traditional HMI to analyze large volumes of data from many sources, making objective decisions based on complex, real-time information."
Mention of Pulse as a real-time HMI will inevitably lead to speculation that, as well as its myriad other roles, it will also provide the vehicle for the eventual merging of GEIP's existing disparate HMI/SCADA applications, Proficy Cimplicity and Proficy iFIX. In the meantime, however, as a true OPC DA and OPC Alarms & Events client, it provides users with the ability to view and interact with real-time data from operational devices, HMI/SCADA systems and other software and to interface directly with native OPC servers like GEIP's own Industrial Gateway Server (IGS) and third-party OPC servers. Operators also have the ability to switch on the fly into Analysis mode with Proficy Historian and to integrate with the Proficy Workflow operational workflow product, Proficy Cause+ analysis tools and with operational KPIs defined in Proficy Plant Applications.
Designed as a scalable single application, multiple deployment product, Proficy Pulse can be deployed on embedded devices such as panels and tablets, on desktop PCs and on thin clients such as a Terminal Services client on bar codes or a Web client through the browser. It also comes with a totally integrated change management tool supporting application deployment, application versioning, disaster recovery and collaborative application development.
Meanwhile, the new enterprise integration tool, Proficy Open Enterprise 1.2, is built on top of Proficy SOA and Proficy Workflow and supports bi-directional messages to and from enterprise systems. Built on B2MML and ISA-95, it allows decision makers at the enterprise layer to have access to real-time information about production processes. "Proficy Open Enterprise helps users run 'Leaner' by providing information about the actual consumption of materials," said Operations Management Software general manager Sheila Kester. "Inventory reordering occurs when actually needed which can result in a significant cash savings."