I met with an interesting group of people at Rockwell Automation in Cleveland today. Rockwell, the group said, was committed to rapidly increasing their process automation business.
Kevin Zaba and Ken Deken (vice president and general manager of the logix-netlinx-kinetix business) began the briefing by stating that the reason Ken was there was to assure me that Rockwell is committed at the corporate leadership level to a sustained push into process automation. “We just came back from Milwaukee,” Deken said, “where we presented our plans to Keith (Nosbusch) and he said, ‘Go!'”
After a neat little interlude where Wiley Wolfe, the manager of system test for Rockwell let me have a tour of the test labs (giving me a test lab tour is like waving a crack pipe under an addict’s nose) where I suggested a few dire possibilities to hack the new USB-enabled ControlLogix devices (no, I am not going to tell you how– go figure out your own hacks!) that they will try to prevent, the process automation team got me back into the briefing room.
“Alright, I ” I said. “The biggest stumbling block to you having a believable effort that is better than a second tier control system vendor like MTL is that you don’t have a serious upgrade path for conventional DCS systems.”
“Wrong, Walt,” Rick Dolezal, who’s been around the block some, said. “In fact, here’s some upgrades we’ve done using Bailey Infi90 systems. See, we can, too, upgrade older DCSes just like the DCS companies can.” He went on to say that they were working on upgrade paths for all the major DCS systems to the newly crowned Factory Talk system.
Actually, Rockwell has been being dragged, sometimes willingly, sometimes kicking and screaming into the world of process automation. Over 20 percent of Rockwell’s sales are to process plants via their unparalleled system integrator channel, which they are not likely to choose to cannibalize again like they did a few years ago. So, now, they are ready to go after the big guns.
Finally, we talked about Rockwell’s partnership with Endress+Hauser. This is going great guns, unsurprisingly, since E+H and Rockwell have about the most compatible product lines possible. Everything E+H has, Rockwell doesn’t, and vice versa. Fred Mitrey, who manages the alliance for Rockwell eventually, after some thought, remembered something that E+H makes in Europe that actually does compete with Rockwell. But it took some thought. It is likely that at some point, probably after Dr. Endress retires or passes on, that Rockwell will try to make the alliance a marriage. E+H has said they aren’t interested at this point anyway.
It will be interesting to see what happens if Rockwell can actually manage to get their act together around process automation. They’ll need to do a lot of work with their distribution organization, many of whom wouldn’t know a process plant if it came up and hugged them. They’ll have to do a lot of work with the major process customers, too. Clearly, they can go after the small to middle sized process plant with some expectation of success. It might be, too, that there is a lot of money in that. These plants have basically been given short shrift by the major DCS manufacturers for years, and it might be that they’d welcome the attentions of a major automation manufacturer like Rockwell.