ISA 2002: ''Last retort'' panel encourages industry activism

Chicago, IL - A well-known collection of industry leaders encouraged industry activism to improve a range of issues discussed on Oct. 23, as part of lively discussion and audience participation for ''Dick's Last Retort'' panel at ISA 2002, here.


Chicago, IL - A well-known collection of industry leaders encouraged industry activism to improve a range of issues discussed on Oct. 23, as part of lively discussion and audience participation for ''Dick's Last Retort'' panel at ISA 2002, here. Topics ranged from customers to company conservatism; pizza and beer to security; litigation to lawyers; change and technology development, research and investments.

Moderator was Dick Morley, R. Morley Inc ., author, father of the PLC, venture capitalist for technology start-ups, and foster parent to 27. Panelists were Jim Pinto of , formerly of Action Instruments; Ken Crater, president, , location of the Automation List; John M. Berra, executive vice president of Emerson Process Management unit of Emerson Electric, and chairman of the Fieldbus Foundation board; and Shuzo Kaihori, president and ceo of Yokogawa Corp. of America .

Mr. Morley set the tone seeking candid opinions as humans, rather than policy as company representatives. He also asked for questions from the audience at any time during the discussion, and many comments and questions were offered along the way by Mr. Morley and others. A sampling follows.

What's hot in technology today?

Mr. Pinto: Nanotechnology, MEMs, wireless sensing, chaos theory.

Mr. Berra : Well, FOUNDATION fieldbus technology, of course (laughter). All instrumentation and systems can do so much more to manage customer assets, increase productivity, and operations. Wireless technology will play a role. Optimizers used in refining will be used in other industries.

Mr. Morley : It's ironic I've used wireless for my automobile and television controls for years, but I can't do valves with it.

Mr. Crater : There's wireless technology everywhere on the show floor. The answer to security will come from the IT world. There are wireless protocols with security, but there are challenges in embedded applications.

Mr. Morley : There's nothing absolutely secure. We used a 1,000 PCs on the Internet to break 64-bit encryption in 46 hours.

Mr. Kaihori : Field networks will increase. A wider variety of tools will be used in different areas of the plant. Interaction between human knowledge and automation will increase. Human knowledge is still very important.

Mr. Morley : I've seen a one-electron transistor. There's now more memory than data in the world. We'll see a fully automated mini factory on a truck.

How about Microsoft .Net?

Mr. Crater : Microsoft is a moving target. It's still open about how the industry adopts Internet technology for transfer of data in a secure manner. We shouldn't limit ourselves to the visions of a single company.

Mr. Pinto : They do a lot of interesting market manipulation. Microsoft has money in the bank for R&D and marketing. Microsoft Windows made Microsoft four to five times the market capitalization of IBM at one point.

Why aren't there more software companies here?

Mr. Berra : For the same reason a lot of other companies aren't here (laughter). It's a matter of effectiveness of investment.

What percentage are you investing in R&D?

Mr. Kaihori : At Yokogawa, about 6.2%

Mr. Berra : About 4% for all of Emerson Electric; about the same as Yokogawa for Emerson Process, 10-20% for certain other areas.

Mr. Pinto : I don't know about HP now that it's part of Compaq, but they used to invest 10%, with 3% for sustaining areas, 5% for innovations, and 2% for blue-sky ideas.

Do standards help or constrain innovation?

Mr. Berra : While the standard process can be slow, tedious, and difficult, the value is very good. It helps when everyone doesn't have to do custom knitting.

Mr. Crater : Creating boundaries around the standards is best-black box to black box. Innovation gets hardening of the arteries when a group has to decide what's inside the box.

Some consider the fieldbus standard a 10-year period when manufacturers appeared to embrace open technology, while they instead dragged their feet.

Mr. Berra : There was some inability for industry to come together. Over time, end-user participation fell off. We're here, now. We made it through, and it's been worth it.

Have standards made things more or less reliable?

Mr. Crater : Security by obscurity doesn't work; we've seen that.

Mr. Morley : Hardware and software that's frozen in development helps security.

Mr. Pinto : Open is clearly the target. Nothing's 100% secure, but I can buy $100,000 of stock on my Palm wireless device. The problem with security is in our heads. There are 999 reasons not to do something. Dwell on why we CAN do something.

Mr. Crater : Internet connectivity does not equal open.

Is IT going to dictate how we do security?

Mr. Crater : We can't prevent IT bulldozing us because of the larger critical mass, but we can build technology on top of that to make it more appropriate for our industries.

Mr. Morley : With PLCs, we never named our operating systems, and IT didn't know they were computers.

With intellectual property rights, there's a certain amount of getting sued and suing that is just part of doing business. Has it gone overboard?

Mr. Berra : If my attorney were here, he'd advise me not to say anything (laughter), but he's not. A certain amount of litigation does go on, in both directions, at companies of a certain size. I think when someone does development work on something unique, they should patent and defend it. When there's a conflict with a standards process, I think a company should make that patent public for the greater good. The differentiation can occur inside the boxes.

Mr. Kaihori : We started to see those issues when we started to do a lot of business in the United States.

Mr. Pinto : The only people who benefit from litigation are lawyers. There's a deadly embrace in software. Microsoft holds few patents on its Windows technology, but will bring litigation for violations. In the fast-paced world of technology development companies protect themselves not by making patents and defending them, but staying one jump ahead in development.

What about these companies that buy patents for the sole purpose just to sue? Does there need to be a change in patent law?

Mr. Pinto : Yes, and 90% of the attorneys that do what you describe should be shot.

Mr. Berra : Patent ambulance-chasing companies are hurting the industry. With Fieldbus Foundation, there's an intellectual property policy.... it's on the Web site.

What about the future?

Mr. Pinto : Wireless, pervasive Internet, nano technology, more peer to peer.

Mr. Crater : I think we're ready for another big wave of software development. There's a lot of value there. Distributed control, embedded control, intensive information sharing. A friend of mine called it a proliferation of chicken brains.

Mr. Berra : Rather than a specific technology, I think we need to talk about a specific pain that customers feel. Any percentage gains made in the latest automation technology investment is more than lost if the plant has two or three unplanned outages during the year. There's so much more we could be doing to prevent unplanned shutdowns.

Mr. Morley : We have to remember to visit the customers and engage the technology people across the table, with a pizza and a beer.

I can see wireless for me. I move around, but my valves don't.

Mr. Kaihori: They will. I've seen new installations where the reactor moves around to save on plant piping and create more flexibility. Wireless fits in nicely there. Mr. Berra: And wires or no wires, you still need a protocol. It's just a different way of connecting communications.

Mr. Morley : During our last annual Geek Pride day, wireless was among the hot topics, along with startups, and unemployment among engineers. We'll have true wireless when we don't have to have power wired to the device.

Mr. Pinto : Or when a device uses just 1 nanoAmp, so it gets 10 years per battery.

Mr. Morley : If we want to be really politically incorrect, how about a tiny atomic battery?

Are companies in our field doing enough for revenue and profit growth? What's wrong with all of you?

Mr. Kaihori : Don't steal my job (laughter). Product development, with technology, is slower.

Mr. Pinto : Cisco had enormous profits for a while. Growth generates profit. Lower profit companies are more stable. Most automation companies are still consistently making profit.

Mr. Crater : Has it gotten boring? Should we have flying saucers by now? Who among us could have envisioned the impact of the Internet 10 years ago? Why aren't we among the glamour stocks?

Mr. Morley : I think engineers like to hide their achievements. They're not visible enough about their achievements.

Mr. Berra : Somehow our industry has get into the real value of what we all do. The same company will pay $300 an hour for an enterprise resource planning consultant right out of college, but won't pay $100 an hour for a batch consultant. In March 2003 Oracle will no longer support software; many must migrate by then. Can you imagine if we did that with process control systems--you'd lynch us up (laughter).

Change? Why doesn't it happen faster in our industry?

Mr. Pinto : Analysts are used to trying to predict the future by seeing the past. Like Dick has said in the past, 'You can't drive while looking in the rear-view mirror.' It's human nature not to change until you're forced to. A lot of things are forcing change. When you're laid off, you change fast.

Mr. Morley : My dad always said not to let the game play you.

Mr. Berra : I've seen a lot of change in the industry. I'm honored to be in it, I've been having the time of my life with a lot of great people, and don't think there's gloom and doom. We have to be open. We can predict what the future is going to be by inventing it.

Mr. Morley : There's a saying that you shouldn't complain about the boss until you've addressed your own problems. We also say never invest in a company, if you can do a market survey of their technology--that means someone else is already there.

Mr. Kaihori : Everything is more global than ever. We have to look at how we manage customers, their issues, and growth.

Among other trends identified: more outsourcing of non-core areas, and perhaps more outreach to markets where industrial instrumentation could help (like supermarkets, for instance).

Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Mark T. Hoske, editor in chief

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