Opinion: Integrating process design, control systems, wireless, and instrumentation


One result of open systems in industrial automation has been the passing of the notion that an engineer has to stick with one supplier. When a control system and its instrumentation can be assembled using parts from any number of companies communicating with common standards, that's a good thing, right? In general, yes. Any equipment vendor who tries to enforce one platform by designing items incompatible with others will have a hard time competing. But one company creating a system so well integrated that users would have no desire to go anywhere else could also be beneficial. While that ideal may still be a dream, it's possible that Honeywell has moved closer to it.

Few companies make the range of products necessary to support such a thing, and fewer still have the services to guide a project from concept to operation, but Honeywell is rapidly establishing itself as a truly integrated supplier for customers in heavy process industries. The acquisition of UOP as part of Honeywell's Specialty Materials Group gives it capabilities of the big A&E firms to design processes and provide key services for customers in oil, gas, and petrochemical segments. Its experience in basic chemical manufacturing and plant design gives it capabilities that few if any other suppliers of instrumentation and control systems can match.

Honeywell Process Solutions' numerous product launches over the last couple years have brought out major advances in process control (Experion PKS R-300 for one) and especially wireless instrumentation. But these are not products that exist in isolation. Honeywell's wireless system is arguably the most ambitious currently in the industry, but the truly interesting part is how it integrates so thoroughly with the larger control system. Besides all the standard process instrumentation, capabilities like real-time location services, (RTLS using GPS with the wireless network) video, and mobile operator interfaces (using IEEE 802.11 WLAN) have earned them the distinction of offering a truly comprehensive package for a wide variety of industries. Their claim of having 35 million wireless devices installed may include everything Honeywell has ever made, but it still shows the depth of its experience, and gives the company credibility as it seeks to drive new wireless standards, including wireless HART, in its direction by offering its technology on an open standard basis.

Moreover, Honeywell is not advocating an approach that requires rip-and-replace implementation. Migration to these new technologies can be incremental, as it is demonstrating in its Specialty Materials plant in Geismar, LA. This legacy environment has become a "technology showcase" that Honeywell is willing to show to prospective customers to illustrate a thoughtful migration process. Everything is not shiny and new. In fact, some segments of the plant are still operating on Delta V systems installed by former owners, Allied Signal. The migration approach has been to fix only the things that need fixing and make improvements where economically justifiable, while keeping the plant operating profitably. It's using the same kind of approach that any number of companies might also be pursuing.

Will customers embrace this soup-to-nuts approach? It's difficult to say, but it looks like Honeywell is also prepared to take projects from companies one bit at a time just as they and other control system/instrumentation makers have for decades. It's not an all-or-nothing proposition, but its customers will likely have the most to gain by going for larger pieces of the puzzle, if they can.

— Control Engineering Daily Daily News Desk
Peter Welander
, process industries editor

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