Rockwell hopes PlantPAx is greater than sum of parts

Jan. 23, 2009
Industrial and geographical diversification has provided Rockwell with a cushion against the worst the global economy has thrown at it in recent months

Conventional wisdom has it that, with North American and European car makers in almost total disarray, key suppliers to the motor industry should already be in dire trouble. Not necessarily so, says Rockwell, because in its case both industrial and geographical diversification has provided it with a cushion against the worst the global economy has thrown at it in recent months. Rockwell now achieves 50% of its sales from outside North America, providing some protection against the accelerating downturn in the U.S. even if, as one cynic pointed out, it’s not entirely clear whether that’s because rest-of-the-world sales are up or North American sales are down. However it is achieved, Rockwell plans to continue to shift the balance until it reaches 40-60 in favor of non-North American markets.

Up 50% on year

Arguably more significant for the immediate future is the continued expansion of Rockwell’s process automation interests which, the company claims, experienced organic growth of 28% over the past year, but were up 50% when acquisitions were taken into account. According to Kevin Zaba, Rockwell’s business director for process automation and soon to be director of systems solutions for Asia, the company is now in phase three of its three-phase process automation strategy that involves bringing together the disparate process automation assets it has developed or acquired over the last few years. Hence the need for a new name, PlantPAx systems and solutions.

Setting out the PlantPAx strategy ahead of last months Rockwell Automation Process Solutions User Group (PSUG) conference which ran alongside its Automation Fair in Nashville, senior vice president for Automation and Software Steve Eisenbrown said, “This roadmap represents a culmination of the investments we’ve made to extend and enhance our process technologies, systems, solutions and services. It also reflects tremendous progress in integrating our organic investments with our partner and acquisition investments. The PlantPAx portfolio is the next step in our commitment to help customers achieve process automation excellence.”

PlantPAx, explained Eisenbrown, “unifies our core capabilities and technologies with those of our market leading partners, like OSIsoft and Endress+Hauser, and acquisitions, like Incuity, Pavilion Technologies, ICS Triplex and ProsCon, under a common systems and solutions umbrella to provide even greater market innovation and value to process industry customers.”

Under the PlantPAx umbrella, the actual strategy differs little from that set out in Rockwell’s presentation to the U.K. and European press back in April of this year. Significant developments in the pipeline include a new library of reusable control objects and deployment tools, including advanced process control (APC) functions, the ability to integrate modules from third-party design and engineering tools, initiatives at the supervisory level to minimize disruption caused by control system modifications, and enhanced process optimization capabilities based on Pavilion Technologies’ MPC (Model Predictive Control) technology. Rockwell also seems to be signalling plans to join the integrated SIS (Safety Instrumented System) camp through integration of ICS Triplex’s systems, including the recently announced AADvance with PlantPAx over EtherNet/IP. It’s also planning further enhancements to its asset management capability, including support for a wider range of fieldbus protocols. And it’s further developing the relationship with Endress+Hauser, based on pretested interoperability between field instrumentation and control systems and the development of preferred integration documents with the aim of reducing overall project life-cycle costs.

ARC’s approval

ARC’s Larry O’Brien has long been a supporter of Rockwell’s process strategy and has given his seal of approval to the latest developments. “ARC has watched Rockwell Automation evolve from a component supplier to the process industries to a full-fledged process automation systems and solutions supplier, and we believe the commitment to the process industries is stronger than it has ever been,” he commented. “A big part of the value proposition to the process industries is driving out the incredible amount of customization that has traditionally been required to make applications communicate with each other from the instrument level through the automation system, operations management and business systems. Rockwell Automation has come a long way in driving out this customization through a unified suite of applications with FactoryTalk software, its acquisitions of Pavilion and ICS Triplex, and its alliances with Endress+Hauser and OSIsoft. The PlantPAx system is a big evolutionary step forward for Rockwell Automation, and essentially brings all their process expertise together.”

First fruits of Rockwell’s April 2008 acquisition of have emerged in the form of a, dare one say, Iconics-like set of tools designed to enable users to self-configure web-based dashboards, trends and reports. Known as FactoryTalk VantagePoint, it combines Incuity’s technology for accessing production information from a diversity of systems and sources with the FactoryTalk service-oriented architecture. Rockwell plans to offer multiple versions, the first of which, FactoryTalk VantagePoint Line Edition (LE), provides an out-of-the-box solution to combining data produced by the Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture with other third-party production systems in standard, pre-configured reports for managing devices, equipment, alarms, events and control loops, as well as batch or production run and shift reports and trending and dashboard capabilities. Third-party connectors are provided for native and OPC DA real-time devices, OPC HDA historians, Wonderware IndustrialSQL Server Historian, GE Proficy Historian and OSI PI Historian. A shortly-to-be-released and more comprehensive Enterprise Edition will provide additional capabilities for aggregating and analyzing data from multiple enterprise systems, production lines and facilities. Incuity president Doug Lawson describes as “critical” the ability to mine data from disparate sources. “With just a few hours of configuration, FactoryTalk VantagePoint LE software can provide users with a cost-effective way to get at that information through intuitive reports, trends and dashboards,” he claims.