ISA Impressions

If you remember the glory days of the ISA Show like I do the current incarnation is really disappointing.  It’s telling that National Manufacturing Week has moved out of McCormack to Rosemount while the Allen Bradley Automation Fair is in McCormick.  User gatherings rule and the shows drool.  Look at the recent attendance reports from Emerson’s (and other vendor’s) recent user gatherings.

This year’s show seemed more crowded but I think that was because the floor space is much reduced, even from the original plans for this year.  ISA filled in some of the space with “pods,” mini-theaters for presentations.  (These pods did not seat as many as the Wonderware booth theaters of yesteryear.)  The booth space was further limited by the non-vendor stuff:

   ISA store

   Attendee lounge

   ISA office

   7 pods

   The student competition tent

   Bus station theater

   Game booth

   Golf swing analyzer booth

Missing this year were most of the fieldbus organizations’ booths.  PTO did not exhibit for the second year.  FF was missing for the first year.  No ODVA.  No OPC.  AS-I was here, but for the last time.  HART was here touting WirelessHART. 

In a reversal of expectations, the bigger companies had smaller booths and the smaller companies had larger booths.  Small booths were spotted for Invensys, Siemens, ABB, GE Fanuc, and Yokogawa.  I saw no presence at all from Emerson or Rockwell.  The largest two booths appeared to be Phoenix Contact’s and WAGO’s – both PTO members and both promoting PROFIBUS and PROFINET (and a few other busses, too).  In fact, there were a lot of PTO members there with booths including some of our newest members – drawn in by PROFINET.

There was no really big news that I heard about.  All the major press activity seems to center on user meetings or Hanover Fair or SPS Drives now.  Not to say that I didn’t see some neat new products.  ProSoft was showing a new weather resistant wireless access point.  They showed it in a fountain with constant water flow over it.  It’s important to remember in the midst of all the wireless hoopla, questions, conflicts, and complaints surrounding the show that PROFINET as a wireless backbone is a well-established open standard.  (Because PROFINET uses standard IEEE 802.3 wired Ethernet, it inherently works on standard IEEE 802.11 wireless Ethernet.)  Continuing our tradition of cooperating with other organizations in support of common goals, we are working with Fieldbus Foundation and HART to ensure commonality of wireless solutions for individual devices.  (Read more here.)

Phoenix Contact also had some interesting wireless products.  In addition to the wireless access point products for PROFINET wireless Ethernet, they were showing some “wireless backplane” products.  These allowed separate clusters of IO to be linked wirelessly.  I was told that more than individual sensors connected wirelessly Phoenix Contact expects to see “puddles” of IO.  I think this is probably a realistic view for almost all applications.  Phoenix Contact also has an impressive array of Ethernet switches, including some that are recognized as PROFINET devices.  This allows the overall PROFINET system to alarm on switch and network problems.

On the unusual side, I noticed some Ethernet switch vendors have created special switches for Ethernet/IP.  Unlike PROFINET which can use any managed or unmanaged switch, Ethernet/IP requires a managed switch option called IGMP.  This feature limits the spread of the broadcast floods that Ethernet/IP unleashes.

I did not get to many of the conference sessions other than the one Mike A and I conducted providing an overview of PROFIBUS and PROFINET.  There were about 35-40 attendees.  This was more than we expected.  If you missed this session, view our PROFINET overview webinar in the archive.

And speaking of exceeding expectations, “Go D-backs!