Updates from PI North America Conference 2012 | Automation.com

Updates from PI North America Conference 2012

October 042012
October 2012
By Patrick Supanich, Contributing Writer for Automation.com
First, I’d like to provide an introduction for the uninitiated. The PI North America (PI NA) organization is an independent nonprofit organization whose charter is to promote and facilitate the adoption of the PROFINET and PROFIBUS fieldbus networks in the North American marketplace. To accomplish this, the organization focuses on three specific areas.
  • Education of Users through classes, webinars, website and newsletters
  • Assisting device makers in  the adoption of the open standard
  • Promoting the networks  and their capabilities
PI NA is funded by their members, competitors which have recognized the strength of supporting a common international standard - broadening the marketplace for their products and providing more value to the end user.
The meeting was initiated by Michael Bryant, Executive Director of PI NA, after a 7:00am-sharp breakfast that most attendees agreed was a bit early.  Bryant gave a "State of the Union" presentation with a look at the strategy and vision from 2007 compared to today. It gave a nice context to the growth and achievement of their objectives. One takeaway was that going forward, the organization sees PROFINET as their future, with PROFIBUS as a mature technology that has reached "critical mass." The focus for 2013 is to increase adoption of PROFINET by the end users and device makers.  This will be accomplished through aggressive marketing of PROFINET capabilities, its proven successes, and its adoption rate, which is now at 4,000,000 nodes. So look to see PROFINET and a new theme (maybe even a Superbowl ad?) in a lot of places during the upcoming year. My impression is that the technology has matured in its capabilities and adoption and that this is the right time to get aggressive with their message.
Over the past year, a number of technology developments and organizational structure changes have occurred - some mundane and some of real interest. First, the release of specification Version 2.3 where the group now considers the specification finished from a foundational standpoint as it now covers applications from standard to high speed processes. Second, called performance upgrade, has dramatically increase the speed of the PROFINET network. How this is accomplished can best be understood with this video:
For those of you following the FDI Cooperation Standards effort, you should expect to see the final core specification by the end of 2012.  For those that want to understand more about the FDI Cooperation, grab a cup of coffee and take a look at this site: http://www.fdi-cooperation.com/index.php/home.html.  The efforts of this group will result in a "common solution and standard for Field Device Integration irrespective of the communication protocol."
PROFIBUS PA was another topic of discussion. One new feature to highlight is the ability to replace a device without worrying about the version of the GSD file.  Essentially when a device is replaced, the control system detects the device and its version providing quick recovery from device failure.  Click here for a great article summarizing the feature. This is another step in the battle against the main competitor to PROFIBUS PA, which they consider to be the 4-20mA world. By some estimates, 4-20mA still retains nearly 80% of the market share in the process industry. It may seem hard to believe that this is still the case 15 years after PROFIBUS technology really became main stream. However, the technology, though offering a number of benefits, is up against a number of forces.  Mentioned were the 20+ years that process equipment stays in service, the high availability requirements, and the perceived complexity of the fieldbus technology.
This "if it’s not broke don't fix it" attitude is reinforced by the high utilization requirement of the equipment - where a minute of downtime is truly a minute of lost revenue.  Due to this fact, the lack of adoption of the technology in facilities that are not performing a major upgrade is a serious hurdle. The real opportunity therefore lies with green field environments and equipment upgrades. Here the biggest hurdle is likely convincing the client that the reliability, and most importantly, the ability to troubleshoot and maintain the system are as good as or better than the 4-20mA world.  This is best overcome by reducing complexity and putting more intelligence into the network standard and by training both the engineers and maintenance personnel in the technology. 
Since we are on the training subject, it is worth mentioning the PROFI Interface Center offers both certified 4-day training courses as well as one day training events. Click here to view upcoming training classes.
A number of case studies were also presented during the conference. One of particular interest is the application of PROFINET in the Wind industry.  The presentation included a great history of Wind Turbines from the simpler days of 250KW, 150 foot-high units with basic controls to today where there are 7MW, 650 foot-high units with a 413 foot diameter rotor.  As one might expect, the complexity of these units has increased with their size.  These systems utilize eight 6KW servo motors just to rotate.  There are complex controls and multiple subsystems controlling the generator, power converter, cooling systems, yaw and pitch, lubrication and blade monitoring.  There is also a need (for the public's sanity) to coordinate the obstacle lights so they all blink at the same time. Tying all of these systems together is a perfect application for the PROFINET technology. Another driver for the use of PROFINET is the ability to isolate access to different areas for the various parties that need to communicate with the turbines either for diagnostics, operations or monitoring.  Additionally, the real time, redundant and integrated safety aspects of the network are all leveraged.
As an Engineer, I would normally be oblivious even to the existence of this sort of gathering. This event was a very interesting opportunity to peer into the inner workings of an organization established to support a foundational piece of our Industrial Automation Infrastructure. One first sees the mix of Product developers, Marketers, End Users  and Organizational leaders attending the conference.  One then realizes that there are 27 similar groups throughout the world.  Ultimately, there is an appreciation for the human capital supporting the evolving standard whose roots go back to a "fieldbus working group" created in 1985.  I also realized that although Siemens is a key member of the organiation, PROFIBUS and PROFINET are not controlled or "owned" by Siemens. PROFI, and all it encompasses, is an open standard - a fact reinforced by the recent announcement of GE Intelligent Platforms selecting PROFINET as their platforms network backbone.
One last note for those who did not get enough from this report or who want to stay abreast of the latest PROFInews, there is a PROFIblog with great up to date information on the technology. You can find that here: http://www.us.profibus.com/wordpress/
Now it is time to hit the treadmill and work off the calories that come along with these conferences.
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Related Portals:
PROFINET, Industrial Networks