PROFInews from the Siemens Automation Summit 2007

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One of my favorite activities at events like this is discovering PROFINET applications I have not seen before.  Nicholas Heise highlighted many I had not seen in his presentation:

* Tobacco Production (China) using PROFINET CBA for flexibility with modular machines

* a Cigar Production (USA) application reduced engineering time and costs in route to flexibility, tracking, and tracing using PROFINET CBA

* Rock Crushing (USA) with PROFINET IO via wires and wirelessly for the simplified ability to add machines on the fly and, yes, flexibility

* Wastewater Treatment (USA) increased plant capacity by 30% using PROFINET which “offers flexible and scalable architecture”

* Automated Coil Transport (France) used PROFINET and PROFIsafe on AGVs for faster installation and commissioning (and flexibility, too)

* Gravel Quarry (Italy) achieved 25% reduction in water usage and 20% reduction in truck trips using PROFINET CBA

Nicholas also gets my award for the best presentation title: “Fishing for the right process fieldbus? Get caught in the PROFINET”.

Jeremy Bryant showed an Automotive Transmission Assembly application in the US as an example in his introduction to PROFINET.  They were looking for flexibility, reusability, and standardized data exchange.  PROFINET CBA achieved those goals for them.  Jeremy also introduced Roger Girard of OSRAM who presented his PROFINET application.  His challenge was undependable slip rings (or commutators as he called them).  Poor communication over them caused frequent (and expensive) downtime.  A combination of PROFIBUS, PROFINET, and wireless allowed him to make a quick changeover.  He was prepared for more downtime from the new system, but in the several years the system has been installed he hasn’t experienced any.  “It just works.”  I heard this a bunch of times during the summit – always contrasting PROFIBUS/PROFINET with competing technologies.  I can sympathize with the slip ring problem; in my plastic machinery days, we fought with them on our high-speed turret winders.  I wish we had wireless then!  (You can find more details of the OSRAM application in this Design News article.

I kind of beat the flexibility benefit to death, but it is very real.  David Humphrey of ARC emphasized flexibility through modularity as the most significant economic advantage of the technology.  He provided an analyst’s view of Industrial Ethernet.  His overview was not protocol-specific, but PROFINET is easily the top performer in this area.

Doug McNeill took wireless up to the 50,000-foot level – well above our usual 30,000-foot view of wireless in automation.  He described putting in a wireless infrastructure that provided VoIP wireless phone connectivity through a PBX, wireless PDA access to maintenance work orders and information, and automation, too.  Dr. Gerd-Urich Spohr, Siemens’ Director of Strategic Tasks Technology, in his general session presentation talked about the various kinds of wireless, differentiating sensor-level wireless from others.  This is one of the few presentations I’ve heard where this distinction is made.

“Can You Trust Safety Fieldbus?”  Charlie Fialkowski and Robert James of Siemens covered this topic in a breakout session.  Charlie is on the ISA SP 84 Working Group that is developing guidance and addressing high-level, safety fieldbus issues.  They related PROFIsafe to the Working Group topics:

* Safety Requirements

* Speed of Response

* Interoperability

* Fault Tolerance

* Security

* Operation

* Diagnostics

* Documentation

* Testability

There was some excellent material here that we’ll be incorporating into the curricula for our one-day training events.  “The standards have caught up with the technology” was the way Dennis Sadlowski, the incoming CEO of Siemens Energy and Automation expressed the safety situation.

Mr. Sadlowski also had some points to make about the competition.  He said it was unfair to compare Siemens and Rockwell.  Siemens’ growth from 2005 to 2007 exceeds the current size of Rockwell.  So this comparison is not fair… to Rockwell.  One other very subtle point revolved around the advancements Siemens has made in motor technology (improving energy efficiency): Siemens does not consider it a commodity business to be divested, but an opportunity to be invested in.  The subtle, but unstated, comparison was to Rockwell divesting its motor and drives business.

Finally, a word about the moderator of this year’s event, Tom Clark.  He began the Summit on Wednesday morning with an opening monologue which some attendees felt fell a little flat.  I think this related to the interval separating the monologue from the consumption of fermented beverages.  The interval being too great.  I personally loved his Star Trek introduction to the NASA presentation.  Of course, my cell phone ring tone is the theme from Star Trek: The Original Series (ST:TOS).  His Jeff Foxworthy imitation with “You might be an engineer if…” was hilarious.

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