Keywords: DCS, Foxboro Evo, Invensys, Networks, Process Automation, SIS, Triconex.
Invensys hosted its 2013 Foxboro & Triconex Global Client Conference last September in San Antonio, Texas. While the conference hosted a number of interesting product and industry-focused sessions, the clear highlight – and the point that generated the most excitement – was the launch of the new Foxboro Evo process automation system.
The pending acquisition of Invensys by Schneider Electric did not complicate the conference proceedings. Wisely, the launch program began with a short video by Schneider Electric CEO Jean Pascal Tricoire. Emphasizing that (as required by law) the companies operate as separate entities while the deal is pending, Tricoire nevertheless acknowledged and endorsed the new system by saying that "the innovation and forward thinking of the new DCS is typical of what we saw while looking at Invensys [during our due diligence]." With that stated, the focus of the meeting turned to the new system itself.
Gary Freburger, president of the Invensys systems business, outlined the objectives for the new system. "The three most important ways a process automation vendor can help its customers secure their future is to protect the operational integrity of their plants, enhance the operational insight of its people, and enable them to adapt easily and affordably to change." This is the clearest and most on-target mission statement for process automation that ARC has heard. It's worth memorizing. However, since "the proof is in the pudding," the next step was for Invensys to lay out the rationale and the roadmap for its new system.
What's in a Name?
The name of the system "Foxboro Evo" represents a play on the words "everyone" and "evolution." "Evo" emphases two key elements of the DCS mission statement. First is that "enhance the operational insight of its people" applies not just to control room operators, process engineers, and technicians; but to every role in the enterprise. Second is the ability of the new system to evolve easily over its lifecycle. A beta installation at a BP site in Brisbane testified to the claim, stating that the "system allowed for a much easier upgrade of all components and will ensure that we can keep our system well away from obsolescence, so that we're not required to perform any additional large-scale upgrades."
Easy future system updates might seem like a questionable value proposition for a brand new automation system, but ARC's latest DCS Worldwide Market Outlook Report notes: "The upgrade path is still seen as difficult and disruptive by many end users. The key to unlocking this potential market is to design upgrade processes with the same and perhaps even greater care than is spent on new products." Most readers will be aware of past ARC research that highlights the large installed base of outdated automation systems. This is largely due to the high perceived risks and relatively low perceived benefits of a DCS upgrade. ARC believes that Invensys is exactly on target in trying to break this vicious cycle, which today impacts every end user and every supplier in the DCS market.
Foxboro Evo Components
Invensys will begin delivering the new system at the end of 2013, with two additional sets of deliverables becoming available in 2014. Deliverables will include a new controller, a new I/O family, new and much more complete integration for the Triconex SIS, a new HMI, new network and device integration capability, a new historian, and new engineering tools and capabilities. Of course, existing Invensys systems can be upgraded to integrate with Foxboro Evo, and the new Foxboro Universal I/O module will work with both the old and new controllers. Invensys can now offer a "carrot" that ARC believes will finally motivate users to upgrade their systems – the promise of getting off the disruptive two-year DCS update cycle onto a less painful and more incremental upgrade path.
In terms of the Foxboro Evo deliverables, ARC notes these highlights:
Controller – The new controller, designated the CP280, roughly doubles the capacity of the existing controller. It employs a dual-core ARM processor, with one core left to be used in the future for different applications. These future uses will be interesting to watch, and ARC expects there may be different uses for different applications. Options might include higher controller capacity, an embedded model predictive controller, or other embedded control engines. Another change is an LCD interface on the front of the physical unit that technicians can interrogate at the controller cabinet.
HMI – The company designed the new HMI software to enhance situational awareness. The objective is to provide a broad cockpit-like view that uses elements of shape, color, and analog indication objects on a consistent basis to enable rapid evaluation by humans.
High-Density I/O – This I/O will be in addition to, rather than replace existing I/O families. The improved form factor is designed to reduce the overall system footprint.
Network Enhancement – A "Control Network Interface" (CNI) will enable plants to segment large control networks into multiple sections. These sections can fully interoperate at the control level, but be updated and managed separately. The station will also enable the control network to be extended over third-party networks (remote operations support for offshore complexes is one use case for this capability).
SIS Integration – The Triconex SIS will become a fully integrated station on the DCS control network. Engineering and management for the Triconex system will be fully integrated with the DCS. Triconex systems will continue to support dedicated safety networks for peer-to-peer SIS services.
Software – A new integrated "maintenance dashboard" provides a true maintenance HMI and is designed to replace a number of existing software tools. A new high-capacity historian is also part of the release.
Virtualization and Mobility News
While there were more sessions to attend than time to do so, ARC took away a couple of new insights. First, virtualization continues to be a technology with more applications in process automation than a Swiss Army knife. Invensys has productized its DCS virtualization capabilities. What is new to ARC is that some Invensys support centers now "spin up" virtual systems to support specific customers. That sure beats spending hours arranging duplicate hardware in a lab!
Just before the conference, Invensys announced a software alliance with Ericom for universal remote access to Invensys software applications. The majority of new Wonderware client licenses already run on servers and support RDP clients. This model will be followed throughout all of Invensys and elsewhere in process automation, ARC believes.
Invensys has made crystal clear to analysts its focus on three areas: operational integrity, operational insight, and system "future-proofing" (and in more than today's sense of the term). All three areas are top-of-mind for most end users. The challenge here is not proving that simplified and non-disruptive system updates have value. Rather, the challenge is to prove that Foxboro Evo can deliver that experience over the system lifecycle. End users can test this property of the new system on a pilot scale, and should do so, ARC believes. If Foxboro Evo succeeds in significantly improving customers' DCS lifecycle experience, it will represent as important a work of technological progress as any in the company's long history.
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