Process control system upgrades pique my interest, especially with respect to the work of the Open Process Automation Forum. So, when I received this one—ABB launches the latest version of its distributed control system, ABB Ability System 800xA 6.1.1, offering increased I/O capabilities, the agility of commissioning, and enhanced security as a foundation for digital transformation—I had to ask. Roy Tanner, ABB Product Marketing helped enlighten me considering that my ABB marketing contacts are now in England and communication is less frequent.

ABB Ability System 800xA 6.1.1 represents an evolution for automated control and plant operations of tomorrow, consolidating the technology pioneer’s number one leadership position in the DCS market. By increasing industry collaboration, the latest version of ABB’s flagship DCS enables decision makers to future proof their plants, making it an easy call to make. 

I asked about customer interest in decoupling hardware and software in order to make upgrades less expensive and time consuming. Tanner replied, “I agree that there is a trend for decoupling hardware with software on multiple fronts as it brings a lot of value in various ways.” And he expands:

• One area, of course, is regarding virtualization which helps separate the PC hardware from software releases.  As you know, our industry calls for longevity and stability and virtualization can help reduce the frequency in which customers need to update their infrastructure – which is not trivial.  This is in addition to other clear maintenance and lifecycle benefits that can be realized.   

• In addition, System 800xA supports LTS versions of software that match with MS …AND for System 800xA we support both the latest and previous operating systems.  This gives our customers the ability to ‘update’ their systems online, over time rather than have the big “upgrade” which is usually scheduled with outages even though we support online-upgrades.  

• Another is where we are trying to decouple I/O hardware design and software for more efficient, flexible project execution.  As you may recall, we came out with the concept of xStream Engineering which is a fancy way of describing split -staging arrangements. We can install I/O in the field (or at an intermediate staging center or fabrication yard), configure the I/O, perform loop checks (even automated loop checks on smart devices), WITHOUT needing controller hardware site, and then send the results back to the project group doing the control strategy. This alleviates all the last minute project pressure and drama that results in increased project costs and delayed schedules.  

• Check out our most recent release of our Ethernet I/O Field Kit and what it can do for smart commissioning tasks.  That’s why you’ll see our tagline – “Ethernet I/O Field kit with xStream Commissioning”. Check out this site as you can see a video with a demo and read more.  There’s also a link to our Select I/O virtual cabinet so you can learn more about Select I/O.  

The challenge is that there is a shift in the traditional DCS architecture and even with a more modern, advanced System 800xA.  We are taking on that challenge as it also meets our customer’s digital strategy endeavors as well.  The challenge is how to help our customers reach their digitalization and IIoT goals without having to re-tool their existing automation infrastructure.  We have embarked on this journey with a motto called “innovation with continuity”. By reshaping today’s platform approach to a NOA, OPAF, Modular – like architecture, we are creating the ultimate win-win scenario which I feel is different than some of our competitors.

• For our customers … with this new approach, we can provide today’s customer with a digitalization highway without having to change their chassis, tires, engine etc.,.   

• For us … a faster time to market while keeping the process, safety, automation layer more stable.

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