28 September 2006
Industrial wireless at ‘tipping point’
By Jim Pinto
It’s no secret, industrial automation is slow to change. The last major growth spurts came in the 1970s with Honeywell’s distributed control systems (DCS) and Dick Morley’s programmable logic controller (PLC). Both of these are now multi-billion industry segments.
Now, 30 years later, there are vibes regarding major growth in a new arena: wireless. Already widely deployed in commercial and business applications, industrial wireless adoption suffers from delays because process control users remain paranoid about security.
While they limber up on their strategies, all the automation majors are currently using buy-out products from innovative smaller companies like Accutech and Elpro. But, as Hesh Kagan of Invensys said, “Cobbled together solutions won’t work.”
Andrew Bond wrote in his Industrial Automation Insiders’ newsletter, “The future of wireless in process automation could well turn out to be a battle between those who use it ‘incrementally’—in effect to replace copper in conventional applications—and those who use it imaginatively to reshape the applications themselves.”
Jack Bolick, president of Honeywell Process Solutions, said wireless is “at the tipping point,” and his group has ambitious plans in this new arena. Their advantage stems from their ability to utilize developments from Honeywell’s ACS Technology Labs, which is developing low-cost wireless products for building automation, where Honeywell is a leader. Industrial automation customers have different requirements, but the products have applicability across multiple markets.
Emerson, Yokogawa, Invensys, and all the other process automation majors have products in the pipelines, which they will introduce over the next few months. It remains to be seen whether something significant and “disruptive” will emerge, or just different flavors of commercial technology and private-label versions of smaller companies’ offerings.
I’m willing to bet advanced and innovative wireless products, if introduced rapidly at a breakthrough price, would sweep industrial automation markets; end-users would gobble them up. It could spark a new phase of growth that will re-energize industrial automation.
Behind the byline
Jim Pinto is an industry analyst and founder of Action Instruments. You can e-mail him at email@example.com or view his writings at www.JimPinto.com. Read the Table of Contents of his new book, Pinto’s Points at www.jimpinto.com/writings/points.html.