I spent the first part of this week at the annual ARC Advisory Group event in Orlando. To my knowledge, I am not aware of another event where so many of the world's most significant players in the automation industry, along with many of their key executives, gather each year.
Going over my notes from the show, I was surprised to see how many company directives gravitated around the automation system/machine designer. Of course, from my POV, this could be a case of "when all you have is a hammer, everything around you starts to look like a nail." But if that is the case, then the companies I met with worked hard in advance to present the nails.
Much of what I heard will be revealed in forthcoming installments of this blog as well as in future content for Design News. But to give you a glimpse into the overall trends I saw, here's a brief rundown to give you some insight into what you can expect to see more of from many major automation suppliers.
GE Intelligent Platforms is increasingly focusing on working with machine builders to help them design and deliver more competitive products as determined by the OEM's customers' desired outputs. These outputs can range from dramatically improved energy efficiencies, higher throughputs and increased safety, among others. Working with OEMs from the initial machine design stages with vertical industry targeted packages is central to their strategy here.
Rockwell Automation continues to zero in on its GreenPrint methodology and associated products to connect disparate systems and provide a toolset for analyzing energy and control systems. The GreenPrint methodology offers energy use awareness, efficiency, optimization and aggregation. Each of these targeted deliverables can be approached in concert or separately. An interesting aspect of the aggregation module is that it allows the user to view energy and GHG emissions as part of the BOM. You can see more at: rockwellenergyevaluator.com
Invensys's directive for this year is a focus on simplicity for the user and system designer. As Hesh Kagan, portfolio architect/technology innovation at Invensys, put it: "We're looking at design from a more classical viewpoint in terms of what can be done for the user versus a product-oriented approach. We're looking at things like how to minimize wiring and reduce required interaction. Connecting the human factors and experience in working with our systems and figuring out how this works with automation and control is central to this approach."
Schneider Electric's focus continues on development around on its Struxure architecture - which is delivered via PlantStruxure, MachineStruxure and EcoStruxure. Its MachineStruxure architecture features SoMachine, an open standard software interface for machine programming. To support this, Schneider has 1,000 engineers available to help OEMs during the design phase. The architecture can be used by design and system integrators on an ad hoc basis or via catalog solutions for packaging, pumps, HVAC, etc. It's worth noting that the Struxure architecture is central to the energy management-focused retrofitting of Walmart's 147 distribution centers in the U.S.
I received a very cool, personal demonstration of Opto 22's OptoEMU delivered by Benson Hougland, Opto 22's vice president. This low-cost ($1295) device for gathering energy consumption data from electrical panels, metering devices and other equipment offers an interesting option for machine designers to include such functionality for customers who don't have/aren't interested yet in a full-blown, facility-wide energy management suite. In keeping with its ease of use and remote interaction capabilities, the OptoEMU works with Google PowerMeter for high-level energy monitoring and with Pulse Energy's software-as-a-service offering for more detailed analysis.
And last but certainly not least, Mitsubishi Electric announced the extension of its eFactory and iQ controller platforms into the process automation arena via its MELPAQ offering. The three targets for MELPAQ are MELPAC H2O for the water industries, MELPAQ EM for energy management, and MELPAQ BA for building automation. For larger scale implementations, Mitsubishi is working with Iconics to deliver the HMI front-end, while still using its GOT HMI series for smaller deployments. Like its other eFactory/iQ platform offerings, MELPAQ uses an open architecture for incorporating a range of field devices and networks (including HART, Profibus, Modbus and CC Link).
More detailed info on these and other ARC event announcements to come soon in Design News.