Wireless dominates Honeywell’s Berlin party despite ISA100 ballot’s best efforts to rain on its parade

Dec. 22, 2008
European Honeywell Users Group

Locking up some seven hundred people in Spartan accommodation in East Berlin and subjecting them to such total immersion brain-washing techniques as two hour long PowerPoint presentations with only the occasional journalist escaping to the West, or at least to a couple of bars, sounds like a tale from the dark days of the DDR, but then that’s the European Honeywell Users Group (HUG) for you. And it has to be said that most of the inmates of the Hotel Estrel in the last week of October seemed to have been there voluntarily and remained largely content, even when Jean-Marie Alliet’s technology road map presentation made them half an hour late for lunch. They perked up even more a few hours later at the first night reception and dinner as the Sally Bowles-like all-girl band added a touch of pre-war Berlin decadence to the atmosphere.


In truth, however, if this year’s event―Honeywell seems to be the only one of the process automation majors currently holding an annual user event in Europe―seemed a little more subdued than in recent years, then it was probably the shadow of the ISA100 committee rather than the ghost of the Stasi that was casting a pall over proceedings. With the emphasis in the program very much on wireless in general and Honeywell’s OneWireless offering in particular, it was clear that, while the timing just a week after the ISA100 vote might have been fortuitous, the opportunity to celebrate finalization of the standard and hence a significant victory over the WirelessHART fraternity had certainly been anticipated. Thus, when the ISA100 committee voting members rained on the Honeywell parade, albeit by only one vote, much of the proceedings acquired the air of a celebration, if not cancelled, then at least postponed.

But there were other causes for celebration, not least the return to health and to the European HUG of HPS president Jack Bolick. In his keynote to open the proceedings, he noted that in the six years since he became president in the aftermath of the GE debacle, HPS had grown its revenues from $1.5bn to $14.5bn. One aspect of the transformation of HPS in that period had been the emphasis on advanced solutions that, he said, were now growing at between 20% and 30% and would provide a cushion against recession as users sought to get more for less out of their existing facilities. Recent highlights, said Bolick, were the acquisition of Enraf, giving Honeywell a total terminal automation capability, the partnership with flow measurement specialist Krohne, which gives Honeywell an exclusive and growing range of own-brand flow measurement offerings, and the development of its, in his view unique, i-MAC integrated main automation contractor capability. “We’ve made the transition from selling the box to being much more than a DCS company,” a transition which he likened to that of IBM some years ago.

Eating up bandwidth

As to wireless, clearly the ISA vote had been a disappointment, albeit not one that was acknowledged in the open forum. Bolick’s concern, so he told INSIDER in later conversations, is that a plethora of standards will “eat up the available bandwidth,” but he emphasized, perhaps echoing Yokogawa a few weeks earlier that, “We will give our customers what they want.” If that is WirelessHART, he seems to imply, in marked contrast to his efforts to block its adoption by HCF last year, then so be it, although in fact, users can already connect WirelessHART into OneWireless. In any case, says Bolick, “The value isn’t in the infrastructure; it’s in the application,” and he points to developments such as Enraf wireless-enabled radar gauges enabling totally wireless tank farm management.

Major inflection

A slightly more belligerent view of the wireless debate comes, perhaps surprisingly, from the always amiable strategy and global marketing v.p., Harsh Chitale. He described the vote as showing “overwhelming support” for the ISA100 standard with the “overwhelming majority of users voting in favor.” With a margin of only one vote against, he believes that acceptance at the next round of voting is almost inevitable. And that, he believes, will presage a “major inflection” in attitudes by the second half of next year, once the standards are agreed to and in place. Already, he says, wireless is Honeywell’s fastest growing product area, and he claims a rapid buildup of adoption in some specific areas such as mobile worker applications. Uptake is more rapid in existing sites, where savings of between 40% and 90% can be achieved. By contrast, savings and, hence, uptake are less dramatic in greenfield applications, but there are nevertheless significant savings to be realized on commissioning.

Wireless is, however, only a part of the current Honeywell strategy. HPS will continue to make acquisitions and enter into partnership agreements that give it competitive advantage in key areas, says Bolick. Thus, the aim is not to develop a comprehensive instrument portfolio, but rather to add instrument capabilities in areas such as level, flow and corrosion, which will enable it to deliver a complete solution and hence add maximum value.

Would he have liked to have acquired SAT and with it IntelaTrac, rather than see it go to Invensys? Yes, but not at any price, and he won’t be drawn on whether he thinks IPS paid too much. In any case, adds Chitale, “IntelaTrac is only part of our asset effectiveness solutions.”

Overhanging all of these deliberations, however, is the potential impact of the financial and economic shocks of the past few months on the process automation industry and its customers. Thus far, says Bolick, “We don’t see it yet.” Indeed billings were up 23% on the year to date, but he’s in little doubt that the effects will be felt and soon, although he argues that with an installed base of $17 billion and the aforementioned strength in advanced solutions, HPS is in better shape than some others to weather the coming storm.

That’s a view echoed by EMEA v.p. and general manager, Norm Gilsdorf, as he completes his first year in post. He anticipates an acceleration of trends already in place, including a shift in refining and petrochemical capacity from the United States and Europe toward the producers in the Middle and Far East. One problem that has not yet eased is the shortage of engineering skills. Engineering graduates now have the highest starting salaries of any discipline, but that hasn’t as yet proved sufficient to meet the industry’s needs, which is why Honeywell has announced further investment in its education and training efforts through its Automation College. “There’s a war for talent, and it’s going to be a long war,” comments Gilsdorf.