Functionality, Integration, Productivity Guide PlantPAx Roadmap

Nov. 10, 2009
Rockwell Automation Enumerates the Many PlantPAx Enhancements Introduced at This Year's Automation Fair

Since Rockwell Automation first announced its PlantPAx umbrella for process automation offering at last year's Process Solutions Users Group (PSUG) meeting, the company continues to make strides toward delivering a unified solutions offering for process manufacturers.

"PlantPAx leverages the Logix integrated architecture," said Som Chakraborti, business director, process automation, addressing the 2009 PSUG gathering this week in Anaheim, Calif., in the days leading up to Automation Fair. "Through our systems characterization lab, we continue to tailor the Rockwell Automation architecture to the specific attributes required for process."

Recent efforts have focused on several key areas, Chakraborti explained, including operations and engineering productivity, field device integration, plant asset management, high availability and safety, and core process control capabilities. Assisted by a parade of Rockwell Automation product development personnel responsible for developments in each of these areas, Chakraborti reviewed the progress the company has made in fulfilling its PlantPAx vision, and delivered a look forward to the platform's future direction.

"We continue to tailor the Rockwell Automation architecture to the specific attributes required for process." Rockwell Automation's Som Chakraborti enumerated the many PlantPAx enhancements being introduced at this year's Automation Fair. In the realm of engineering productivity, much effort has centered on integration of configuration and development tools within a unified Logix Architect environment, said Rockwell Automation's Ben Mansfield. "The goal is to drive everything down so that it all lives in one place," he said. Recent system enhancements include the PlantPAx Process Library, which consists of reusable templates, including logic building blocks, faceplates, iconic representations and associated documentation. And from a navigational standpoint, PlantPAx now offers the ability to perform system-wide searches, and then to launch the Logix editor within context. Breadcrumbs, too, have been added to PlantPAx HMI screens to help operators navigate screens.

Another PlantPAx productivity enhancement is the offering of new industrialized servers and operator stations that now come preconfigured and with necessary software already installed. "We're trying to take the process of configuring a server or workstation from a day or two to only a few minutes," Mansfield said. And to a smattering of applause from virtualization fans in the audience, he also announced that the company would begin offering support for users running many Rockwell Automation software products on the VMware virtualization platform, employed by a growing number of users to reduce IT infrastructure maintenance costs.

In the arena of field device integration, Rockwell Automation's Shannon Foos noted the growing proliferation of measurement instruments available from the company's preferred integration partners: devices for primary process measurements from Endress + Hauser; corrosion monitoring instrumentation from Pepperl + Fuchs; liquid analyzers from Mettler-Toledo; and final control elements from Metso Automation and Dresser Masoneilan. "The variety of measurements is good, but we also have to support a variety of ways to integrated them," Foos said. "We're driving toward one collapsed architecture for all network protocols, including Profibus, DeviceNet, HART, ControlNet, EtherNet/IP as well as WirelessHART."

Also, the company has standardized on FDT for device management, as "we believe it offers the best solution for the broadest variety of devices," Foos said. Rockwell Automation's vision of device management includes not only process instruments, but also power systems, drives, the automation infrastructure, calibration management, change control and disaster recovery functions—"all in a single harmonized and simplified architecture that provides consistency in engineering, integration, operator interaction, troubleshooting and maintenance."

In the area of batch management and control, Rockwell Automation's Andy Stump explained the latest enhancements to the PlantPAx batch platform, which include the "smart binding" of equipment selection into the recipe management functionality; for example, to require allergen-free equipment for specific food manufacturing recipes. Another advance in small system capability is the ability to run Logix Batch and Sequence Manager directly within the controller, rather than at the supervisory level. Integrated batch reporting is also a new PlantPAx feature, with nine standard templates included "out of the box."

As far as process information management is concerned, Rockwell Automation's focus is on decision-making tools and dashboards, Stump continued. New at this year's Automation Fair are FactoryTalk Historian Machine Edition, which obviates the need for using OPC to integrate stand-alone machines into the Logix architecture, and FactoryTalk VantagePoint, for creating role-based dashboards. "These are among the latest tools for more easily turning data into information," Stump said.

In the advanced process control (APC) arena, Rockwell Automation has continued to integrate Pavilion 8 advanced control technologies into the PlantPAx platform, according to Rockwell Automation's Ric Snyder. The PlantPAx Model Builder is a new offering that allows model-predictive control and "soft sensors" to be created and run within the controller environment.

Flexible redundancy and higher availability, too, are the subjects of enhanced system functionality, according to Rockwell Automation's Art Pietrzyk. "Availability isn't just avoiding downtime," he said. "It includes the ability to maintain the system, to maintain access to data, yet to allow changes to system configuration and processing strategy," Pietrzyk said. Redundant operator stations, redundant servers and redundant controllers can now be specified as needed. "We have choices—you can get what you want and just what you need," Pietrzyk said.

Finally, in the area of system migration, Rockwell Automation's Dave Bachman demonstrated the company's new Provox I/O (input/output) scanner, which is intended to allow low-cost migration of older Emerson systems to PlantPAx without replacing the Provox I/O. Similar scanners for allowing the low-cost, low-risk migration of Bailey Infi/Net 90 systems, as well as older Honeywell PLCs, have also been introduced.

As Rockwell Automation continues to enhance the functionality, native integration and productivity-enhancing features of the PlantPAx platform, Chakraborti concluded, the company will focus on six key deliverables in 2010: end-to-end process and device alarms, system view and reusable engineering, power and process devices connected over EtherNet/IP, integrated plant asset management, plant information management and decision support, and fault tolerance and integrated safety.