The Eaton road ahead for panel wiring

Recent reports highlight the convergence of programmable controllers (PLC’s) and distributed control systems (DCS’s) as an important market trend, but also notes that this is a technical strategy that has yet to demonstrate it can yield the expected results. Stuart Greenwood of Eaton’s Electrical Sector argues that this trend is, in fact, well advanced and is already delivering excellent results.

It could be claimed, with considerable validity, that as soon as remote I/O modules became available, the process of convergence between PLC’s and DCS’s was underway. With this in mind, it’s hard to see the convergence of PLC’s and DCS’s as a new trend since it’s already been with us for at least a couple of decades!

But, of course, convergence continues to spread and most modern automation systems of any size now incorporate intelligent devices – such as variable-speed drives with built-in intelligence, and electronic operator interface panels – in the field. With all of these devices linked to the central controller via network or fieldbus connections, it does indeed become difficult and even, perhaps, almost meaningless to distinguish between the PLC and the remainder of the automation system.

Except, that is, within the control panel itself. It is astonishing to realise that, although conventional hard wiring of field devices has virtually disappeared in all but the smallest of installations, traditional hard wiring is still very much the norm inside most control panels.

The wiring runs are, of course, much shorter inside the panel than outside, but that’s no longer a valid reason to ignore the benefits that bus-based panel wiring – which is perhaps better described as lean panel wiring – can provide. This surprising omission in automation technologies has, however, finally been addressed, and at least one bus-based lean panel wiring system – SmartWire-DT from Eaton’s Electrical Sector – is now available.

This allows all of the devices within a control panel, such as motor starters, HMI panels and even conventional pushbuttons and indicator lights, to be connected to the central controller, whether it’s a PLC or a smart relay, via a simple daisy-chain connection. Conventional control wiring is eliminated.

It’s important to note that with the best lean panel wiring systems, special components are not needed. Instead, inexpensive interface units are added to standard components in exactly the same way that an auxiliary contact block is added to a contactor.

Some of the benefits of this technology are instantly apparent. It cuts panel wiring time dramatically, for instance and, since it virtually eliminates the possibility of wiring errors, the time needed to test panels is also greatly reduced, as is the risk of problems during commissioning. It is also clear that modifications to the panel can be made much more easily – instead of having to carry out extensive wiring changes for even the simplest modification, all that’s needed is to daisy chain the new components to those already there.

Possibly the biggest benefit, however, is that the use of lean panel wiring facilitates the flow of information between components mounted in the panel. A suitably equipped motor starter could, for example, report the running current of the motor and the status of the protection device to the central controller, where this information could be processed and used to initiate further actions, such as sending a message to the HMI panel alerting the operator to an impending overload condition before a trip actually occurs.

Put simply, adopting lean panel wiring greatly improves the transparency of the automation system. Since fieldbus- and network-based field wiring already supports information exchange, the addition of lean panel wiring means, in essence, that any information about any aspect of the automation system’s operation and status can be made available wherever it’s needed.

This transparency is one of the key elements needed for lean automation, which is one of the reasons that the description “lean panel wiring” for the new bus-based panel wiring systems is preferred. The growing uptake of lean automation is arguably a much more significant trend than PLC/DCS convergence. Lean manufacturing is a well-known concept that is based on identifying all sources of waste and inefficiency in a process and eliminating them. Lean automation extends this concept to automation systems, slimming down control panels, simplifying wiring, increasing data transparency and enhancing performance while reducing overall costs.

With the introduction of lean panel wiring, lean automation can now cover every facet of manufacturing processes, from the ERP system right down to an emergency stop button, and from the SAP package down to individual sensors.

In summary, there certainly is a trend for PLC’s and DCS’s to converge and this trend is continuing because convergence has already been shown time and again to deliver excellent results. This much is hardly news.

What is news, however, is the emergence of lean control panel wiring systems that mark the final stage in the transition from traditional control system technologies to modern network- and bus-based technologies. This greatly facilitates the implementation of transparent automation, and that most definitely is a trend worth watching!

Records all round for Rockwell Automation in 2011

This review of Rockwell results and comments was one of the articles featured in the INSIDER December 2011 issue, recently circulated to subscribers. For more info about the INSIDER Newsletter please go to

The Rockwell Automation financial results for the year to end September 2011 set record highs for sales, earnings per share and return on invested capital. Sales were $6Bn, up 24%, with earnings at $1027m, 17% of sales, up 43%, all giving a return on capital of 31.6%. USA and Canada regional sales at $3314m represented 55% of sales, and EMEA at $1268m was 21%, with year on year growth of 28%. Highest growth, 38%, came from the Latin American region, with sales of $508m. Earnings per share grew 57% to $4.79.

Firing on all cylinders
Keith Nosbusch, chairman and ceo, commented “Key growth accelerators hit on all cylinders. Logix sales increased 29%, reflecting the success of our plant-wide optimization strategy and continued growth both in process applications and with OEM customers. Emerging markets grew over 30% and now represent 22% of total sales. We invested in our best growth opportunities while improving operating margin by over 2 points”. Commenting on the outlook, Nosbusch added, “Despite an uncertain global economic picture and moderating growth rates, we are cautiously optimistic that market growth will continue in 2012. We enter the year with a sound strategy, a track record of success in our growth initiatives and a robust new product pipeline.”

Replacing ageing DCS systems
The Rockwell Automation Fair in Chicago, from November 16-17, again broke all records with nearly 10,000 attendees. In parallel, Rockwell provided news of some good applications: in particular from Nyrstar Hobart, a major zinc smelter in Tasmania.
According to ARC Advisory Group research, the global process industry loses approximately $20Bn annually (about 5% of production) from the unscheduled downtime resulting from the use of ageing DCS systems. Jeremy Kouw, general manager at Nyrstar Hobart, confirmed this: “Our current DCS would be cost-prohibitive to upgrade. Hardware is failing and repairs are becoming expensive and requiring longer lead times”. This DCS operates process control for roast-leach purification electrolysis, acid plant and water treatment for the Nyrstar Hobart 280k tpa zinc smelter, one of the largest in the world. Nyrstar has awarded Rockwell a $2.5m order to replace this DCS with a PlantPAx process automation system. “The Rockwell Automation solution will provide us with better integration between different process areas, improved diagnostics, maintaining plant uptime and delivering improved plant performance reporting” anticipates Kouw.

Local track-record in Tasmania
Rockwell won the order by developing a three-year phased integration with a back-up option that uses custom input/output cabling to ensure process continuity, coupled with technical support for the existing installation. NHP Electrical, a Rockwell authorized distributor, has provided long-term committed support to Nyrstar, which was another factor in favour of the Rockwell Automation offer. “This win represents a milestone for us given the size and complexity of the DCS conversion,” said Terry Gebert, vp and gm at Rockwell Automation Global Solutions. “We won the order over two major process automation companies, based on the excellent support we provide for the existing operation and a clear vision of control conversion to a long-term sustainable operation. The order includes project management, application engineering, system cut-over engineering, hardware and software. Our experience, domain expertise and global resources will help Nyrstar Hobart in this critical conversion from a legacy DCS system.”

Rockwell demo centre in Korea
Rockwell has opened a customer briefing and demonstration centre in Seoul, Korea, extending the relationship developed over the years with customers and partners in the country. “This new facility highlights plantwide optimization, machine builder performance and sustainable production solutions using a wide range of our advanced automation products, and information architecture,” said Bob Ruff, president, Rockwell Automation Asia Pacific. It will house working models that demonstrate the PlantPAx system, which is quoted to offer integrated, flexible and scalable automation systems operated by multi-disciplined controls.

ESD and F+G for drill ships
Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME), based in Korea, has subsequently awarded Rockwell Automation a $6m contract to supply emergency shutdown, fire and gas safety systems, and engineering services, for four new DSME offshore drill ships, with options for three more. Rockwell will provide leading safety system technology using its PlantPAx process automation system, FactoryTalk View, AADvance process safety, and project management expertise.

Integrated control, power and safety
H G Choi, director of purchasing for DSME, said “Rockwell Automation offers a proven, robust safety system for DSME’s offshore vessels and rigs. They have the experience and expertise to design, develop and deliver these systems, working with their partners here in Korea.” More specifically Choi added “Based on our long, successful relationship, we are confident in the ability Rockwell Automation has to provide the integrated information, control, power and safety systems we need for this important project.” Terry Gebert, vp and gm for Rockwell Automation Global Solutions explained that “Our solution is unique as it provides a single, flexible, scalable platform using the PlantPAx system to meet the specifications of an integrated control and safety system. Our experience, oil and gas domain expertise, and global resources will help DSME run a profitable and sustainable operation.”

Rockwell Alliance partners
With 10,000 automation customers pounding the floor of the Rockwell Automation fair, analysts from Longbow Research report that there was a busy time for their alliance partners exhibiting there, particularly Endress + Hauser and Cisco. Fluke and Flir were also quoted to be experiencing heightened interest in their infra-red systems for industrial equipment monitoring applications. Longbow also identified intelligent motor controllers as a current growth area for Rockwell, where the resulting enhanced efficiency and reliability are major sales features.

Wireless data links
Rockwell and FreeWave Technologies announced a co-operation over SCADA systems for use in the water industry earlier this year (INSIDER May 2011, page 5), and FreeWave demonstrated their industrial wireless data radio systems as a partner at the 2011 Automation Fair. “There is ever-increasing momentum between Rockwell and FreeWave, based on customers’ growing demands for reliable, secure, industrial grade, cost effective wireless products in automation applications,” said Curt Goldman, business development manager at FreeWave Technologies: “Our relationship with Rockwell is a crucial part of the FreeWave go-to-market strategy in the industrial marketplace”. Goldman made a presentation at the conference explaining how the FreeWave wireless I/O solution is able to extend the Rockwell Automation PLC capabilities.

* Endress + Hauser, one of the prime Rockwell Alliance partners, has announced a custody transfer approved Coriolis flowmeter for compressed natural gas (CNG), at pressures up to 350 bar.