An about-turn as ABB resurrects Symphony, after seven years telling customers to move to 800xA

A news release from ABB coinciding with their Automation and Power World conference in Orlando last month announced the launch of the ‘ABB Symphony Plus distributed control system’, to be sold by the ABB power generation business. Symphony Plus is described as the latest generation of ABB’s highly successful Symphony family of control systems: these originated from original Elsag Bailey designs, and were superceeded by the 800xA in 2004.

However, the head of the power business, Franz-Joseph Mengede, comments that “With the launch of Symphony Plus, we take the Symphony success story to the next level, ushering in a new era of total plant automation that is simple, scalable, seamless and secure.”

The press release advises that “With more than 6,000 systems installed worldwide, over the past 30 years, Symphony has represented one of the largest installed bases of distributed control systems (DCS) in the world, with many of them operating in the power generation and water sectors. Key customer benefits are quoted to include improved plant productivity and energy efficiency, as well as enhanced operational security, plant safety, and a lower total cost of ownership” – presumably compared to the Industrial IT System 800xA control system.

The 800xA migration plan

The 800xA is currently sold by ABB Instrumentation and Automation, and was launched early in 2004 (INSIDER, February 2004 Page 1). Then, System 800xA was quoted to be designed to allow for implementation with the entire family of ABB control and I/O products, including Symphony and Symphony Harmony, which had emerged from the acquired Elsag Bailey Infi90 system. It was then stated that these systems would have a migration plan, moving customers to the new 800xA by 2010.

The interesting aspect now is that Joe Hogan, ABB Group ceo, conceded that the integration of Elsag Bailey and its Symphony products into ABB was not handled well. Hogan admitted to being stunned by what ABB did to the Elsag-Bailey Harmony and Melody platforms “because we thought we’d have a universal process automation platform that would take care of everything.”

So, said Hogan, ABB came to realize it needed to rescue the Symphony product line and bring it back as an integral piece of the ABB offering. “Now, we’re not looking for another platform. We have enough, and we can apply it to certain markets, and we can optimize what we have. I’m not a ‘grand unification’ theorist about process automation platforms. Nothing can do everything.”

The future for Symphony

Current management has decided that it is time to reinvigorate Symphony, and the first action is to move the team of  development people, that presumably still exists as a discrete Elsag-Bailey group within ABB, even after seven years of working to migrate over to 800xA, from process automation to the power group. Then ABB is going to invest in further development of the platform.

The problem for Symphony Plus is that the installed base has been a happy hunting ground for all the normal control system competitors to provide their own products, with well thought out migration strategies and integration offerings for Symphony users, presented for the last seven years. One of the main beneficiaries in this is said to have been the DeltaV automation systems from Emerson.

Emerson may have shown ABB how to handle an acquired specific industry product, in the way that the Ovation power and water targeted control system obtained from Westinghouse has been developed and maintained separately and in parallel with the DeltaV digital automation systems, from the outset.

Converging automation and power

Also at Automation and Power World, Peter Terwiesch, ABB chief technology officer, repeated the ABB mantra at the press briefing, that “The convergence of automation and power creates more value than each separately. For industry we create energy efficiency and productivity; for utilities, we make a stronger and smarter grid.” With the Symphony products moving from Automation to Power Divisions, and with the comment that “We are going to revive and enhance our Symphony system offering so we can produce an integrated and more robust smart grid from producer to consumer”, it would seem that there is a slight divergence developing between some aspects of automation and power at the same time. Maybe this started last year with Freelance, the latest version of the Hartmann & Braun small to medium scale DCS (INSIDER, June 2010 page 11).

So, with Freelance and Symphony now re-emerging from under the 800xA banner, what is the future for some of the other acquired control systems, such as SattLine for the pharmaceutical industry, the Compact 800, a smaller version of 800xA with up to 1000 tags, and the Advant OCS, which was planned to be absorbed into 800xA, but is reported as still being sold?

Humility was the theme

There was much more at Automation and Power World, but the tone was perhaps set by the frequent references to the Baldor acquisition, where Hogan said one key was humbleness. In other words, ABB didn’t come in and tell everyone to change the way they did business, wipe out management and subsume the company’s image. ABB will maintain the brands, and not smother them. Greg Livelli, marketing vp for ABB’s Instrumentation Business Unit, perhaps followed this line in mentioning the many legendary brands contained within his product lines: like Fischer & Porter, Bailey, Taylor, Hartmann & Braun, etc.

******

This article was first published in the Industrial Automation INSIDER newsletter for May 2011, which was quoted in the Jim Pinto newsletter of 20 May. For further information about the INSIDER newsletter please see http://www.iainsider.co.uk.

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One Response

  1. http://www.dcsmigration.net should be consider when upgrating to 800xA.
    [Editor’s note (June 2016): Steve and this quoted website seem to be part of Assistance Systeme LD Inc, from Montreal, Canada]

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