ExxonMobil VasserThe 2016 edition of Schneider Electric’s Foxboro/Triconex/Modicon user group meeting attracted a fair number of people. This is amazing given that advanced notice wasn’t very advanced.

It’s always great catching up with some of the industry’s thought leaders, as well as getting a glimpse of new and coming products. Among the themes that came across strongly included “security by design” and focus on customer’s assets not just control and automation.

The acquisition has turned out pretty much as I thought it would. Schneider Electric has brought financial stability and investment in research and development. Organization stability is getting there, but people are still moving around a little. The only surprise I had was Schneider’s view of software. I figured that since Schneider Electric had very little history with software that it might shop the division. In fact, the Aveva reverse acquisition (or whatever) seemed to prove the point. Yet, hallway conversations universally pointed to a different reality. Schneider senior management sees great possibility for its new software assets. Since one of its competitors just renamed its upcoming event by removing the word “software”, I find this a significant competitive move.

Different Project Ideas

In an interesting twist, the opening keynote was given by a customer—Sandy Vasser of ExxonMobil. Vasser had presented his vision at the ARC Forum in Orlando in February, so I had an idea what was coming—a challenge to Schneider Electric, and indeed all suppliers. The oil & gas industry faces many challenges and it is time to think differently about traditional automation practices and technologies. The key is lowering the cost of projects and time to first oil.

ExxonMobil Universal IO

A new approach is required:

Reduce customization

  • push customization to the software, use standard hardware
  • eliminate the need for project specifications
  • eliminate the need for the infrstructure to support customized solutions

Reduce complexity simplify designs

  • reduce the component count and the number of divergent systems
  • take full advantage of the capability of the installed systems
  • reduce the number and simplify interfaces

Eliminate simplify or automate processes

Mitigate the effects of dependencies

Reduce the amount of automatically generate documentation

Take managed risks accept some compromises

Develop and enable trust with our suppliers and our contractors

Key enablers:

  • Smart configurable I/O in standard field junction boxes
  • Virtualization (runtime and engineering) completely separate hardware so can test software without hardware
  • Customization pushed from hardware to software
  • Autodetect/Autointerrogate/Autoconfigure/Autoenable/Autodocument I/O

New challenges for our key suppliers

  • control systems age in place
  • system architectures made simple
  • systems consist of building blocks that can be easily upgraded to current technologies
  • upgrades or repairs will not be intrusive, disruptive, or unnecessarily costly
  • rip and replace will never be necessary
  • control system selection for a facility will be for life; fully supported and sustained

We have heard Vasser’s challenge before. But this reinforcement shows how serious ExxonMobil is about moving project planning and implementation to a new level. Faster time to start up and greatly reduced cost. The challenge for suppliers such as Schneider Electric is to bring what the customer wants and still make money. If the customer drives the supplier to a point where profits are just not there, then innovation will cease. But a good challenge from a supplier can spur innovation. We’ll see.

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