Systems Integration / Asset Management / Wireless / Automation Fair

PlantPAx Roadmap Responding to User Needs

Scalability, User Productivity Top List of Development Priorities

By Walt Boyes

Automation Fair 2012


By definition, the typical user-group roadmap presentation is a forward look into planned product developments. But Ben Mansfield, PlantPAx marketing manager for Rockwell Automation, first offered attendees at this week's Process Solutions User Group (PSUG) meeting in Philadelphia a look back at promises made one year ago in Chicago.

"Last year," Mansfield said, "We told you we were going to 64-bit operating systems on all our products. We defined the virtualized architecture and told you about expanded OEM offerings. We told you that we were going to expand our device connectivity options with a new Foundation Fieldbus device coupler, EtherNet/IP and a complete plant-wide wireless strategy.

"We said we were going to give you more power and control integration tools. We said we were going to give you more system design tools and a complete DCS migration strategy. We said we would have a version compatibility tool that you can use to determine what parts of your systems need upgrading.

"We said we were going to spend a large amount on R&D for advanced process control, and that we were expanding our services options for system support, lifecycle management, a new training curriculum and consultancy services.

"We did."

But Rockwell Automation is far from being through with its plans to grow its process business aggressively by meeting the demands of process manufacturers. Rockwell Automation is working to make PlantPAx implementations easier using virtualization and other tools. Improved operator effectiveness is another key PlantPAx deliverable, as are systems that are easily scalable from "one machine on a skid to a complete plant-wide control system," Mansfield said.

A Look Forward

"In 2013, we're going to introduce our Quick Start templates. PlantPAx will have basic system setups, allowing you to focus on your application specifics and your own intellectual property."

"We said last year," Mansfield continued, "that we would have a detailed DCS migration strategy. Now we have the tools to easily migrate from Siemens/Moore APACs, Foxboro I/A and Fisher Provox systems to PlantPAx."

In 2013, Mansfield continued, "we will have an Excel-based PlantPAx library configurator, and a PlantPAx Alarm Builder tool that will allow you to easily design system and process alarms. We are also providing a powerful Automated Sequencer tool and bringing our alarming systems into alignment with the ISA18.2 Alarm Management standard. This includes adding the 'shelve' capability and automatic timeout on operator suppressed alarms. All the suppression and disable capabilities are going to be aligned to the standard."

Mansfield added, "PlantPAx is a performance-based system, so we've provided a PlantPAx Sizing Tool that allows you to model the performance of the system and do what-if analysis on numbers of controllers, size of networks and the overall architecture of the system.

"You keep asking us to make our systems even more user-friendly, and we keep hearing you. In 2013, we're introducing new quick faceplates, simpler navigation, improved trending and, for those of you who still like photorealistic displays, we're improving our graphical rendering engine."

Scalability, Connectivity

"For 2013, we are also improving the scalability of PlantPAx," Mansfield said. "Because many plants are now being composed of skids, we've made it possible for end users to request a common DCS design, regardless of size of the skid, and we now support up to two-and-a-half times more servers, with up to fifty percent more operator clients. We'll be introducing a stand-alone client station that will be completely integrated with the system historian and security. This will permit a small remote part of the plant to have all the benefits of the complete DCS, while operating in a stand-alone fashion."

"Beyond just connectivity," Mansfield said, "we are providing a consistent experience for fieldbus networks, whether they are Foundation Fieldbus or Profibus, and our implementation of the HART protocol has undergone an expansion. With our partner, Endress+Hauser, we have improved our support for EtherNet/IP directly to the device, and our use of EtherNet/IP in power control. In partnership with Schweitzer (SEL), we have implemented IEC61850 connectivity in our power control systems.

"We also are pleased to announce that our Foundation Fieldbus linking device has received the registration and check-mark from the Fieldbus Foundation as a Class 61b integrated control system device.

"And we are distributing PlantPAx with virtual image templates on a USB hard drive complete with images in a hardware independent fashion. We're permitting consolidated activations, and the templates are in Open Virtualization Format (OVF), which is an open standard for designing virtual templates, similar to XML.

"Why virtual solutions?" Mansfield asked. "It allows you to pretest patches and upgrades without accidentally crashing your operating system, and it gives you a 'roll back to last good state' function. You can clone systems for remote support to produce a test bed environment for operator training and simulation, and importantly, backup and restore. Virtualization enables thin client solutions that are low-cost, from traditional Wyse desktops to iPads. It enables remote and mobile operations, and it allows you to deploy corporate standards."

"Virtualization even allows you to centralize development," Mansfield said. "One of our system integrator partners found that they could keep their far-flung engineering staff using the most current software versions by hosting applications in a private cloud. The engineer logs into the cloud, does his development, and the work is available for everyone with access.

"Yesterday," Mansfield noted, "you saw a three-way video and VoIP call with our service and support center in Cleveland and a demo room at the Endress+Hauser representative in Chalfont, Pa. This capability is designed into PlantPAx."