Celebrating PSUG

In my first foray out of my home office since I came home sick from China, I have spent the day at the Rockwell Automation Process Solutions User Group meeting. This is the 6th annual event, which takes place the two days prior to Automation Fair every year. This year, Rockwell is making a serious statement about their commitment to the process industries. Speakers today included Steve Eisenbrown, who is Senior Vice President in charge of all automation for Rockwell, and Rick Dolezal and Kevin Zaba, who help lead the process business for Rockwell. After the preliminaries, ESPN basketball analyst Mark Adams talked about leadership, fatherhood, teamwork, talent, and how to coach the 301st best team in Division 1A college basketball. It helps to know that there are exactly 301 teams in that division. Zaba's job was to explain what Rockwell has done in the past two years, since committing very publicly to the process industries. He showed a pattern of far greater than industry average growth...three years ago, Rockwell told us that the process business was about 26% of CAGR. Today, Zaba said is now amounts to a huge 44% of CAGR. He talked about the acquisitions they've made, especially ICS-Triplex, and the recent Pavilion Technologies, as examples of what Rockwell is doing. Here's something to think about, about the Pavilion Technologies acquisition. Pavilion's largest customer, quite likely, is Fonterra Cooperative Dairies, of New Zealand. I did an interview with Alice Baucke, the advanced process control team lead for Fonterra in August, just before she left on pregnancy leave. You can hear the interview here, and you can read the companion article in the September 2007 Control magazine. In the interview, Alice noted that they have over 23 different control systems from 6 different vendors, including some homegrown software, on six continents. Now that Pavilion has a control system (or, if you prefer, now that Rockwell has Pavilion), there is clearly an inside track here, to a customer that Rockwell would have had no real shot at before the Pavilion acquisition. The military calls this a "force multiplier." Force multiplier acquisitions are very very smart. Zaba made much of the Rockwell/Endress+Hauser strategic partnership, and the Rockwell/OSIsoft strategic partnership. In the short run, these partnerships are what is making Rockwell's process entry competitive straight up with ABB, Siemens, Emerson and Yokogawa, and giving them more horses than Honeywell, or Invensys, both of whom have fewer field instruments. The problem will come, of course, when privately held E+H and/or OSIsoft are put up for sale. Both are incredible cash producers, and they are going to sell for significant multipliers of annual sales, not earnings. If Rockwell were to successfully acquire either or both, they would again have force multipliers. Then it was time for the first day keynote, by Paul Gruen. After introducing himself, saying that he was sure most of the audience had never heard of him, Paul Gruen, of the recently acquired ICS Triplex, began his keynote presentation for the first day of the 2007 Process Solutions User Group meeting at this year's Rockwell Automation Automation Fair. Gruen has been working in the field of safety and safety systems since 1979, and is a distinguished member of the ISA SP84 safety standard committee, as well as an ISA Fellow. He helped author the ISA84 standard, helped in the effort to harmonize US and international (IEC) safety standards, and was the founder of ISA's safety division. He also created the first software package that allowed users to calculate SIL levels for a given SIF. As he put it, "Our standards committee did its job, and we created several new TLAs. You know what a TLA is"”a three-letter acronym. Safety systems engineering is full of TLAs." Gruen then took his audience on a sobering ride through just the modern history of chemical and refinery disasters. Flixborough, UK, 1974; Seveso, Italy, 1976;1984 Bhopal, India; Texas City, 1995"¦on and on the litany of disasters went"”and the knowledge that each of them could have been prevented.   Gruen noted that  44% of failures occurred when the systems did exactly what they had been designed and programmed to do"”and failed anyway. Less than 15% of accidents can be blamed on Operator or Maintenance error. "Bad things keep happening," Gruen said, "and there's a record of a lack of commitment to what it takes to really solve the problem." He listed the statement of the plant manager of Union Carbide, Bhopal, and the statement of the Coast Guard commander in Alaska after the Exxon Valdez disaster as he showed a picture of an ostrich with it's head buried in the ground. "Systems aren't perfect, stuff goes wrong. We need to design for failure," Gruen said. So what are the trends Gruen sees for the future of safety system design? "Smaller, distributed systems," he said. "There are a lot of applications where a large, monolithic system that is scaleable to thousands of points just isn't required." "We are beginning to see the development and implementation of safety fieldbuses from Fieldbus Foundation, Profibus Trade Organization, and the HART Foundation," he said, "and we are seeing integration of the BPCS with the safety system"”not by using the same products, but at the vendor level. People are demanding that the DCS vendor integrate the safety system from one single vendor." "We are seeing a demand for personnel with certifications. There are several certifying bodies right now, from TUV to a consulting company, and ISA is developing a certification program for safety expertise," Gruen revealed. "We are starting to see a movement back using safety systems for what they were originally for"”critical process control," Gruen said. That is, processes like nuclear fuel rod control, nuclear waste disposal"”those applications where there are large economic or safety concerns where downtime is not feasible, and where significant capital losses and image or reputation damage could occur in case of accident. Finally, he said, there is a developing market for engineering, integration and technical services. "It isn't enough anymore to say, "˜Here's your hardware, have fun,'" Gruen said. Gruen quoted Nancy Leveson of MIT and the Baker Commission on the fact that proper regard for safety in design actually pays for itself with up to 50% less downtime and other productivity gains. He also quoted noted failure expert Trevor Kletz on how to design safe systems: "What you don't have can't leak." Gruen said, "There's one way to ignore all the standards and still have a safe plant. All you have to do is do what the French did 200 years ago, and the DuPont family brought to the original gunpowder business. If what you do is make gunpowder, you become a significant devotee of safety. What the French did was to pass a law that said that the manufacturer was required to live on the premises." Gruen paused, then continued, "With his family." After the keynote, assorted Rockwell luminaries presented details on the product updates Rockwell is producing. They did this by noting what the User Group requests had been, and what they were doing to accomodate these voices of the customer. One of the interesting things RA is doing at PSUG is an interactive audience participation gizmodo. At your seat is a keypad. Once you have signed in to the keypad, you can vote on questions the speaker asks, and get immediate feedback on what the audience actually thinks. For example, I was interested to learn that the vertical with the highest attendance is Food and Beverage, with other verticals behind. I am going to be very interested in how this works, because I am going to use the system in my own keynote, tomorrow. Yes, indeedy, your humble editor is the second day keynote speaker for PSUG.