Process industry remains a guiding light
EDITOR’S NOTE: Convergence is the word when you talk about this coming year with Rockwell Automation. The company feels if the plant floor and the IT department unite into a team, the manufacturer will come out ahead. Talking about that subject and other industry trends, Keith Nosbusch, chairman and chief executive of Rockwell, sat down with InTech Editor Gregory Hale at the company’s annual Automation Fair in Nashville, Tenn. The following is the first in a two-part series.
InTech: Rockwell’s strength has traditionally been in the discrete market; however that market is not showing any growth right now. Can your company’s initiatives in the process environment make up for that lack of growth?
Nosbusch: We certainly believe it can. In fact, that has been a core part of our strategy from when we introduced Logix (control platform). It should be able to expand to a broader market than just discrete control. What we talk about today is plant wide control: The ability to do all the control disciplines so we can reduce a customer’s total lifecycle costs. We believe process is the greatest growth opportunity for us. It can expand our markets and can support what we are doing in discrete and allow us to grow faster.
InTech: In terms of technologies, is there a vast difference in what you have as a platform from the discrete side to the process side?
Nosbusch: Not in our platform; there is no difference. That is the power. You can use the same platform, the same programming software, the same networks to do either one or both in the same plant. That is why we talk about plant-wide control. Before there used to be a different hardware platform, different I/O, different networks, different programming software, and you had all of that to deal with for training, support, and for maintenance. We have allowed customers to simplify those aspects of their business, and that is why I talk about the fact it is a lower total cost of ownership.
InTech: What are the differences in the process and the discrete sides?
Nosbusch: Probably the greatest difference is the speed and time constants. Generally, in process, you worry about temperatures or pressures and flow, and those change over time at a much different rate than a high speed packaging line where everything occurs at micro seconds as opposed to seconds or minutes. I think the speed of the applications are different. I believe in process you tend to have a more system approach to the control model as opposed to individual machines. The variables you deal with are different.
InTech: We are hearing a lot today about convergence. How has the engineer’s job changed in the past five years, and how much will it change in the next three, four, five years?
Nosbusch: I think it has changed a lot. There is more of a focus on software and how you work with software. I believe there are more people that have to understand the complexities of a bigger system, or the interactions between the mechanics and the electronics and understand the applications. I think engineers today have to have multidiscipline capabilities and knowledge and to work across a much broader portfolio of issues and areas in a facility. I think going forward, that capability will become more important and as convergence happens, which is just a natural evolution of technology. Boy, you still have people that are very deep experts in one field, and they didn’t know what was going on around them. I think you will need deep experts in the future, but you will need people that can connect and tie the different systems together and understand how they interact.
InTech: Do you see engineers becoming more IT-centric?
Nosbusch: I don’t think more IT-centric. I think they will have to understand the needs of IT and what IT requires for them to do their job. I think there will be more of an understanding of the boundary conditions and how to serve up the information so it is useful to the IT community. I think that is the value of open standards; so engineers will be able to create the right interconnects and the right interfaces to be able to relate to the world. I think there will be much more collaboration, but I think collaboration as opposed to all of sudden turning the plant floor people into IT people.
InTech: Do you find the IT people wanting to learn about the control side?
Nosbusch: I do because they understand the investment companies are making in both their automation systems and their business systems and they understand they are responsible to getting the benefits from them. And the only way that will happen is if they understand what is different about control. Before it was about “how do we isolate the two?” Now, it is “how do we combine the two?” They have to understand what it is about reliability, the maintainability, the real time, the high reliability aspects of the manufacturing plant floor.