Opinion: Living in a legacy world, or where is “real-life” technology?


I was recently at the ARC Collaborative Manufacturing Strategies Forum in Orlando. This has become one of the largest gatherings of industrial automation companies where they spend a lot of time talking to each other and to a small but influential group of end users. One of the functions was put on by Emerson Process Management with John Berra, division president and Peter Zornio, their new chief strategic officer.

As part of their event, they had a Q&A period so attendees could pose questions to these two industry leaders. The first question asked why a company should upgrade a legacy DCS to fieldbus networking. The second asked how a company could use financial metrics to justify automation projects. I suspect Berra and Zornio were both disappointed that the inquiries were thinking about legacy topics and not asking about the latest, most exciting technologies. Jane Lansing, their VP of marketing, was collecting question cards from the audience, and I am sure there was some temptation to put these two aside in favor of something more interesting. Fortunately, she went ahead and asked.

Rather than discussing the answers, I find the nature of the questions more interesting. Those two users reinforced something we see in many different ways—that companies may not be as concerned with the latest technologies as providers and those of us in the press might desire. Certainly some manufacturers want the most up-to-date of everything, but most move more slowly, adopting technology incrementally and tending to stay with what works. Technical publications, like Control Engineering , like to celebrate the newest technologies. We tend to ignore "mature" products, even though most plants depend on them.

With that in mind, I would like to begin a series of discussions in both this newsletter and its sibling, Instrumentation & Sensors Monthly , that will consider topics relevant to legacy technology. You will see material related to products and methods going back as far as 15 years. It may be old news, but if it is something you have to deal with today, it's just as relevant as it would have been in 1993.

If you have an area that you would like to see discussed, please let me know. Your participation and comments will determine the direction this takes. PWelander@cfemedia.com

Control Engineering daily news desk
Peter Welander , process industries editor

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