It's common knowledge that innovation often lies at the intersections of developments in established fields—just Google "innovation happens at intersections." You can even read a book about it, titled The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersections of Ideas, Concepts and Cultures. The point is that we need to get outside our individual fields of expertise to see the possibilities coming from other directions.
So I was a little disappointed, if not surprised, that this month's cover story on the state of the art of integrating process and building automation systems doesn't overflow with innovations.
Yes, you can gain the expected efficiencies in energy, manpower, maintenance and decision-making by using a single system or by closely integrating building and automation systems, but there are plenty of drawbacks. So like any engineering problem, there's a need to do a cost-benefit analysis, and find the sweet spot that's most likely to yield the highest ROI. That's the state of the art.
I think that state is in flux. Just as we're finding that integrating IT and control systems has led to a revolution in critical decision-making, and joining safety and process systems is offering the potential to reduce costs while significantly improving both functions, we can expect merging building and automation systems to bring some surprising benefits.
We were given a glimpse of the possibilities at the recent opening of Honeywell's new customer experience center in Houston. Designed to bring to life new, high-tech innovations for the company's traditional automation clients in process industries, the center includes a plant control room outfitted with Honeywell's Experion Process Knowledge System (PKS). The beautiful Orion console demonstrates large, integrated screens, touchscreen displays, mobile device capabilities and other technologies that assist plant operators who are charged with running some of the world's most critical and complex manufacturing facilities.
The PKS displays and drill-downs are designed to support situational awareness, and "orchestration" brings relevant graphics up in sets to direct the operator's attention where it's needed the most. That can include video surveillance with cameras that automatically shift and focus to present a view of a fire or other emergency, or of an intruder breaching the perimeter fence.
Operators can pan through and zoom large displays, and integrated procedures guide and validate their progress through unfamiliar start-up and shutdown procedures. An integrated "collaboration station" offers the right level of detail for engineers and managers to facilitate real-time, high-level decisions.
As process control specialists, we're all familiar with Honeywell as the company that pioneered the distributed control system, but we might forget that it also specializes in cyber and physical security, as well as process and personnel safety. Honeywell's new customer center reminds us with displays of personal protective equipment and cybersecurity systems, as well as field instrumentation.
Honeywell is not the only process control company with expertise in other fields. ABB, Emerson, GE, Rockwell, Schneider/Invensys and Siemens all have notable strengths in both highly and vaguely related fields from power systems and transportation to appliances and, of course, building automation. These other product lines range from industrial to commercial to consumer, where developments in web connectivity, pervasive sensing, human-centered design and many other areas are coming on hot, heavy and cheap.
Here at Control, we're always keeping an eye out for innovations at the intersections, asking questions, and finding out about how they're relating to process automation. If you know of something we haven't covered, drop me a line. If you're interested, stay tuned.