Frank Williams was a young kid, fresh out of engineering school, when he fell into the clutches of a not much older Jim Pinto, who was building Action Instruments out of his back bedroom. Serving as Pinto’s right hand man for 29 years, Williams went on to high positions at Eurotherm and Invensys after the buyout of Action.
When Invensys effectively gutted Action, and made it a “brand” of Eurotherm, rather than a functioning company, Frank took a couple of years off. Now he’s back, and has plenty to say. He is now running the US business of Elpro Technologies, the Australian wireless company. Elpro is another of those companies, like Smar, that has overcome its non-European, non-North American origins to become a world wide automation company.
I seem to have gotten hooked on churrascarias in Brazil, so Frank and I went to eat at one in Schaumberg, Ill., called Sal & Carvao. During an excellent meal, Frank talked about wireless (he is on the SP100 committee at ISA) and what radio technologies will mean to process automation.
First, he said, the robustness needed to handle critical loops and data will come; in fact, the topology of mesh networking was developed in telecommunications and in the Internet for specifically that solution to the same problem. Mesh networking will produce that level of robustness in industrial data communications far sooner than other technologies took off, too, because of the pressure from managements to improve efficiency and perform predictive maintenance as a means of reducing downtime.
Zigbee should not be confused with mesh networking. You are beginning to see 802.11 wireless systems configured as mesh networks too. It is the concept of a self-repairing, self-configuring network that is critical, not the protocols under which it works.
He expects Elpro to be at the forefront of these new technologies, because of the extensive experience in SCADA and other industrial wireless technologies Elpro has.