PICMG Announces Release of New InterEdge Standard

  • Targeted at Open, Modular Process Control Systems
  • Modular compute, switch, and I/O architecture enables interoperable standard for industrial PCs, PLCs, and distributed control systems.
  • Supports IEC 61499 and IEC 61131 for compatibility with a wide range of automation systems.
  • Hot-swappable modules can be replaced or upgraded while the system is running, minimizing downtime and maintenance costs.

I am trying to understand this one. Reading it for the third time, I guess the Open Process Automation Forum decided that one of its defined components among its “standard of standards” needed to be a standard. Although this “open, modular process control system” sounds eerily familiar. I hope it does help move the industry forward.

­­PICMG, the consortium for open hardware specifications, announced the release of InterEdge, a modular architecture for process control systems (PCS). The IEC 61499 and IEC 61131-compatible InterEdge specification promises to revolutionize the industry with an interoperable, multi-vendor alternative to proprietary Industrial PCs (IPCs), Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), and Distributed Control Systems (DCSs).

Given that the OPAF initiative was begun by ExxonMobil engineering leaders, this quote is informative:

“Business needs evolve at an ever-increasing rate,” said Francisco Garcia, Americas Regional Instrument Lead at ExxonMobil Technology & Engineering Company and member of the InterEdge technical working group. “InterEdge delivers an interchangeable base hardware standard for industrial manufacturers looking to adapt to changing business needs. As a result, providers can deploy and scale dedicated physical assets and focus on value-added software and services.”

And from the press release:

InterEdge defines a vendor-neutral, open standard for edge computing and I/O module hardware. It segments hardware into Compute Modules, Switch Modules, and I/O Modules. All of these modules are connected via a common backplane, enabling easy customization and expansion of industrial automation functions.

An overview of the specification and an architecture diagram are available here. The full specification is available to purchase. 

And the reason for the standard:

By replacing proprietary edge devices, InterEdge eliminates vendor lock-in, simplifies integration and maintenance, and enables online upgrades, all of which contribute to significant cost savings.

Honeywell Releases Significant Updates to Experion Process Knowledge System

It is inevitable. I receive a press release from Honeywell Process. This one regards the Experion PKS R530 process knowledge system. Upon reading, I think, oh, well, some incremental improvements. Then I talk with my main product interface, Joe Bastone. After digesting the output of his firehose, I see how advanced Honeywell the technology has become. 

Honeywell announced February 5, 2024 it is driving new automation capabilities into Experion Process Knowledge System (PKS), with Release R530. The technology update integrates new features that strengthen existing control room installations through both firmware and software upgrades and supports Honeywell’s alignment of its portfolio to three compelling megatrends: automation, the future of aviation and energy transition.

Evidently Honeywell corporate has identified three parts of a vision and is placing the updates to Experion into the automation bucket. That’s OK, but I think it does a disservice to the platform if one defines automation too narrowly or traditionally.

The Experion PKS Highly Integrated Virtual Environment (HIVE) forms the foundation that R530 builds upon.

The Experion PKS R530 update introduces Experion Remote Gateway, which further enables remote operations by providing a browser-independent method to simplify monitoring and operations. Additionally, the updated Ethernet Interface Module allows for Experion PKS HIVE integration of smart protocols while optimizing the processing load of the C300 controller. These features ensure the best possible security, reliability and performance for customers.

The press release slipped in a sentence about the updated Ethernet Interface Module. I had about 30 minutes with Bastone. He picked two key features to discuss. This was one. I cannot do justice to his entire discussion. Go to the tech pages. This module eliminates a need for controller peer-to-peer communications. “It changes how communications are done.” It allows non-Honeywell I/O to communicate into the I/O HIVE. It simplifies installation and eliminates junction boxes. Check that one out.

Experion PKS offers industry-leading flexibility in automation system design, engineering, deployment, and ongoing maintenance. Using Experion PKS Control HIVE can reduce controller count by up to 50% and system cabinet count by up to 80%, compared to traditional automation solutions. Experion PKS Control HIVE also minimizes manual interventions to ensure smoother and safer operations, reducing the risk of unplanned downtime which can impact users’ bottom line.

Back to Bastone. Imagine you have a plant. There are five areas with their own controllers. It’s all so logical and clean when new. But you have to add something at the edge of one of the areas. You go looking for the closest junction box. That may connect to a different controller. The way Control HIVE works, that can be OK. But go several years and several projects down the road. Now you may have a complex mess. But the HIVE decouples controllers and applications. The C300 can run two apps at the same time. Now if you are in a primary/backup architecture and a primary goes out, you have the backup. But the backup has no backup. So, Control HIVE can look for a partner and find a new backup. This decoupling has, in effect, added resiliency to the overall system while reducing the total number of controllers needed.

What has amazed me is that Honeywell has developed almost everything that the original designers of OPAF envisioned—except for total interoperability. They were looking for totally generic hardware so that any supplier’s products could be seamlessly inserted on upgrades. That’ll probably never happen. But Honeywell’s decoupling and HIVE technology provides a lot of upgrade capability and modernizes the architecture.

Emerson Chosen as Automation Partner For Korea’s Largest EV Lithium-Ion Battery Recycler

I seldom report when an automation supplier gets a project “win.” In this case, I’m interested in the battery ecosystem as the owner of a new electric vehicle. Battery recycling is one of the few recycling programs that actually work. I pick up about 40 lbs. of used batteries a week from our community to take to the county recycling center. The large batteries in our EVs will need to be recycled with the crucial elements reclaimed in the near future. This is cool.

Emerson has been selected by Korea’s SungEel HiTech Co., Ltd., a specialist in lithium-ion battery recycling, to provide automation solutions in support of sustainable production and operational efficiency goals at the newest of three lithium-ion recycling plants located at SungEel’s Hydro Center complex in Gunsan, Jeollabuk-do.

Through the combination of Emerson’s process automation technology and SungEel HiTech’s unique battery recycling methods, the collaboration aims to establish a robust resource cycle that will help enable a more stable supply of battery materials for electric vehicles in pursuit of bolstering the world’s overall production capacity.

“Our automation portfolio and expertise are empowering our customers to optimize and scale the circular economy for critical battery components, a key step toward meeting global net-zero targets head-on,” said Mike Train, Emerson’s chief sustainability officer.

SungEel HiTech operates a comprehensive battery recycling ecosystem across nine global locations, including a recycling park for collection and pretreatment and a hydrometallurgical battery material production facility at the Gunsan Hydro Center. The upcoming third Hydro Center plant will be triple the size of the first two, contributing to increased production capacity that can supply raw materials for approximately 400,000 electric vehicles each year.

“As the battery recycling market continues to grow, the significance of automation solutions to improve productivity and process efficiency is increasingly apparent,” said ChenFai Chung, vice president and general manager for Emerson in North Asia. “We are proud to work with an innovative leader like SungEel HiTech to contribute to the advancement of battery recycling technology.”

Emerson will supply advanced instrumentation and valve solutions that provide the high levels of performance, accuracy and reliability required for the advanced proprietary hydrometallurgical processes that SungEel HiTech uses. The package will include a variety of flow, level, pressure, and pH sensors and transmitters, as well as robust control valves that are critical to safe and reliable operations.

100% Hydrogen-Capable Gas Meter

Technology is finally catching up to the dream of using hydrogen to fuel our vehicles in place of fossil fuel. You will see commercial vehicle fleets switching over in only a few years. Honeywell leads in many of the technologies needed to bring hydrogen into the mainstream.

This news concerns the launch (Honeywell claims world’s first) of its 100% hydrogen-capable diaphragm gas meter. The Honeywell EI5 smart gas meter, which has been successfully piloted in the Netherlands, is part of a broader initiative to align with the region’s goals outlined in the European Green Deal.

The new gas meter is capable of measuring both hydrogen and natural gas, providing adaptability across the European continent. Once installed, these meters eliminate the need for future replacements, even as networks transition to hydrogen, thereby reducing long-term costs and enhancing operational sustainability. The EI5’s design and functionality have been tested and certified by Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB), ensuring their safety, accuracy, and preparedness for the evolving energy landscape.

“Honeywell’s hydrogen-capable meters are key to facilitating a seamless transition to hydrogen energy across European utility networks,” said Kinnera Angadi, Chief Technology Officer of Smart Energy and Thermal Solutions at Honeywell. “We’re enhancing operational efficiency with meters that are ready for the future, helping our customers stay ahead in a market that’s swiftly transitioning toward greener energy solutions.”

In the Netherlands, the gas meters will be delivered to Enexis Group, one of the country’s largest gas distributors, following a pilot project in Wagenborgen.  This pilot project is transforming residential homes from the 1970s, integrating them into a hydrogen network that includes not only the EI5 gas meters but also a hydrogen central boiler for heating and hot water. Looking ahead, the project aims to pioneer the use of green hydrogen through electrolysis, marking a significant step in sustainable energy usage.

The 2020 Hydrogen Council report indicates that hydrogen costs are expected to decrease by 2030, making it competitive with other low-carbon alternatives. This leads large utility distributors like Enexis Group to commit converting their main gas lines to hydrogen within the next three years.

Beyond ChatGPT

Bill Gates produces an occasional interview podcast called Unconfuse Me. I listened to Episode 5 today with AI computer scientist Yejin Choi. 

Few people are better at explaining the science of artificial intelligence than Yejin Choi. She’s a computer science professor at the University of Washington, senior research director at the Allen Institute for AI, and the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. I thought her recent TED talk was terrific, and I was thrilled to talk to her about how you train a large language model, why it’s so hard for robots to pick tools out of a box, and why universities must play a key role in the future of AI research.

My takeaway from the conversation was the thought that tools like ChatGPT continue to grow larger. But this makes the science of the query very important. After reviewing some other technologies, Choi posits that what will really progress into useful tools would be reducing the scope. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, what about working on special purpose AI models—say maybe a math tutor.

I thought immediately about my conversations with recently retired Mike Brooks and the ML technology deep within AspenTech. And that is not the only place within process control software where you will find machine learning (ML, which is an AI technology) working for us.

Forget hand-wringing about the future like our journalist friends like to publish. Try thinking making AI useful.

SICK and Endress+Hauser Want To Join Forces in Process Automation

We are experiencing increasing partnerships as companies strive to provide more comprehensive solutions to customers. This partnership news concerns German sensor company SICK and Swiss measurement and automation technology specialist Endress+Hauser. Both companies are aiming for a strategic partnership for SICK’s process automation business segment and have signed a joint memorandum of understanding. 

The goal of the partnership is to expand the Endress+Hauser product portfolio with process analysis and gas flow measurement engineering from SICK. The two companies intend to establish a joint venture for the production and further development of SICK process technology. The sales and service teams of SICK’s process automation business segment will become part of Endress+Hauser’s global sales network. In total, this segment currently employs more than 1,400 people in 28 countries and generates more than 350 million euros in sales annually.

The process technology offerings from both companies complement each other. The process analysis and gas flow measurement engineering from SICK – for emissions monitoring in flue gas cleaning processes or for gas flow measurements, for example – are employed particularly in waste incineration facilities, at power, steel and cement plants, in the oil & gas industry, in chemical and petrochemical production and in the marine sector. In the past, the companies have frequently worked together on an order, project and customer basis. 

Both shareholder families, as well as the respective supervisory bodies of SICK and Endress+Hauser, are backing the planned strategic partnership. Using the memorandum of understanding as a foundation, experts from both companies are now conducting due diligence to determine how the collaboration can be accomplished and brought to fruition. The contract is expected to be signed before the end of the first quarter of 2024, while closing of the transaction is scheduled for the middle of next year.

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