Emerson Exchange and IIoT

By Harry Forbes

Industry Trends

Here are three IIoT and automation take-aways from last week’s Emerson Exchange 2017.  The event is always very content-rich. Besides cramming in as much content as possible, ARC took advantage of 1-on-1 time generously offered by Emerson Automation Solutions executives. It has been a year since the announcement of Emerson’s Plantweb digital ecosystem, their branded Industrial IoT offerings.

Emerson’s Plantweb Insight Applications

First, Emerson’s key differentiator in the process automation market is its huge portfolio of measurement and valve products.  Emerson leads this market in many, many segments. Emerson leverages its market share lead into innovation.  Examples of such innovation are measurement products featuring non-intrusive sensing and WirelessHART.  I’ve been following the process wireless sensing market for years and no other automation firm has made comparable investments in this area.  This big lead in measurements and valves forms a daunting “moat” for Emerson’s competitors.

The vast majority of field measurements employ the ancient HART protocol which can make them difficult to reach and integrate from an IIoT standpoint. Why? Because in addition to HART’s inherent limitations (1200 bits/second. Yes, you read that right.) HART data usually must pass through a DCS to a device management software application.  End users almost never have enough time and expertise to maintain this connectivity over their installed base of field devices, which can be tens of thousands for a large complex.  Furthermore, many of the applications are standalone and cover devices for just one process unit or DCS.

This sad situation spells opportunity for Emerson.  First, via wireless sensing where the connectivity is much easier.  Second, via their Plantweb applications.  Making field instrument data more widely available should be an Emerson strong suit.

Second, Emerson introduced a new DeltaV controller targeted a skid-mounted equipment.  In our most recent market studies of the DCS market the integration of skid-mounted control systems has been a pain point for end users and EPC firms.  The new controller is designed to address this issue (for DeltaV users, at least).

Third, Emerson has dropped out of the Open Group’s Open Process Automation Forum, and I wanted to understand their reasoning.  What I took away was that Emerson doesn’t believe that process industry end users will prefer a world where their process automation consists of thousands of smart devices integrated by a few protocols and a (hopefully) very savvy system integrator.  Instead, Emerson believes their customers would prefer to rely on 1-2 strategic suppliers across all their plants.

The correct answer depends on the degree of difficulty future end users experience with either path. Emerson may well be right about this, but my bet is that the management of this kind of widely distributed system will become much simpler and more standardized in the mid-term future.  It had better become much simpler, if Open Process Automation systems are to succeed. We shall see.

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