The European Perspective on ISA Expo 2007

Walt's on his way to China, but before he left, he sent me a link to "ProcessingTalk" newsletter--which covers all things process manufacturing around the world from the U.K. This edition on the newsletter contains a view of ISA Expo 2007 from a return visitor from across the pond. Here's some of what Eoin O'Riain of had to say about the show. This was the first time in eight years that this correspondent has visited the ISA flagship show. It was held yet again in hot and humid Houston, as it was last year, and will be again next year. So what had changed since 1999. Well the venue, the Reliant Center (ie Centre - Ed), for one is far better than the Astrodome venue on the same campus. It is also very much more accessible with the spanking new Houston light rail stopping almost at the front door. I thought also that the show was smaller than I remembered, but as usual the multiplicity of smaller stands (Americans call them booths!), helped in creating a business like buzz in the hall. The ISA show is always a little different to other commercial ventures because of the emphasis on learning and teaching the technology in a series of seminars and short courses which are being carried on concurrently with the show. Therefore this year the event was described as 'One Event, Six Exchanges'. Built around core technologies critical to automation and control success, it offered in-depth coverage, peer to peer networking, and access to technical experts. These six technologies were security, wireless and networking, process automation, safety, environmental and quality control and enterprise integration. Despite this multi-pronged attack, the subject that dominated everywhere was wireless. Many people (users) are afraid that the quest for wireless standardisation will end up something like the multi-faceted (?) fieldbus standard, i.e a gathering of the different platforms and calling this hotch-potch 'the standard!'. 'ISA is supposed to be leading the automation profession not following the vendors' said one attendee at the show, 'So it should lead without fear or favour and select what it believes to be the best standard!'. Among the initiatives announced was the ISA100 Wireless Compliance Institute, formed to facilitate the development of and compliance with ISA100.11a. BP, Chevron, Shell, Honeywell, Siemens and Yokogawa are the first founding members.As the news was announced, a member of the committee said, 'Well, Emerson, Exxon and Chevron will have to join just to keep it honest'. The SP100 plenary session held during the week announced the compromise to include the WirelessHART specification into ISA10.11a as 'inclusion by accommodation in Release 1', using a dual network, single gateway model, and considering interchangeability in Release 2. On the co-operation agreement with HART, SP100 co-chair Wayne Manges says that he's been assured by Ron Helson of HART that the HART Communication Foundation is dedicated to this compromise and finding a technical solution that will present the end users with what they want - a single standard for industrial wireless. While peace apparently was endeavouring to break out in the area, a poorly attended press conference by FEDD Wireless talked heresy! 'In many instances, standards are a necessary and positive evolution, but not always. Today, the industry is abuzz with wireless solutions that are forward-compatible to the promise of future standards, but what does that all mean? And will these standards be a positive next step in wireless data acquisition or will they lead to compromised performance'. As they say 'The plot thickens....'. And the exhibition itself? It was almost eight years since I had attended an ISA EXPO and there were changes. In common with exhibitions in Europe, the big boys were for the most part absent as a big corporate presence. However they were present at the smaller technology based pavilions, wireless, safety, process automation etc., giving talks on various aspects of these areas of interest, all of which were extremely well attended. ISA is different to most 'Expos' in that it is not ostensibly a sales oriented show, rather is it a technology based event. Obviously it is necessary that such a big event make money for the organisers but since the organisers are the representatives of a profession - the ISA - all profits are ploughed back into the organisation. Platforms and technologies take centre stage - though it was interesting that the Fieldbus platforms were not represented, though HART did have a stand, pushing the fact that their WirelessHART standard had just been published a few weeks ago. Stands tended to be small with a large number of local Texas businesses represented as well as companies with niche solutions, say for the oil business. Attendance at these shows is low by European standards with anything over 14000 attendees being regarded as good. Of course a substantial number of these would be professionals attending the various lectures and short courses which are so much part of the ISA raison d'etre. It remains a very useful event to visit, if only to see what is happening in the US marketplace and to see what is the latest buzz in automation circles. In short it is still the place to learn about and progress in the disciplines of instrumentation, systems and automation.