News analysis: Annual ARC Forum generates discussions over role of "open"

Orlando, Fla. - The annual gathering of automation suppliers and users sponsored by analyst firm ARC Advisory Group generated even more discussion than usual-especially in the hallways after the presentations. ARC president, Andy Chatha, gathered an impressive array of industry leaders to address the almost 400 attendees on the state of the automation industry today.


Orlando, Fla . - The annual gathering of automation suppliers and users sponsored by analyst firm ARC Advisory Group generated even more discussion than usual - especially in the hallways after the presentations. ARC president, Andy Chatha, gathered an impressive array of industry leaders to address the almost 400 attendees on the state of the automation industry today. What generated both questions in the forum and discussions in the halls was whether the major suppliers were ever going to provide 'open' solutions.

The conference opened with addresses by five senior executives with a sixth joining the panel for a question and answer session.

Don Davis, ceo of Rockwell Automation, led by relating that he was proud of the decisions made to restructure Rockwell into a focused automation company. His message was that he was seeking balance for the company and that automation users should as well. A balanced automation business strategy includes products, networks, and support. The key challenge facing the industry is information integration.

Don Aiken, president of ABB (North America), challenged the audience to optimize their operations through using intellectual assets. They should also realize that suppliers have different areas of expertise and should choose automation partners correctly. His premise was that a manufacturer should choose one automation supplier and stick to them, since the cost of switching is so high. This statement provoked several questions at the end of the session, as well as discussions among users later.

Peter Martin, Invensys vp, challenged listeners to understand their key performance indicators (KPIs) so that engineers can talk the language of finance when selling automation projects internally. Performance-based automation focuses on a measure, analyze, improve cycle.

Terry Sutter, new president of Honeywell Automation Control Systems, related how the company has reorganized and refocused after the defeat of the GE purchase. Honeywell uses Six Sigma for all business processes to assure quality and continuous improvement. It also seeks close relationships with its customers.

John Berra, president of Emerson Process Management, stressed the need for engineers and automation providers to move their emphasis from just technology orientation to solving business problems. 'Remember,' he said, 'the goal of automation is to improve the performance of the plant.' A lot of money has been spent on software for applications at the top of the enterprise, but without good, validated data from instruments at the point of the process, it's all just worthless data. We need to get XML and Microsoft's .Net to do above the process what HART and FOUNDATION Fieldbus have done for the process level.

Reinhold Achatz, vp of Siemens Energy & Automation, joined the panel and pointed out that 'component-based' automation, that is, building automation out of reusable software objects means decentralized intelligence for the factory floor. The company remains committed to open platforms.

These summaries will be expanded in later Control Engineering articles and a Webcast coming in May, where issues raised by the presenters will be probed in more detail.

Later in the conference, Andy Chatha discussed Web services as the technology to watch for this year, as well as the technology most likely to enable information exchange. He defined Web services as an automated communication between software applications. XML is its language.

Chantal Polsonetti, ARC vp, reiterated the firm's view that Ethernet will be the networking backbone of the future and, in fact, is here already. Typical of the industry, the process side is much more organized than the discrete side of manufacturing. Process manufacturing has settled on FOUNDATION Fieldbus HSE, a publish/subscribe implementation built on its instrument level network. On the discrete side, several application layer protocols, each supported by a major automation provider, are competing. EtherNet/IP, built on the CIP protocol of ControlNet and DeviceNet, provides for both controller to controller messaging as well as controller to I/O module messaging. ProfiNet is an object oriented implementation built on COM and DCOM technologies and sponsored by Profibus Trade Organization. Meanwhile IDA, a primarily European organization led by companies like Schneider Electric, Jetter, Kuka, and others, have settled on a real-time publish/subscribe implementation based on NDDS protocol by Real-Time Innovations.

ARC also expects wireless communications to become widely used in manufacturing, but, here again, there are several competing standards.

Mr. Achatz, speaking as vp of OPC Foundation, pointed to the achievement announced at last fall's ISA show where representatives of all the major fieldbus organizations stood on the same platform and agreed on something. That 'thing' was OPC DX. This protocol promises a way to communicate across networks server to server. A demo is planned for April's Hanover Fair in Germany.

The main 'take away' for attending engineering managers and engineers was the advice to remember the goal of automation and sell projects internally based on business objectives not just to have the latest technology.

There is still a tension in the industry between implementing open standards while maintaining some proprietary competitive advantages. Users also have some conflicting desires. They want to both narrow the number of different vendors they use while at the same time not getting locked in to one supplier and finding themselves at its mercy. Users also want to be able to use 'best in breed' products from another supplier and have it work seamlessly within the main automation system through use of open standards. Seeing these visions come to reality has its hills and valleys, but all automation suppliers are cautiously moving to automation platforms that are increasingly, albeit painfully slow in the eyes of some, open and interoperable with other systems.

Stay tuned for more on this issue, and let me know what you think.

Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Gary A. Mintchell, senior editor

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