Control Engineering's Process Control Newsletter for October 2000

06/04/2002


In this issue:


Fieldbus war, or first battle?

The fieldbus wars re-erupted a few months ago when Endress+Hauser (E+H) accused Fisher-Rosemount (F-R) of being unfair in how they share fieldbus-related patents with the rest of the industry.

Following this story got me wondering-there are over 120 FOUNDATION Fieldbus members, so if this is such a big deal, why aren't companies like ABB, Foxboro, Honeywell, Rockwell, Siemens, etc. backing E+H's play? What possible reason would keep these companies from ganging up on F-R and making them say 'uncle?' Could it be that F-R is not the only company that's holding patents related to fieldbus technology?

It didn't take long to learn that, sure enough, other companies do hold, and/or have applied for a variety of patents they believe give them a competitive advantage in their fieldbus product development endeavors. So, what appears to be a war between E+H and F-R could actually be the first of many battles.

In the meantime, the civilian population (read: end users) are the ones getting hurt-just like it's been since 1984 when we all believed competing companies would set aside their own interests and hammer out a standard that delivered a single interoperable fieldbus.

Now don't get me wrong-I favor the free enterprise system and I recognize companies have a right to develop and protect intellectual properties. I'm not calling for an unconditional surrender of all fieldbus patents by all manufacturers. But I'm extending the recommendation Dick Caro (ARC Advisory Group, Dedham, Mass.) made in his September 6th 'ARC Insights' report to include all manufactuers.

I'm recommending all manufacturers 'unconditionally surrender all patents necessary to implement basic fieldbus technology, including the coexistance of multiple fieldbuses on the same physical media, for the term of the patents.' Who wants to go first?

To read CE 's ongoing coverage of this latest fieldbus battle, visit:

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September reader feedback on quality and service experiences

Last month I asked readers to share their opinions about the impact on product quality and customer service as a result of the many control and automation company mergers, acquisitions, etc. It was as if a bunch of people had been waiting for someone to ask their opinion. I'm sorry to report I did not receive a single positive response. The complaints can't be traced to one or two suppliers, an industry segment, or a product type.

Nope, it appears just about every supplier is failing to meet customer expectations for quality and customer service.

There is a customer belief that mergers and acquisitions among the motor control and variable frequency drive companies are causing a decline in product quality, a proliferation of incompatible products, and a lack (downsizing loss) of knowledge of what users want and need.

One reader shared how he had selected three bidders for a project, only to learn at the eleventh hour that one of the bidders was about to acquire one of the other bidders. This caused a need to select a new third bidder and start over. Before you dismiss this as an unfortunate situation that happened to some small company, it was not. This happened to a customer company with over $200 million per year in sales. Those kinds of customers are increasingly difficult to find and even more difficult to replace or win back.

Another area receiving a significant number of complaints is the lack of software quality and customer support for Microsoft NT-based devices. The DCS (distributed control system) era established customer expectations for product quality and customer support that customers say is not being met as we enter the Microsoft NT era. And if you think you can rely on your favorite integrator to supply that expertise, responses indicate you better think again.

I can also report that while a particular board-level computer company is immersed in working through some recent acquisition integration issues that apparently don't include quality and support, their customers are walking away. But that's okay-the company's press release said this acquisition will help them gain market share. Sounds like they'll need it.

There were some respondents who aren't looking to change suppliers, but you could sense the frustration when they describe the hoops they had to jump through just to obtain contact information on products produced by companies acquired two or three times, followed by a couple of division spin-offs. As the saying goes, 'Make it easy to do business, and the world will beat a path to your door.' Are you listening, mega-vendors?

I wasn't surprised at what I heard, and I'm guessing you aren't either. The good news is incentives that helped fuel many of these mergers ends next year. The bad news is, there is no assurance the quality and support problems will be addressed before some bean counter decides these companies are too large, too diversified, or too and we start hearing about 'demerging.'

 

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Webcast reader feedback

Last month I asked for opinions about webcasts. For those companies conducting or considering a webcast, here's what viewers say they expect.

Webcasts need to:

 

  • Support online interactivity with viewers (i.e., Q&A);

  • Include recognized authorities as presenters, panel members, speakers, etc.;

  • Avoid 'talking-head' video;

  • Address industry-relevant topics;

  • Occur on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday; and

  • Last about 40 to 50 minutes.

A few respondents/viewers said their companies do not permit webcast participation because of server and network loading issues, thus they must use slower modem connections or view archives. These viewers would prefer the webcast provider offer the option to download the presentation file, turn off the talking-head video and retain the audio (with presentation advancement queues) and online interactivity rather than sit through a herky-jerky presentation.

 

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October in Control Engineering

Cover: Simulation Software in the Real World
This collection of short stories illustrates how and where the use of high-fidelity simulations has improved user company performance.

Hybrid Communications
HART networking: Here's a look at the original and widely used digital-over-analog networking protocol. How the system works, advantages and limitations, who uses it, and its future will be discussed.

Differential Flowmeters
Differential flowmeters continue to provide reliable flow measurement for many applications, despite the number of more sophisticated devices available. Jesse Yoder of Flow Research takes a look at the technologies available and how and when to apply them.

Distributed Control and I/O Strategies
Engineers' drive to shrink control real estate spur control trends that include embedded controllers, modular I/O modules with intelligent communications, and fieldbuses. This article discusses technologies and products that enable distributed control, and the benefits provided to manufacturing.

How to Build an Industrial Network
Gain practical advice on how to design and construct an industrial (fieldbus) network.

Product Focus: Board-Level Products
Original Control Engineering research examines trends and user issues with board-level products. Recent product descriptions from leading suppliers of boards used in automation and control will be included, along with research results.

Back to Basics: Feedforward in Motion
Learn how feedforward gains let you tune for faster performance without creating motion system instability. Coverage will include which forms of feedforward are common and how to set them, as described by an industry expert.

 

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Dave's Public Service Announcement

Those who know Action Instruments likely know its founder, Jim Pinto. Mr. Pinto has been a long time supporter and critic of activities in and around control and automation. Frequently, Mr. Pinto uses poetry as his communication vehicle, including a poem criticizing the IEC eight-part fieldbus standard.

Given the latest fieldbus battles (see 'Fieldbus war, or first battle?' above), perhaps Mr. Pinto will put pencil to paper and come up with yet another fieldbus ditty.

Visit jimpinto.com to lighten your day and learn something at the same time.

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