September 2008

Honeywell's Bolick: More users accepting wireless

Editor's note: Honeywell Process Solutions President Jack Bolick sat down with InTech Editor Gregory Hale at Honeywell's User Group meeting to talk about industry issues.

InTech: Wireless is growing and growing; why do you think folks are adopting it so quickly now?

Bolick: It is a funny thing, as competition heats up and variables changes in the mix of costs like what we have seen with oil going through the roof, when a barrel of oil was $10 and now it is $130, it prompts a lot of things like whether you send someone out to a steam trap to see whether it is open or not; whether you want to get that energy efficiency up. You bring in an enabler like wireless, and now you say you can have something out there that can sense that steam trap or know if that safety shower is on or off. And it is cheaper per node and then your numbers go up. That is now starting to happen. That is one, the economics of it. The second idea is it has been around for a while and you see people are starting to accept it.

InTech: Will the ISA wireless standard be ready by the end of the year?

Bolick: I am going on what my guys are telling me, and that is what is on record and it has got a lot of commitment from the vendors and different people. I like two things about the ISA standard. The ISA standard is pretty much represented by customers and vendors alike, and the Wireless HART thing is just vendors. There weren't very many customers and not very much dialogue. The second thing is the ISA standard is very broad; it is a true standard in my mind. The standard encompasses the mobile operator to sensors, where if I look at Wireless HART it covers just one area. (Wireless HART) is important, but it is a subset. At the end of the day, we are going to give our customers what they want, and the markets are going to decide. It just seems to me the broad standards are what are best for the industry.

InTech: IT and manufacturing: Are these two areas coming together, and are they working well together?

Bolick: They seem to be. I can see the reasoning because I started out as a process engineer years ago and when you have a volatile process, you want people with real solid domain knowledge, so I can see why there are two camps. I think it is only natural they converge to a degree now whether they fully converge that's up to policies of companies.

InTech: Boomers retiring is that more of an opportunity for automation vendors?

Bolick: I think it is. It is one of our top demographics we are looking at. While we have to live with it too, it is definitely an opportunity for us because we have automated our products and procedures to tie them into things like alarm management. You can really narrow down what the possibilities of things going wrong are and what does an operator need to focus on. Maybe you don't need as many operators or you can broaden an operator out more to look at more so they are much more diverse instead of being specialists.

InTech: Can automation help fill that void?

Bolick: To me, it is not just the Boomers leaving. Even in the developing countries, they are developing so fast they can't train up enough resources because they don't have any unless they expatriate one of the Boomers there. It is how you capture the knowledge and make it repeatable and how you take variation out. I think the bigger thing that is happening is losing that tribal knowledge where that tribal knowledge is not well documented and it is not repeatable.

InTech: What do you see as the biggest issue keeping manufacturers up at night?

Bolick: In general, it is about making a profit. It tends to fall in a few categories, it could be around compliance, that could be security and regulation or it could be what is coming from Washington and what am I going to have to do about it like clean fuel acts. It could be productivity in general and what is my next return and how am I going to make a profit. Safety is always up there. Energy management is coming more and more toward the top. Those are the big four issues. 

InTech: The idea of communicating from the plant floor to the top floor, is that happening now?

Bolick: I think bigger is going to be better over the next 20 years. I think the Wal-Marts of the world and the Toyota's … whoever has critical mass and can scale and can do it in a very systematic approach where they can take advantage of globalization where they can truly fill a niche that satisfies consumers. The classic case is Toyota and Honda. They were brilliant in what they did. They build cars in Ohio the same way they do it in Japan.

InTech: Years ago, IBM was known as being a hardware company, and it evolved into a solution provider. What do you call Honeywell?

Bolick: We mirror each other quite a bit. We both sold hardware when there were good margins. That is why we are leveraging our domain knowledge as much as we are our automation knowledge. They are doing the same thing. We actually work really well with IBM because our cultures are very similar.

InTech: So you would now call yourself a solution provider?

Bolick: Oh absolutely. You can call it solution provider; you can call it consultant, an integrator, all of them bundled into one. We solve problems.