Repost of Sound Off for April from ControlGlobal.com

4/28/2005 Fieldbus in the middle of Nowhere I´m not sure how far away it actually is, because your humble editor slept most of the way....we arrived in Natal at about 5 AM because of a broken flight schedule. We left for the Petrobras plant at 7. It was 33 degrees Celsius, and I have had this easy job for too long now...I used to be able to handle heat, humidity and safety shoes, long sleeve shirts and hardhats, but since I´ve become an editor, my user muscles have atrophied. But even though they practically had to carry me the last part of the visit, I saw some very interesting things. Smar has built a fair number of metering skids for Petrobras (which, at least here in Natal, is pronounced "paytrow-braysh") both for gas and for oil; and they have several installations of their novel density transmitter in the oil pipeline. Petrobras, like other large multinational oil producer companies, is trying to optimize production, and to modernize their facilities. I saw a dead control panel dating to the 1980s, replaced by A/B plcs from the mid-1990s, and finally, a new, fiber ethernet system with Foundation Fieldbus sensors (of course they were made by Smar, as was the Fieldbus linking system...why do you think Smar brought me here)and a full blown InTouch HMI operator station in the new control room. Smar acts for Petrobras as a system integration house, and they did all of the design (including civil and mechanical) for the metering skids and all of the design of the HMI, using Wonderware to Petrobras´standards. Petrobras is in the middle of a fairly hot political issue about where to build a new refinery. Some people want them to buy/build a new refinery in the USA, and others want the new refinery built here in Brazil. Of course, the various state governments in Brazil are now fighting over where in Brazil it should be built. I noticed, however, that while the plant I visited was strictly speaking a transfer station, they seemed to be making kerosene, jet fuel, diesel, and some other things there...perhaps Petrobras has decided to go ahead and expand an existing facility rather than continue to have the politics interfere. It would take little effort to begin refining gasoline there. In addition, a comment is due about the food. What marvelous food! This country knows how to eat well. I´ve tried many new things, and I have enjoyed the adventure. Of course, Petrobras doesn´t just use Smar equipment. I saw Saab-Rosemount tank radar transmitters in the tank farm, and Ivani, our Petrobras guide said that after calibration, they work extremely well. I also saw Daniel ultrasonic meters on the gas side (again, "they work quite well, quite stable and accurate.") and Krohne ultrasonic meters on the oil side (same comment from Ivani). But it is quite interesting to note how many things Smar does for Petrobras, and how well. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/27/2005 Rio in the rain, and Petrobras in the 21st Century Was about a half mile down Copacabana beach, trying to walk off all the churrascaria I´ve been eating this week, when it started. It wasn´t a cloudburst, it was a monsoon. Marcelo Dultra and I were totally soaked by the time we made it back to the hotel. Ah, well, into every life... We had a little sightseeing time today, so we took the funicular up to the top of Sugarloaf, where the view, at least when it wasn´t overcast, was superb. After that, we took ourselves off to yet another churrascaria, this time to meet Carlos Henrique Wildhagen Moura (yes, Brazil is as much of a melting pot as the USA is), who is a top engineer for the Brazilian state oil company, Petrobras. Petrobras, it seems, is in the last stages of developing their new strategic automation program for the new century, and I quickly asked Sr. Moura if he was willing to write about it, when the project is finished. He agreed, and, at least tentatively, the article is scheduled for the October issue of CONTROL. Moura suggested a visit to the Petrobras Research and Development Center (CENPES) and Patricia Loueiro and Antonio Luiz de Carvalho were very kind, at very short notice, to see me and spend an hour talking about how Petrobras is organized, and what their concerns for process automation were. Carvalho had a couple of great ideas for articles for the magazine, and you will be seeing them later this year. Come on, I have to keep _some_ secrets... We were going to visit with Vitor Finkel, a well known figure around ISA both in the US and Brazil, because we were going to be at the same airport this evening, but traffic delayed us, and we missed each other. Finkel is on his way to the US for the ISA President´s Meeting, which starts this weekend in Portland, Oregon. We are going to fly to Natal (Brazil, not the other one) tonight so we can visit a Petrobras facility way out in the boonies tomorrow...then back and winding up to go home. Brazil is even beautiful in the rain. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/26/2005 The World is Flat...and from Brazil you can see the edge I spent all day today visiting the various Smar facilities scattered all around the city. There are buildings everywhere. Many of them are quite old...Smar is moving into a new facility that is half-constructed but in the meantime, space is tight. But while the buildings are old, what is going on in them is not old at all. What is going on in them could be going on in any top tier automation manufacturer in Western Europe, or in North America. You see, Smar decided to make themselves a world class company, and they succeeded. You could take the Smar facility and plunk it down in any city in Europe or the United States. You would find a world class company. This is a crystal clear example of what is happening throughout the world. Thomas Friedman´s new book _The World Is Flat_ is about this very same thing. For the first time in the history of the world, it doesn´t matter where you are, what country you live in, or who your parents were...if you have access to education, information and the Internet, you can do anything that anyone in what we used to call the First World can do. Smar´s manufacturing processes are as good as any in Germany, the US, or Japan. Their QC system is as good as anybody´s I have ever seen. They even own the only conformal coating machine in Latin America, and every board Smar manufactures is conformal coated as standard. They showed me some really cutting edge machines, some typical CNC, some homebuilt. One of the office jokes at Smar is that if they need to have a sales meeting somewhere, they´ll build a hotel to put it in. A lot of this insistence on build-it-yourself came from the fact that Smar was trying to do things that no company in South America had ever tried to do before, and there was no local infrastructure to help them. They needed to develop a culture of extreme self-reliance and innovative ingenuity. For example, they were the second company in Brazil to pass the ISO9001 audit (the first was IBM-Brazil). They needed high speed data communications between their various facilities in Sertaozinho (I know, the tilde...) so they put in wireless over a decade ago. Now the municipality has laid fiberoptic cable to connect all the Smar plants, and they have high quality high speed broadband. Do it yourself, or do without. Smar´s engineering teams are cross-functional, work as teams, and do concurrent engineering practices. Some of their engineers are world-class experts in fieldbus, and some have contributed large amounts to the Foundation Fieldbus infrastructure. The bottom line is that Smar has proven Friedman right: the world is flat. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/25/2005 When it rains in Brazil... You get wet. But it was a warm rain, and it let up enough for us to visit the huge sugar mill of Sta. Eliza, the third largest in Brazil. In the morning, I was treated to a history and product guide to Smar. Did you know that Smar makes more things than pressure and temperature transmitters and fieldbus gateways and silicon? Did you know that Smar makes PLCs...one of the very few PLCs that has integral Foundation Fieldbus HSE? Did you know that Smar makes Fieldbus valve positioners? Did you know that Smar does complete control systems, and wrote their own Asset Management software package? Well, unless you are lying, you probably didn't know that...and I certainly didn't. Smar is about $70-80 million in revenues, with between $15-20 million from the USA (divided between Smar International and Smar Research). After the briefing, I was asked to meet with the Board of Directors. They consist of the company president, Antonio Zamproni, and the other owners, Carlos Liboni (a name quite familiar to many ISA members), Edmondo Rocha Gorini, Edson Saverio Benelli, Gilmar de Matos Caldeira, Paulo Saturnino Lorenzato, and the "S" in Smar, Mauro Sponchiado. You will notice that nearly all of them have Italian names. That's because the largest wave of immigration into Brazil came from Italy in the last years of the 19th century. We discussed the differences between Brazil's market and the North American market, talked about Smar's brand and its image, and discussed their plans for expanded recognition in North America. We also discussed CONTROL's AutomationXchange event, and I invited them to participate. I believe they will. The fact that, although my Portuguese is rudimentary, I speak Spanish and Italian (!) made it easier for me to understand the Board, and for them to understand me on occasion. Then another churrascaria for lunch, and another excellent meal. Liboni and I talked ISA business, since we are old friends. And then out to the sugar mill. The mill is completely integrated. They bring in the cane and crush it. Then they take the cane and burn it in the boilers and make steam to run the sugar refinery, and the rest of the steam is used to run the 60 MW steam turbines that power the plant, and furnish power back to the grid. The bagasse (the ground up cane) is stored, sold to other sugar mills, and some of it is mixed with red clay from the clarifiers, made into cake, and used to re-fertilize the cane fields. The mill makes sugar from about 50% of the cane liquor, and the other 50% is used to make "alcool" or ethanol. They produce hydrous ethanol for vehicle fuel, anhydrous ethanol, and "super high test" ethanol for drug companies. They get the best yield from their advanced molecular sieve process. They make lots of different sugars...raw sugar, white sugar, molasses, and liquid sugar. The only part of the plant I was not allowed to enter was the liquid sugar plant, because it is top secret since it produces the liquid sugar for Coca-Cola of Brazil. In Brazil, as well as Mexico, Coca-Cola is still made with cane sugar, and tastes like "the real thing," while in the United States, Coke is made from corn sweetener and tastes like it. The control room and all the control systems are among the most modern in the world, and the newest part of the plant, as I said, is all Foundation Fieldbus HSE. There are well over 200 Smar Fieldbus transmitters in Santa Eliza. Back now at one of the Smar buildings in Sertaozhinho (there should be a tilde on the a there, but I can't figure out how to do it on this web interface. We're going to talk marketing for a while, and then we'll find more dinner. Tomorrow, the plant tour! Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/24/2005 The New Boy in Brazil Whew. It has been a long trip. Flew from Chicago to Houston, met Marcelo Dultra, from Smar, and flew with him to Sao Paulo overnight. We then took a taxi to the domestic airport, and flew to Ribeirao Preto, which is the big town near Smar's factory. Of course, we had to immediately rush out and eat Brazilian barbeque at a churrascaria. It was wonderful. I ate more meat than I eat in a month. No PETA activists there. Marcelo Dultra is a young electrical engineer who is the General Manager of Smar's USA operation in Houston. He is a very sharp guy, and we talked about process automation, sales management, fieldbus and all other kind of stuff almost all the way to Sao Paulo. I am really excited to see Smar's facility. Smar, remember, is the only latin american automation company to have made it in the world market. Their market lead in fieldbus technology (their Smar Research Ltda division makes silicon for lots of other automation companies' fieldbus products) and their R&D budget have made them a powerhouse in Brazil, throughout latin america and in Asia. Smar is well known for pressure transmitters and Foundation Fieldbus, but what is not so well known is their density measurement systems, and the fact that they can do complete control systems as well, with software they private label from Iconics. Tomorrow, I get a plant tour, and a visit to a huge sugar mill that is entirely Fieldbus enabled using Smar techology. Brazil is beautiful in the fall (Southern Hemisphere, yah?) and it is very green. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/22/2005 Off to Brazil... Tomorrow, I am leaving for a week in Brazil, to visit Smar, the instrumentation company. I have never been to Brazil before, so I am with child in anticipation (yes, that's Rich Merritt's line, but I like it, so I stole it fair and square). Pedro Biondo from Smar just sent me some statistics on Brazil. I think there will be a test on Monday. Brazil is the home of the second (Sao Paulo) and ninth (Rio de Janeiro) largest cities in the world, and has a GNP of much more than the $780 billion measured as of 1998. According to Pedro, Brazil is the world's second largest market for things as disparate as cellphones and executive jets and helicopters. Its market for washing machines is 82% larger than Canada's. Brazilians buy 456% more toothpaste than Italians do. And Brazil has 4,612 ISO 9000 certified companies; two orders of magnitude larger than any other Central or South American country. Smar's position as a Brazilian company, coupled with its technology lead in Foundation Fieldbus design (Smar actually makes the chipsets for most other companies who provide FF enabled field instruments) means that Brazil is one of the most fieldbus-enabled countries in the world. I'm looking forward to seeing that. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/22/2005 Watch out for those sneaky cheeseheads! Meeting Tom Nelson and John Erskine, you might suppose that they are two good ol' boys from Racine, doing their bit with their old-line company, Racine Federated Inc. But underneath that cheesehead exterior are extremely smart men who understand the automation business. Yesterday, Racine Federated announced the acquisition of the J-Tec vortex meter product line. While J-Tec has had habitual quality difficulties, their designs have been out in front of the market, and they have a significant installed user base. Suddenly, RFI is becoming a force to reckon with in the flowmeter business, having quietly sucked up Blancett turbine meters, Dynasonics ultrasonic meters, Preso differential pressure and multiple port pitot meters, and now vortex shedding meters, as well as their core flowmeter business, the Hedland variable area meters. RFI is also quite profitable, and has just moved into a huge new facility in Racine that just happened to be the former Danfoss drives plant. There are some obvious holes in the RFI product line, but knowing Nelson and his boss John Erskine, they are quietly working on a way to fill those holes, that won't be what anybody expects. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/21/2005 ABB meets the press... Every time I go to a press conference, I am reminded about the Jimmy Buffett song, "Fins to the left, fins to the right, you're the only game in town." ABB's automation management staff met the press this morning. First they fed us, to sort of take the edge off. I guess the idea was that the feeding frenzy would be less intense if we all were torpid after a good big breakfast. Dinesh Paliwal, who is not only the head of ABB's global automation business, but also head of ABB's businesses in the Americas, and a member of the ABB Executive Committee (and clearly a candidate for bigger things at ABB, don't you know...) was first up. Dinesh repeated over and over his mantra that ABB is in North America. He noted that he has moved to Connecticut, that he has moved the ABB automation global headquarters to Connecticut, that he has moved the ABB Americas business unit headquarters to Connecticut, and that ABB understands the North American market is their biggest and their highest installed user base. This is a huge change from just a few years ago, when everything ABB did in North America was calculated to make operations run from Switzerland. And it shows. Dinesh noted that ABB has posted 9 straight quarters of both revenue growth and profit growth ending Q4 of 2004. He is, of course, under the gag rule until the Q1 2005 numbers get released next week, but *nod nod* and *wink wink* we shouldn't expect bad surprises then. He noted that the ABB breadth of product line is matched by nobody except maybe Siemens, and that's true when you add in the power gen product lines. Of course, Emerson makes motors and controls for the power industry too, don't forget. And Emerson Process Management is the big tail that wags the Emerson dog...amounting to over 20% of corporate revenues and earnings. Dinesh claimed double digit growth in North America in 2004, 21%, vs "3-4% for the market as a whole." Now, not every company can be, as they all claim, "the leading player in (insert name of market vertical)" so what is going on here is that everybody, ABB included, is playing fast and loose with the statistics. Of course, Mark Twain was right about them, when he quoted Benjamin Disraeli, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics." But what this means is that ABB is finally back. After nearly going under, it is refreshing to see happy faces uniformly at the top. Next up in the box was Greg Scheu, senior vice president for automation products. He is responsible for drives, motors, and instrumentation products. 2004, according to Greg, was the first full year return to profitability for the instrumentation group since the consolidations that killed ABB's heritage brands like Taylor, Fisher and Porter, K-Flow, Kent, and all the others. The drives business is growing at 3-4 times the market, which should make Siemens nervous. When asked, Scheu admitted that "maybe we were a little in advance of the market" in getting rid of the hugely successful brands they acquired. They've decided to go back and try to rebuild the continuity to save whatever brand identity they have left. Roger Bailey, his opposite number for Process Automation (ABB's systems business) was blunter. "To be honest," he said, "until the introduction of the System800xA last year, I think many of our employees were reluctant to admit that the Mod, Harmony, and other products were really ours, because they didn't know how we were going to handle legacy systems. Now they know, and I think you will see a change." Process automation, too, is growing "faster than the market." Who isn't? Every other big automation company is reporting the same thing, so somebody is either lying or losing market share. ABB believes that they are taking market share from the smaller players, the tier 2 automation suppliers. Interesting, the orders Roger reported on included several QC systems and a Technical Information System, using the System800xA platform...not exactly process control, now is it? This at least bolsters ABB's claim that the System 800xA is more than a control system, that it is a platform for information management from the plant floor to the enterprise. Competitively, on large projects, ABB is using its contracting division in Italy to compete with the traditional A/E firms and act as a full service MAC. MAC, you will recall, is the TLA being sponsored by Emerson and Siemens, "Major Automation Contractor." ABB clearly has jumped on the bandwagon. Last, from ABB's biggest "niche" business, Bo Elisson, group vice president of Manufacturing Automation, reported on robots. Although he clearly differentiated himself from the "we are North America" drumbeat ("We are global because our customers are global," he said), he noted that the group did 35% of its business in North America in 2004, including several large refurbish projects in the automotive market. He also noted that the NON-AUTOMOTIVE share of his robot sales was up to 34%, mostly through partner sales, which increased 82% in 2004. So robots aren't just for making cars anymore. Last, the conversation turned to ABB's Performance Services business. Dinesh noted that ABB is "number one in performance services in Europe, and we want to bring that same skillset to the Americas." He described five pharma plants in Munich for which ABB does contract O&M and performance enhancement. This puts them squarely in Emerson's sights in the US and Latin America. ABB, like Emerson, doesn't seek to run the plant, just the maintenance, calibration and operating performance aspects. And a fine time was had by all. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/21/2005 Alarm management is not a product... ABB has teamed with Matrikon to offer Matrikon's flagship Alarm Management product as an integral option to the System800...but the real issue is that alarm management is not really a product at all, but a work process by which alarms are reduced to essentials to prevent operator overload. There is a process that companies need to go through to effectively manage their alarms. Benchmark and Assessment Alarm Philosophy Alarm Rationalization Implementation and Execution Maintenance Continuous Improvement Where the process nearly always breaks down in in the last three items. _Sustaining_ the program is often the real problem. But the gains can be substantial. According to EEMUA, properly managed, each operator should face no more than 140-odd alarms a day. In fact, unmanaged, operators regularly face at least 1200 or more alarms a day. That is, on an 8 hour shift, approximately one per minute. Considering the fact that alarms generally cascade, that is, they come in bunches, it seems to be an impossible task for the operator to handle...and it often so proves. ISA is in the process of issuing a new recommended practice (not quite a standard) to complement EEMUA Document 191. It is RP18.2. Considering that the cost of preventable abnormal incidents (North America alone, petrochemical industry alone) amounts to $10 billion a year for major incidents, and another $10 billion a year for minor issues, clearly there is a huge incentive to institute alarm management, over and above the cost in human lives and injuries. Unfortunately, the bad news is that most alarm management programs are implemented after the fact. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/20/2005 The ABB/Microsoft position on security Face it, cyber disasters will happen. It is impossible to guard against all of them. As Microsoft's Don Richardson put it, "You can have all the security in place that you want, and that you need, and somebody pulls the power on a PLC and you're dead anyway." The trick is to have a recovery plan, and implement it. What is Microsoft doing? They're increasing support commitments: a 10 year MINIMUM commitment for software, and a 5 year MINIMUM commitment for both mainstream and extended support. Microsoft has increased its participation in industry consortia...like ISA, OMAC, and others."I really like S99," Richardson said. Microsoft Consulting Services now offers a two week security assessment for industrial manufacturing plants. The first week is an audit of all Microsoft software and the harware it runs on, and a risk assessment for each device. The second week is a deep dive into the plant network to identify security issues and constraints. The price of this consultation varies from a low of $2K to a benchmark of $40K depending on the facility. But as Richardson put it,"If you don't need to connect your system, don't. If you do need to connect your system, do the things that you need to do to keep your plant secure, and work with your enterprise IT department to help you set them up properly." What is ABB doing? They are committed to Microsoft's SD^3 + Communication initiative: Secure by Design Secure by Default Secure in Deployment Communication They've activated a new ABB security website, with whitepapers, etc. It went live on Friday of last week, and I don't have the URL yet. Watch this space and I'll post it later today or tomorrow. Richardson, responding to a question about support longevity, said that Microsoft is considering a lifecycle that is also service pack dependent. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/20/2005 Why I like Maggie... There are people in the industry that I should know, that I know lots of people who know, and who I have never, for one reason or another, actually met. Margaret Walker, VP of darn near everything engineering related at Dow Chemical is one of those people. So I was really excited to see her on the keynote program at Automation World. She said that she wouldn't bore us with all the technical evaluations Dow did to select ABB as their vendor partner to replace their proprietary MOD5 control systems. She did say that she had handed ABB a list of 362 "top priority requirements" and that ABB agreed to do every single one of them. "We wanted someone to work with us on a sustainable solution to carry us forward, since the MOD5 platform was no longer sustainable," she noted. "It is about relationships," she said,"but if the technology is not there, the conversation doesn't happen." Then Maggie started talking about the real woo-woo stuff that actually makes relationships work...the communication, the buying into the shared vision, the thinking that everybody clearly understands what the language and the jargon means. She talked about sessions where the ABB and Dow teams did human potential exercises and org dev exercises to make sure that they were all on the same page. Some of the people in the audience were clearly uncomfortable with this. Maggie's talk reminded me greatly of a speech given by another woman last year at Rockwell's Automation Fair. Flo Mostaccero is also vp of almost everything to do with engineering, but at Coors, rather than at Dow. Her views were identical to Maggie's. Someday I'd like to see the two of them on a platform together. Very bright, powerful women who know what is up. One last Maggie-ism: "Conflict is not about winning and losing, it is about resolution." Finally, Maggie gave a progress report on the results of the relationship between Dow and ABB... --the platform is sustainable --it is an open architecture platform leveraging industry standards --it is technology specific --it incorporates state based control --it incorporates integrated safety instrumented systems --cycle time for project development has been reduced significantly. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/20/2005 Microsoft Steps UP! Mark Young is the chief evangelist for .NET at Microsoft. As such, he is the architect of the alliance between ABB and Microsoft. "ABB, more than any other partner, is leveraging the power of the .NET platform," he said. "We picked the right partner in ABB for the plant floor." I wonder what Microsoft's other plant floor partners think about this. Invensys might have some feelings about this, as might Iconics, and the other heavy Microsoft partnerships. We'll see if this means that Microsoft is saying that they like some partners better than other partners, or if Mr. Young just has foot-in-mouth disease. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/20/2005 Meet Fred Kindle! 10 months ago, Fred Kindle, CEO of Sulzer, was named to be CEO of ABB. Since he didn't come from a process automation background, not very many people, me included, knew much about his background or his goals, or what kind of a person he was. His keynote speech this morning at ABB Automation World gave me the opportunity to get a sense of the man. "We live from the interaction of customers and channel partners," he said. "Business is about creating results, about creating the environment for results," he went on, "but business is about people, about interaction." He alluded to the very deep trouble that ABB got into in the early 2000s, and said that the company was through the hard part and into recovery. He noted that "it is very easy to spend all your time with the analysts and investors"¦to fall in love with the Street"”which can lead to the demise of a great company." Kindle is a Chicago Bears fan, a Kellogg (Northwestern) alumnus, and a citizen of Lichtenstein and Switzerland. He was a mechanical engineer ("so I am not the right person to ask about Fieldbus, okay?") and after getting his MBA, worked as a consultant until he couldn't stand that consultants don't have ownership of the processes they design, and the systems they create. He joined Sulzer just in time to have to do "the ugly stuff" of restructuring during the early 90s recession. Kindle on Teamwork: "The CEO, in fact all the executive committee members, is a catalyst for change. But the entire company must be behind you in order for change to work. If you cannot get the entire company to rally behind your changes, you will fail. In order to succeed, you must give your team responsibility, authority, goals and the ability to do what it takes to be successful." Kindle on honesty and trust: "I believe that we have to be open and candid, not only with our teams, our employees, but also with our customers. I hate politics. You can have two people get together, and they can interact and communicate, and if you add a third person, you have politics." Kindle on open disclosure: "We issued a press release yesterday detailing some unethical behaviors on the part of some ABB employees in the United States. I want to go on record that ABB has zero tolerance for unethical behavior. It is not something we want, and we will take, and have taken, direct action to prevent it." Kindle on relationships: "It is ingrained in our DNA." I swear, if I hear one more corporate executive talking about his company's DNA, I may hurl. Company DNA is entirely contained in the balance sheet. A CEO who doesn't want to play the game will get fired. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/20/2005 It's about relationships and trust! I came down to Houston for ABB Automation World figuring I'd hear the same old speeches and hear the same old "my DCS can whup your DCS" talks I've heard for years from all the major automation vendors. I was surprised. This event is almost doubled in size from last year, with about 1700 attendees, made up of 700 end users, 417 channel partners and 600 ABB folks. But the most interesting part so far was that the keynotes were not about technology, or how wonderful ABB is, or about Microsoft (the event sponsor) or Dow and the wonders of chemistry"¦but about relationships, building trust and working together both within companies and between companies. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/19/2005 It must be scary to be a vendor... Look at the poor vendors, and pity them. Well, maybe. Vendors are looking, aghast, as companies push for really open products, for really open fieldbus protocols, for cheap, durable products and for enhanced service. From a user's point of view, there's not a thing wrong with this...but think like a vendor for a minute. Vendors aren't in business to provide service and the best possible products to the end users of process automation. They are in the business of providing the highest possible revenue and net after taxes to their shareholders. Just like people who work for end user companies do, for their own shareholders. Here we have products being made into commodities by electronic purchasing, we have products being built cheaper, if not better, in Asia than can be made in the USA or Europe, we have products being adapted from other technologies, like telcom, to be used in plants where you used to only find the traditional automation system vendors. We have Microsoft, SAP and Oracle suddenly declaring momentous expertise in the plant floor automation environment. We have lots of people rolling their own using Linux and embedded controllers. We not only have a continuous pressure for prices to go down, but we have companies catering to the low price crowd like Automation Direct and EZAutomation and Omega. What's a poor vendor to do? Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/18/2005 FUD and Accuracy A reader wrote in to the automation list (http://www.control.com) and asked why some vendors specify accuracy in percent full scale, when percent reading is so much obviously better. Another reader wrote back and explained that it was done to make the first instrument look better, since many people don't look past the percent sign. Thus, 1% is 1%. Of course, we know that is not true. As David W. Spitzer and I have repeatedly pointed out in our "Consumer Guide to..." series, accuracy is one of the most often mis-used specifications in the process automation market. In our latest book, "The Consumer Guide to Non-Contact Level Gauges" we point out how difficult it is to match types of fruit in determining what's real in level gauge performance. There are at least seven different ways to specify the accuracy of a non-contact level gauge, and we saw them all. Of course, this kind of specsmanship only sows more FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) in the minds of users of these devices. I've railed for years against specsmanship...everybody is probably tired of hearing me rant about it. But the fact is, it isn't changing. And it produces a cognitive dissonance that is not good for the profession. But you know, if we users don't step up and hold the vendors accountable for spreading FUD and vaporware, and make it cost them to do it, we surely deserve what we're getting. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/15/2005 Puls and The China Syndrome Had lunch yesterday with Larry Westbrook, president of Puls North America, a power supply vendor. He had some problems with something that was said about buying cheap power supplies in China in a previous edition of Control. So, naturally, we went out and ate Chinese food and talked about it. Larry said that right now, you can't buy a top class power supply from China...and he's right. Not just because he makes said top class power supplies (and he does) but because right now, the Chinese are concentrating on making cheap things in volume. But pretty soon now, they are going to have the design expertise to give us in North America and Western Europe a run for it in quality and forward-thinking design. Larry gives it five years, maybe. I suspect he's right there too. Anything longer is whistling past the graveyard, looking at the enormous amount of engineering and technical talent graduated from Chinese (and Indian) universities EVERY year. What does he think we need to do? Well, what Puls is doing is to design new products faster, and try to keep that 5 year rubber between themselves and the Chinese. If Puls can stay inside the design-decision loops of lower cost manufacturers until the costs of manufacture equalize, and they will, Puls will continue to have a value add proposition to differentiate themselves from the Chinese. And that's the real secret...get inside the command-control decision loop of your competition and STAY there. It doesn't matter how much better they get, if you are one step ahead of them. This works for your career, too... Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/13/2005 The accuracy issue...is it real? Because of the laboratory and "scientific" origins of process automation, we tend to pay a lot of attention to issues like accuracy. A device that is more accurate is inherently better. But is this really true? I submit that it isn't true. While there are some devices, and some applications, where the maximum obtainable accuracy is critical for proper process control and manufacturing performance, those applications are relatively few. What is really necessary is repeatability, durability, simplicity, and ease of use and service. Sometimes, these are antithetical to maximum obtainable accuracy. I know this is partly heresy. I know that field device vendors like to differentiate their devices by accuracy. I also know that David W. Spitzer (http://www.spitzerandboyes.com) and I have spent the last several years writing books (the Consumer Guide series, available from http://www.isa.org and amazon.com) that rank field instruments, and we're continuing to do so. One of the rankings we use is accuracy. This is not to say that I am being hypocritical, because accuracy is a valid measure. But when we look at the process of the future, we need products that have significantly more durability and simplicity than those of the present day. My ideal sensor works reasonably well, is highly stable and repeatable, doesn't cost a lot, and is easy to operate. Its cost makes it easy to service, or use as a discardable sensor. So when am I gonna get one? Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/12/2005 What Now for Solaia? From Jeremy Pollard: Hey Walt - now that this is done, and having been an expert witness for a few of the unlucky ones, I can only say that this HAS GOT TO BE a burden off everyones chest, and most will ask why it took so long. The level of frustration that was evident with the 'defendants' was obvious as well as the helplessness of most since the price of admission was so low which perpetuated the claims. Hats off to Rockwell for taking it to the mat, and as all have patents, they are to truly protect, and hopefully it will stay that way. Can the ones that paid go back to collect their money?? More legal costs eh!! Comments? 4/12/2005 What is it about integrity? Yesterday, we were visited by Matt Tormollen and Dave Cooper from Pavilion Technologies (http://www.pavtech.com). They told us about a radical new sales paradigm they were offering to their clients. They call it "value first." What they mean is that they built a giant toolset called Pavilion 8, which apparently does darn near everything in the advanced process control field, just so that they could concentrate on a higher order issue: delivering value to the customer. What they do is to find a problem issue for their client, and produce a value-based proposal to resolve the problem. In other words, they offer a specific statement of what they will do, and what benefit this project will give (economic benefit, of course) and a money back guarantee if it fails to accomplish what Pavilion says it will. "Say what you are going to do, and then do what you say you will." It is about integrity. Too many vendors make vaporware promises, or excuses after the fact. This has led to a defensive skepticism about product and service claims on the part of our readers, the end-users. It seems to me to be a natural extension of personal integrity to make the sort of offer Pavilion has started to make. And it takes great assurance, knowledge, and courage. After all, if you screw up, you can't make excuses. If you don't deliver, you can't explain it away. You either did what you said you would, or you didn't. Might be interesting if this was the start of a trend, now wouldn't it? Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/11/2005 More About Tools... What divides a practice, a profession from people using tools to perform actions? It is, at least according to me, whether there is any intrinsic knowledge needed to properly use the toolsets, or whether anyone from any number of disciplines can do it well, just by using the tools. We are at a watershed time in process automation. Previously, the tools were so hard to use that much of the profession's practice was taken up in learning to use and using them to control plant processes. So lots of the intrinsic knowledge needed was masked by the fact that you also needed to have lots of tool use knowledge. Now the tools are getting easier, and more companies are buying them. Matrikon just reported record sales, when the process automation industry has been more or less stagnant for years. But now the intrinsic knowledge part comes in. It isn't enough to know how to program an HMI. It isn't enough to know how to design a simulator, or even to use it. Now, the value add for the profession of process automation is knowing how and why the process works the way it does, and how to deal with upsets when it goes awry. It's like the old chestnut of the plumber who handed the old lady a bill for a hundred bucks after simply tapping on her water heater with a big pocking wrench. When the old lady complained, he replied, "Okay, lady, let me break it down for you. I charged you $1 to hit the pipe with the wrench. I charged you $99 for knowing where to hit the pipe." We laugh, but there is a real truth in that joke. It is up to us all to see that that value add is protected and valued by our employers. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/8/2005 Are We a Profession, or a Toolset? We talk a lot about process automation professionals, but is there really a "profession" of process automation?? Or is process automation simply a set of tools that people in other professions, like operations, electrical engineering,chemical engineering, plant maintenance, manufacturing management and IT use to do their jobs? This is a question that is going to need an answer in the next few years. If it IS a profession all of its own, then the steps being taken by ISA to certify it, train it, and enforce compliance to its standards and practices are extremely on point, and should be supported at all cost. If process automation is just a toolset, or a series of toolsets, then how do you ensure that the tools are up to snuff, and that the people using the tools are also up to it? Big questions, not many answers. I'd invite you all to think about this, and tell me what you think. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/7/2005 ISA will move into standards compliance, or it will die. I know that's pretty harsh, but consider. ISA at its highest point had over 40,000 members. That sounds great, but at the same time, publishing industry figures showed well over twice that on controlled, audited circulation figures...so at its height, ISA didn't reach anywhere near the total number of process automation professionals even in North America. Even though ISA had done a lot of global reaching out, ISA membership outside North America is still very small...in other words, it is a lot less effective as a member support and service organization, and as a standards making body. If you include the domain of discrete automation (machine builders, factory automation, packaging, etc.) you come up with another whole set of automation professionals that ISA never touched. AND NOBODY ELSE DID EITHER!! So, ISA's membership declined. My personal (and completely unsubstantiated) guess is that ISA's current global membership is about 20,000. Less than half of its membership at its height. When I talk to automation professionals, that is, end users, integrators, consultants, and vendors, lots of them tell me that ISA is irrelevant. Why would they say that, unless it was true? If ISA is irrelevant, it will die. Nobody puts money into a useless organization. But I believe that ISA is NOT irrelevant, nor is it useless. But it needs to change. It needs to expand and embrace a new vision for the future. In order to be a true member resource, and begin to attract members again, ISA needs to be important to the automation community. Right now, the only really important function to the community that ISA performs is standards-making. Yes, ISA hosts a trade show, runs training, sells books, publishes a magazine, etc., but all of those things are also done by Reed Elsevier without being a membership organization. Those things are, then, by definition, irrelevant to being a member resource. What could ISA do to become relevant to its memberships? What could give it the biggest bang for the buck? ISA is already one of the largest consensus standard-making bodies in the world. Of course, nobody HAS to follow ISA standards, and lots of people have taken portions of the standard (ISA5 for example, the instrument symbol standard) and cobbled up their own non-standard standard. What if ISA were to go into the standards compliance business? By inspection, this seems to be a way to get a huge bang for the buck for ISA as a standards-making body and as a membership organization. But that ain't all. It is a great big first step back. Eventually, ISA, everywhere it exists globally, is going to have to assert the power to influence rule-making and law-making in the automation sphere. Or it will continue to be irrelevant. In my editorial for May (I know you can't read it yet...have patience) I asked the vendors to step up and do more to get new blood into the automation professions. ISA has to step up and do more, too. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/7/2005 It's About Time, ISA! ISA has announced that they are thinking of moving into the standards compliance business. One of the largest standards making bodies in the world, ISA has never done well at encouraging or enforcing compliance with their standards. Previously, there have been movements to provide a standard, books explaining the standard, training courses about how to use and implement the standard, technical notes elucidating best practices with respect to the standard...and all these movements have never amounted to jack. Ian Verhappen, vice president of Standards and Practices, was one of the prime movers, along with myself, in the last attempt to make ISA a "full service" standards body. He's enlisted new Executive Director Rob Renner in the concept, and they are taking it even further...there is no reason why ISA couldn't become a compliance certification organization for the standards it administers, and there are lots of reasons why they should. This is another step in the direction of reviving ISA and making it relevant again to the automation and controls industry and the process and discrete manufacturing industries. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/6/2005 Best Practices? We Don' Need No Steenkin' Best Practices From Dale Peterson's ScadaSecurityBlog for: 2005-04-04 Best Practice? A security consultant not recommending best practice? The horror. This came up a number of times in class last week. A student walks up during the break and explains his SCADA system, and then asks if he should implement the best practice configuration we just discussed. In a perfect world the answer is of course yes. Implement best practice. Most SCADA systems are far from a perfect world today. So the real question is where and in what order limited resources should be applied to improve information security. Maybe something short of best practice will dramatically improve security and the remaining resources are better placed on another security control. This is similar to risk mitigation. You address the highest risks first, but you may not completely eliminate the risk. Instead, you may just lower the risk until it is less than or equal to other risks. Best practice should be in most long term plans, but striving for perfection in one area while ignoring others is not recommended. If you get an assessment with a variety of remediation recommendations remember to ask for some prioritization and a deployment plan. // posted by Dale Peterson @ 4:44 PM 0 comments Comments? 4/6/2005 I'm still reading and digesting the Solaia decisions. There were two decisions. The first denied Solaia's motion for a summary judgement against ArvinMeritor and Rockwell Automation for patent infringement on the '318 patent. The second decision granted ArvinMeritor and Rockwell summary judgement that they did NOT infringe on the '318 patent. So, after collecting over 30 license fees, and advertising an agreement with GE Fanuc designed to spread FUD, Solaia appears to have lost. It is unknown at this time if they will appeal, or if they will continue to sue Rockwell's customers, or if they will now fold up their post office box office and steal quietly away. Their entire strategy was to avoid this decision at all cost, since once Rockwell got standing in court, it was clear that the patent would lose. See Steve Kuehn's article in the April CONTROL for all the background. This is hopefully a setback, along with the Lemelson patents, for the "patent trolls." The strategy of suing for infringement of a dubious patent, and then offering to go away if an amount of money is paid that is significantly less than the cost of defending the suit is NOT extortion...because all the lawyers say it isn't. But it isn't defending intellectual property either. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/5/2005 I usually post in the morning, but got busy...and I'm glad I did...because a friend just sent me the texts of the court orders in the Solaia case. I am pleased to report that Solaia lost. The court ruled that Solaia did not prove their infringement case against Rockwell, and that the former Rockwell division, ArvinMeritor, that was used as a "stalking horse" had proven its case of non-infringement. This is a real victory for true intellectual property rights. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/4/2005 I've been working over my schedule for the next couple of months. It used to be easy for us editor types to visit our vendor and end user customers...we went to a couple of trade shows that there they all were. We could visit the vendors, see new products, ask inconvenient questions, and then use passing end users for reality checks. Not anymore. About five years ago, most large vendors got smart and started to hold user group meetings. I went to the Iconics User Summit recently, you may recall. Rockwell, Siemens, ABB, Emerson, all have their own private trade shows now, where they can preach to the choir and we editors have to spend all our time on airplanes getting from one to the other. (Sigh.) But you know what? The quality of those meetings is very high. They are focused and the amount of information transferred is high. That is, they have big bandwidth (information transfer rate per unit time, right?). It seems to me that there ought to be a way to present this level of information 24/7 without having to pack us all like cattle into airplanes and taking end-users to same-o same-o hotels where we don't have time to be tourists in order to get the scoop. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/1/2005 Do you want to see the future of process automation? It is called "not enough time." People just don't have the time to work in the old ways any longer, in any field, but in manufacturing and in process automation it has become critical. Napoleon famously said, "Ask me for anything but time." Those of us who are working in process automation, whether as integrators, consultants or on the plant floor, completely understand what the great French general meant by that. What is happening, as Rich Merritt points out in his cover story, "Expertise Lost" in the April issue of CONTROL (now available early on the website), is that people are desperately developing systems to automate the process of designing control systems, just like we began to develop systems to automate running the processes of manufacturing in the 1960s. There are already simulation tools that allow engineers to develop the processes of an entire plant to make, well, just about darn anything. There are also design tools that permit those simulations to be dumped to CAD allowing nearly automated design of the controls and mechanical components of an entire process plant. People are going bugnuts trying to design these time savers because we're running out of time. We're also running out of expertise...the sort of expertise I've been talking about lately that enables a good engineer with a table of natural logs, a sliderule and a copies of some good textbooks to design from first principles. With enough time and enough expertise, we don't need the expert systems. Not having either of the first, we are anxiously dependent on development of the systems. Yesterday, Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief of Control Design magazine and I were treated to a sort of preview of an expert system in embryo. Created by MTT, a technical consulting consortium including motion control industry luminaries like George Gulalo, Dan Jones and Tom Bullock, you can see the demo we saw at Motioninfo.com. I encourage you to visit it, and see what it can do now. The problem with these selection tools, as expert systems, is that they aren't. Not really, and not usually. Anybody who has tried to use Google for a really detailed technical search, or even Globalspec for that matter, understands that what you get is far too general for real utility...in other words it doesn't save any time. Gulalo's tool, however, has the smarts. The smarts are in the search algorithms, which in this case are optimized for motion control. Right now, all he has is a sample database of motors. Soon he'll have other motion control components, and will be able to autodesign systems. The system could even be used in reverse, by MRO operators, who need a replacement for a 30-year old gearmotor, for example. Typing in the model number would generate the gearmotor's specs and then forward search the most compatible current model from the database. Cool. Time saving, you bet! But it ain't ready yet. George asks that if you are interested, go visit motioninfo.com, and give him feedback on what you like, don't like, and what you'd like to see it do. Comments? --Walt Boyes 4/1/2005 It is very tempting to post something April Foolish, but I won't. I swear that I've checked this out and it is true. From Ubergeek Dick Morley: In a message dated 3/31/05 10:10:18 AM, e@sunriselabs.com writes: I did "Where's the bathroom?"->Japanese and it came back with 浴室ã?¯ã?©ã?“ã?«ã?‚ã‚‹ã?‹ã€‚ Pretty cool! Comments? --Walt Boyes