Emerson Executive Point of View

Emerson Executive Point of View

 
Steve Sonnenberg, Executive Vice President
Peter Zornio, Chief Strategic Officer
 
By Bill Lydon - Editor, October 2010
 
I had the opportunity to discuss the industry issues and trends with two Emerson Process Management Executives - Steve Sonnenberg, Executive Vice President, and Peter Zornio, Chief Strategic Officer.  Steve Sonnenberg was appointed to lead Emerson’s Process Management business in October 2008. Peter Zornio became Chief Strategic Officer in 2007 after over 20 years with Honeywell.
 
What are your major business challenges?
 
Sonnenberg started by describing the last two years as difficult for his company and customers. He had to make some tough decisions in the past couple of years to protect things like technology investments. “I am pretty optimistic about the future and in fact we are seeing a nice improvement in our business,” said Sonnenberg. “With that improvement come some challenges to make sure we invest properly as we go forward. We see a pretty major shift to emerging markets and we need to make sure we that we can support our customers locally in emerging markets, and at the same time we need to invest in our technology going forward.”  I asked Sonnenberg to elaborate more. He explained that they will need additional service/repair facilities around the globe and the people to staff them; including outside support, inside support, training, and sales people. Sonnenberg said, “Also, customers have the challenge of experience walking out the door and plants being built in places where there are no qualified people.” Sonnenberg noted recent additions including opening up a fifth building in Judeo, new facility Abu Dhabi, greatly expanding operations in Brazil, and opening up five new centers in western China. 
 
Sonnenberg added that Emerson is leveraging Human Centered Design to make it easier for customers to use Emerson products around the world. Examples he cited are I/O on demand and operator dashboards. Zornio added, “Emerson may need to add regional specific features and functions for particular markets.”
 
What major issues do you suggest customers think about in planning automation and controls for the future?
 
Sonnenberg advises that customers think about the people shortages and the experience walking out the door. Sonnenberg emphasized, “This whole people issue is such a resounding issue right now. This is a major planning issue for customers.”
 
Sonnenberg thinks they should ask, “What does new technology mean for them in their planning?” He cited wireless as a prime example, “How can wireless help them as they go forward in monitoring, improving their process, and improving the quality of the product they are producing?”
 
Another area of concern should be obsolescence planning. Sonnenberg said “Customers need to think about when products are going to be obsolete and how to plan upgrades within planned shutdowns.” “Shopping for parts on eBay should not be part of your maintenance program!”
 
I asked what a customer should think about regarding system migration. Sonnenberg suggested that people should understand where their system is in its product life cycle and he offered these thoughts. If the system is near end of life then there is a more immediate need to take action. Determine if the plant operations would be more efficient with the greater production flexibility offered by a newer system. If the plant is going to be adding a number of new inexperienced people it may be better to invest in training them on a new system rather than the old one.
 
Zornio noted that plants need to make investment decisions based on improving their business. In many plants, investments to improve production availability that lower unscheduled downtime and improve profits are the most productive. This may not always be investment in the automation systems.
 
Will your wireless strategy expand with emerging wireless standards including WirelessHART, ISA100, ZigBee, 6LoWPAN, 802.11n, and the Chinese standard?
 
Sonnenberg noted, “We have WirelessHART and now it is IEC 62591 - the only international wireless standard for industrial control.” “We have over 1,400 sites and a lot of our competitors have WirelessHART products.” He explained they want to work with other people for the good of providing a solution to customers.  Zornio added, “We have zero development plans underway for the sensor networking side on anything other than IEC 62591.” 
 
It was noted that 802.11n is not in conflict with how they view wireless since it is a plant information network technology. Zornio further noted that on the plant networking side, Emerson is a partner with CISCO which is about to release an updated version of their industrial gateway.
 
I asked if the Chinese WIA-PA becomes a mainstream business practice in China, would Emerson support it? The answer is essentially if it becomes a mainstream customer requirement, they would support it. But they both felt that it is unlikely that WIA-PA will become a mainstream requirement. Zornio observed that there is a great deal of HART installed in China which may result in the Chinese looking hard at the WirelessHART standard.
 
I observed that many in the IT industry believe all sensors should be 6LoWPAN with an IP address. Zornio responded that a number of customers are fundamentally opposed to a field device in a plant having an IP address. They like the fact that there is an extra level of security provided by the segmentation of field devices on a purpose built network. 
 
Should plant automation and control people be managed by the IT department?
 
Sonnenberg stated, “We don’t have a dog in this fight.” They have seen it work both ways and sometimes it gets down to how a company is organized. He mentioned that a customer has told him they have no problems with this issue because they bring IT into the process as early as possible.
 
What do you think needs to happen before closed loop control over wireless becomes accepted industry practice?
 
Both Sonnenberg and Zornio think it will take time in our conservative industry. 
 
At the Emerson Exchange conference, I attended a session titled, “Control Freak: Wireless Control for Tomorrow” that illustrated control applications being done today with WirelessHART. These were low latency control loops and non-critical applications. Emerson has developed a PID algorithm for wireless control application used in these examples.
 
How do you see cloud computing impacting automation and controls?
 
Customers are really afraid of this due to security concerns, so they don’t have any cloud offerings at this time.
 
What technologies are likely to have the greatest impact on automation in the next five years?
 
Sonneberg’s exclaimed his first reaction, “Wireless, wireless, wireless!” In addition, he commented on the value of Human Centered Design. “We have something that customers are screaming for, there is plenty of technology out there but if you can’t use them what good are they,” said Sonnenberg. At Emerson Exchange, I learned a great deal about Emerson’s commitment to Human Centered Design. It is a way of thinking about design from the user’s perspective rather than simply design and technology.
 
Zornio noted that many new applications are going to be driven by new wireless capabilities. The ability to know the location of a radio is an example. He described a scenario where a person needs to work on a piece of equipment, “I am here, where is it, can you send me a video of the procedure?” In addition, wireless will enable a number of new measurement types such as corrosion, vibration measurement, equipment health, and others.
 
What are your thoughts?
 
Let me know what types of questions you think I should be asking automation industry executives. Contact me.