Next Generation Operator Interface

Next Generation Operator Interface

“Siri, what’s the weather in Bangor?”

“Alexa, buy some toilet paper.”

“Zelda, check the status of the control loop at P28.”

Operator interface is many years removed from its last significant upgrade. Yes, the Abnormal Situation Management Consortium (led by Honeywell) and Human-Centered Design used by Emerson Process Management and the work of the Center for Operator Performance have all worked on developing more readable and intuitive screens.

But, there is something more revolutionary on the horizon.

A big chunk of time last week on the Gillmor Gang, a technology-oriented video conversation, discussed conversational interfaces. Apple’s Siri has become quite popular. Amazon Echo (Alexa) has gained a large following.

Voice activation for operator interface

Many challenges lie ahead for conversation (or voice) interfaces. Obviously many smart people are working on the technology. This may be a great place for the next industrial automation startup. This or bots. But let’s just concentrate on voice right now.

Especially look at how the technologies of various devices are coming together.

I use the Apple ecosystem, but you could do this in Android.

Right now my MacBook Air, iPad, and iPhone are all interconnected. I shoot a photo on my iPhone and it appears in my Photos app on the other two. If I had an Apple Watch, then I could communicate through my iPhone verbally. It’s all intriguing.

I can hear all the objections, right now. OK, Luddites <grin>, I remember a customer in the early 90s who told me there would never be a wire (other than I/O) connected to a PLC in his plant. So much for predictions. We’re all wired, now.

What have you heard or seen? How close are we? I’ve done a little angel investing, but I don’t have enough money to fund this. But for a great idea…who knows?

Hey Google, take a video.

Automation Products Announced by Rockwell Automation

Studio 5000 View Designer ScreenshotIn advance of this week’s Automation Fair at Chicago’s McCormick Place, Rockwell Automation has announced a couple of new product extensions–SoftwareStudio 5000 development environment and ControlLogix  5580.

“The addition of these applications [to SoftwareStudio 5000] significantly enhances our integrated development environment,” said Mike Brimmer, product manager, Rockwell Automation. “The expanded environment simplifies the design process and reduces the need for multiple tools, providing a more seamless system development experience.”

The Studio 5000 environment now includes the following:

  • The new Studio 5000 Architect application is the central point within the Studio 5000 environment where users can view the overall automation system; configure devices such as controllers, HMIs and EOIs; and manage the communications between the devices. The Studio 5000 Architect application also exchanges data with other Studio 5000 applications and third-party electrical design tools to simplify the development experience.
  • The Studio 5000 Logix Designer application is the design and maintenance software for the Allen-Bradley Logix5000 family of controllers and is used to configure discrete, process, batch, motion, safety and drive control. It simplifies the design process by providing an application-centric view of code; enhanced work flows for more efficient re-use of content; and collaborative tools that make it easier for multiple people to work together.
  • The new Studio 5000 View Designer application is the design and maintenance software for Allen-Bradley PanelView 5500 graphic terminals. The Studio 5000 View Designer application provides an intuitive, modern design environment that helps users more easily build contemporary systems. It enhances integration between the control system and operator interface to improve programming efficiency and runtime performance.
  • The new Studio 5000 Application Code Manager speeds system development by helping users build libraries of re-usable code that can be managed and deployed across their entire enterprise. Creating projects with Application Code Manager helps improve design consistency, reduce engineering costs, and achieve faster time-to-market and commissioning.

In addition, Rockwell Automation has updated the Studio 5000 environment with enhanced security and localized batch control. New security features include more user-authentication and access-control options, and a new privilege escalation capability. These features help improve productivity and system uptime by granting users the right level of access at the right time. Localized batch control allows controller-based batch sequencing and eventing to simplify system architecture for single-unit control and process skids.

11-12-15 ControlLogix 5580 imageThe new ControlLogix 5580 controller provides up to 45 percent more application capacity and includes an embedded 1-gigabyte Ethernet port to support high-performance communications, I/O and applications with up to 256 axes of motion.

“With this new controller, users can meet future capacity and throughput needs as they design smart machines and work toward building a Connected Enterprise,” said Dennis Wylie, global product manager, Rockwell Automation. “The new port and additional capacity cuts the amount of control and communications hardware required, reducing system complexity, costs and required panel space.”

In addition, the product selection process is easier with the ControlLogix 5580 controller because users can now select the appropriate model using the total number of Ethernet nodes required. A single ControlLogix 5580 controller can support up to 300 Ethernet nodes.

The controller also supports enhanced security as part of a defense-in-depth approach to help protect facilities, assets and intellectual property. The controller incorporates advanced security technologies and software features, such as digitally signed and encrypted firmware, change detection and audit logging.

Manufacturing and Automation Suppliers In the News

Manufacturing and Automation Suppliers In the News

Peter Terwiesch, ABB

Peter Terwiesch, ABB

I have been traveling again. This time at the MIMOSA members meeting in Houston. More to come on that later. Suffice to say right now that the standards for interoperability of data have come a long way in the past 10 years or so.

If my posts have slowed over the past few weeks, blame it on soccer. Every year that I’ve been a referee assignor, the work of keeping up with game changes and finding referees seems to get harder. I’m probably working six hours a day on that. Only four more weeks to go.

Here’s the latest manufacturing supplier news.

ABB launches Next Level strategy

ABB presented its Next Level strategy and financial targets on Sept. 9 for the 2015-2020 period aimed at accelerating sustainable value creation. The strategy is building on ABB’s three focus areas of profitable growth, relentless execution and business-led collaboration.

This is interesting in light of my recent speculations about ABB following yet another divestiture. This is an aggressive plan, but I note the continued weakness in the power systems market.

Here are the highlights:

  • Accelerated sustainable value creation of leading power and automation portfolio
  • Shift in center of gravity driving profitable organic growth, strengthening competitiveness and lowering risk
  • Improving performance through leading operating model
  • Driving change through 1,000 day programs
  • Future company and Executive Committee structure aligned with new strategy
  • Undiluted global business lines as core of ABB
  • Peter Terwiesch (photo) appointed to Executive Committee as head of Process Automation
  • Market focused, streamlined regional structure
  • From 8 to 3 regions, led by experienced EC members: Frank Duggan for Asia, Middle East and Africa; Greg Scheu for Americas; Veli-Matti Reinikkala for Europe
  • David Constable, CEO of Sasol, nominated to Board of Directors
  • New targets focused on attractive shareholder returns
  • Shareholders participate in strong cash generation through $4 billion share buyback

In the next period, the company will drive profitable growth by shifting its center of gravity toward high-growth end markets, enhancing competitiveness and lowering risk in business models.

“Our Next Level strategy will focus on actions centered on accelerating ABB’s organic growth momentum, margin accretion as well as enhanced capital efficiency to deliver greater shareholder value,” ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer said. “We are shifting our center of gravity towards higher growth segments while enhancing competitiveness and lowering risk particularly in our Power Systems division. We are increasing the customer focus of our organization by streamlining it for greater agility and speed. We will drive change with focused 1,000 day programs to ensure a successful implementation.”

In line with its Next Level strategy, the company is aligning its Executive Committee (EC) structure. Peter Terwiesch, currently head of ABB in Central Europe and Germany, has been appointed EC member responsible for the Process Automation division. The three newly created regions will be led by experienced EC members – Frank Duggan (Asia, Middle East and Africa), Greg Scheu (Americas) and Veli-Matti Reinikkala (Europe).


ABB Next Level – 2020 targets
Revenue growth 4-7%
Operational EBITA % 11-16%
Operational EPS growth CAGR 10-15%
Free cash flow (FCF) conversion to net income >90%
CROI % Mid-teens


Operational EBITA % 2015-2020 divisional targets
Discrete Automation and Motion 14-19%
Low Voltage Products 15-19%
Process Automation 11-15%
Power Products 12-16%
Power Systems 7-11%

End of an era


Nematron Corp. was a pioneer of industrial PCs and PC-based control. When that whole technology area came crashing down, I totally lost track of it. Well, the final closure was announced this week.

Comark LLC, a portfolio company of JMC Capital Partners has acquired the assets of Ann Arbor-based Nematron. Headquartered in Medfield MA, Comark is a manufacturer of ruggedized industrial displays, integrated computers, workstations and kiosks that are used in a broad range of industrial and commercial applications.

“Nematron has been an innovator in panel mounted industrial computer and operator interface devices for over 30 years and has thousands of systems installed worldwide. Nematron continues to develop innovative new solutions that set the industry standard,” said G. Lawrence Bero, a Partner at JMC.

“We continue to expand our presence in the industrial and building automation sector. The addition of Nematron will broaden our product line and distribution channels,” said Steve Schott, Chief Executive Officer of Comark. “Nematron’s state of the art HMC, industrial and panel PC product line is a great addition to our growing product portfolio. We look forward to working with the Nematron team to successfully integrate the Nematron business into Comark.”

Another end of an era

The Square D Co. has been headquartered in Palatine, IL for a long time, recently at a beautiful campus. It was acquired by Schneider Electric, but managed to survive as the leading brand in the US of the Schneider portfolio with the Schneider HQ there. That office is not closing, but it will no longer house the executive team.

Well, no more. In an interesting move, Schneider, which bought and then submerged Modicon, has built a new US headquarters near the home of that PLC innovator, Andover, MA.

The moved is couched in the usual phrases of getting closer to customers and making the company more innovative. I have seen worse reasons for a corporate location move.

Here’s the announcement lightly edited. (I wonder if the company’s PR people have set the record for the most company mentions in one sentence. I left them in so that you remember who the company is. That is a common strategy—to mention the company’s name as much as possible. Most editors pare it down in interests of space.)

Schneider Electric, a global specialist in energy management, announced Sept. 10 the grand opening of its new North American research and development (R&D) center in Andover, MA. The Boston One Campus will also serve as the company’s new North America headquarters and is built to house approximately 750 employees across all disciplines of Schneider Electric’s business segments. Laurent Vernerey, President and CEO of Schneider Electric’s North America Operations, will relocate to the new headquarters as part of the company’s mission to drive innovation and efficiency in North America.

Designed to create an environment that encourages collaboration with customers, R&D engineers and employees, the new campus was also built with the company’s vision of sustainable design and energy efficiency. The Boston One Campus incorporates approximately $8 million of Schneider Electric’s own products and solutions and is expected to achieve about a 30 percent operating cost reduction in its first year. The facility is U.S. Green Building Council LEED Silver certified and leverages Schneider Electric’s SmartStruxure solution – a fully integrated building management system; APC by Schneider Electric EcoAisle and EcoBreeze data center cooling systems, data denter and server uninterruptible power supplies (UPS); Schneider Electric Altivar variable speed for HVAC control; a variety of ultra-efficient luminaires from Juno Lighting Group by Schneider Electric; intelligent IP security management systems from Pelco by Schneider Electric; and much more.

The Boston One Campus is made up of more than 240,000 square feet across two buildings. Boston One is also equipped with 53,000 square feet of engineering laboratory space that includes customer accessible, cross-discipline technology integration laboratories known as StruxureLabs, where Schneider Electric engineers test and validate products that go into real-world customer deployments.



Manufacturing and Automation Suppliers In the News

Manufacturing Theory Evolves

The movement in the United States calls it “Smart Manufacturing.” In Germany, you hear “Industrie 4.0” and sometimes “Smart Industry.” Others refer to “cyberphysical systems.” Also involved in this
witch’s brew of ideas is the Internet of Things—also known as Industrial Internet of Things.

The question that matters goes like this, “Is this all just hype perpetrated by academics, government bureaucrats and suppliers looking for something new to sell?”

This is definitely more than a marketing ploy. We are at a technological inflection point where many technologies are coming together. They are often being proven in the consumer economy and then adapted for manufacturing and machine control.

Networks are a fundamental enabler of this new manufacturing technology. As is advanced database technology (aka Big Data) and the analytics that accompany it.

Now we can add advances in smart devices (think your mobile or smart phone and gyroscopes, GPS, temperature sensors, even vibration sensor, and more) that can provide better knowledge of the state of a device. And we have a way to connect that date and use it.

The mobile computing we’ve been using is shortly going to look positively ancient. Let’s try computational embedded T-shirts. Better cameras. Wrist phones. Google (safety)Glass.

Distributed programming is coming into its  own. We have IEC 61499 as a start. National Instruments has a programming language (LabVIEW) that is inherently parallel that can exploit the power of multicore processors and FPGAs. There will be more coming from competitors.

Think of the new power machine and operator interface designers have and will have to make things much better. We are at the beginning of a really cool time in manufacturing technology.

Manufacturing and Controls Conference Season Heating Up

Travel season is starting in the manufacturing and controls arena. In a couple of weeks I’ll be at the PAS user conference and the AFPM trade show and conference both in Texas. Later is Honeywell User Group, Rockwell RSTechED and Siemens Automation Conference. Then I’m off for a week for a mission trip to an orphanage in Tijuana.

Here’s some news about the PAS user conference. The conference themes include best practices for operational safety and Cyber Security. The conference is May 19-21.

Industry leaders such as BASF, DOW, Shell, and Southern Company will be sharing of emerging best practices in process safety and cyber security.

“The PAS Technology Conference is a unique forum for sharing safety and security information among companies that are otherwise competitors in the same sector,” said Eddie Habibi, Founder and CEO of PAS. “When it comes to the important topics of protecting people and critical infrastructure, global companies collaborate openly and share their experiences. And they do it here at PTC2014.”

Topics at this year’s conference include how to enable a plant operator to make the right decision at the right time in order to successfully deal with issues from minor production upsets to catastrophic incidents, which impact personnel safety, profitability, and the environment. Decision support technologies including alarm management, high performance operator interfaces, control loop performance, integrated operational information, boundary management, and configuration management of highly proprietary industrial control systems all will be featured at PTC2014.

PAS will unveil cutting-edge new products for safe operations, advanced information visualization, and cyber security management at this conference, as well as key alliances and partnerships.

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