Wow and Whew!

The PTO General Assembly Meeting was, as usual, an exciting (wow) and exhausting (whew) experience.  And interesting as well.  You’ll find reports from Peter Welander (1, 2) and Gary Mintchell (1, 2, 3) in their blogs and magazines, but here are my conclusions from the meeting, gleaned from presentations and hallway conversations:

Fieldbuses are mainstream technology

PROFIBUS is the most widely-accepted fieldbus

PROFINET is growing rapidly

We celebrated shipping 20,000,000 PROFIBUS nodes.  That goal was reached in April, a year or so ahead of our projections.  That led us to state our next goal of 30,000,000 expected during 2009 even if growth tapers off from its current 25% per year to 0%.  (I suppose it could slip into 2010 if annual shipments decline, but personally I find that scenario hard to imagine.)  The story here is not the raw numbers, it’s the continuing growth.

There was some discussion around the fieldbus market share pie chart we showed.  It does not include HART, although that generated no reaction.  (HART is not a fieldbus; don’t get me started on that topic again.)  There was some discussion over the absence of Modbus: “Is it a fieldbus or just a messaging system?”  “Modbus nodes are impossible to count!”  Most of the discussion centered on the absence of CANopen and AS-i.  ARC reminded us that these are device-level networks, not fieldbuses.

All of this numbers stuff pointed to the reality of fieldbus acceptance.  One of our members was asked about their sales of direct-wired vs. fieldbus instruments.  No surprise that 95% of MRO orders are 4-20mA (the majority with HART).  Existing installations are overwhelmingly direct wired.  We knew that.  The surprise for me was that while almost all new project orders begin with an inquiry about fieldbuses, less than half end that way!  In follow up conversations after the meeting discussions, I got more data.  Only about 40% end up with fieldbus capability, up from 25% a year or two ago.  Up is good, but why are fieldbuses not universally installed?  Anecdotal reasons: One, the large engineering firms are still reluctant to apply a fieldbus.  Does this relate to the way they make their money?  Two, inquiry becomes investigation; fieldbus is investigated and found too difficult.  More likely with FF than PROFIBUS PA?  (I’m repeating what I’ve heard here.  I’ve never personally installed a fieldbus unless you count DH+.)  I’m not trying to be negative about FF; I think we share a common challenge of promoting fieldbus use.  What do you think?  Why doesn’t every new project use a fieldbus?  Process and discrete!

PROFINET presentations centered on application stories and competitive analysis.  The nice thing about the application stories was that we have some for safety and drives in addition to peer-to-peer and IO.  As far as I can tell none of the other Industrial Ethernet technologies even have shipping product for safety and only EtherCat and Powerlink for motion control; at least I could not find any in their online catalogs.  The competitive analysis was well-received.  The great thing about presenting this analysis to this group is that they are all knowledgeable about the competitive technologies.  Karsten Schneider of the PROFI Interface Center presented this topic and asked anyone who found an error to jump up and correct him if they spotted something amiss.  There was one item found regarding the number of nodes that could be connected with Modbus TCP.   So Karsten has to investigate and possibly change that one value.

Other news from the GAM:

Gary Mintchell presented the keynote: “Marketing as a Conversation” highlighting blogging and social networking technologies that apply to industrial automation.  To prove his point he posted meeting photos on Flickr.

Khek Dengmanivanh presented two user applications.  According to survey results to-date, Khek’s was the most well-received presentation.  (User applications always are!)

SUE and Polly did make an appearance, but the big-name attendee was Karl Weber, (grand)father of PROFIBUS.

There was an update on OPC UA from Tom Burke, a market analysis from Harry Forbes of ARC, and lots of news and reports from PI and the technical working groups.  Wolfgang Stripf presented on IO-Link, Application Profiles, and PROFIsafe.  Wireless was covered by Harry Forbes of ARC and Hunter Harrington of the PROFI Interface Center.

The survey also says that the Wednesday evening entertainment (Casino Night) was fun, but there are a lot of suggestions to return to Jillian’s next year.

Scary revelation from a poll of members present – NONE use RSS.  RSS is one of those things I can longer imagine being without.

Preceding the General Assembly Meeting we offered a class and a workshop.  The PROFINET IRT Class on Monday afternoon highlighted the “not just for motion control anymore” functionality of IRT.  IRT, short for Isochronous Real Time, guarantees delivery of data regardless of other traffic (like TCP/IP) on the network.  The PROFINET Developer Workshop on Tuesday was well attended – all but one of the attendees flew in for the event.  Our next PROFINET Developer Workshop is October 23 in Boston.