Automation Vendors Choose Sides

Trade shows are in decline the world over, with the automation sector leading the trend. Even in Germany, where in the days of the economic miracle when fathers would see visiting a trade show as an exciting Sunday treat for all the family, the mighty Interkama has been reduced to a subset of the Hanover Fair.

Many explanations have been given for this decline. Time pressure and spiralling booth, or stand (as we say on this side of the pond), costs are the most commonly cited. But a major influence in our industry must surely be that that there isn’t a whole lot to see—one flat screen really does look much like another.

That said, trade shows can still occasionally surprise, catching out those of us who’ve given up visiting them and, just occasionally, making us wish we’d been there. The recent Interkama was a case in point, the cause of the excitement being an open meeting attended by advocates of both FDT/DTM (Field Device Tool/Device Type Manager) technology and EDDL (Electronic Device Description Language) which, by all accounts and to the barely concealed glee of the journalists present, became more than a little heated in its final stages.

Not dead yet

It’s not many months since observers were preparing to read the last rites over FDT/DTM, following announcements by both Emerson and Siemens that they would not be supporting it. Should anyone still have been in any doubt, Emerson’s public relations director Jerry Moon and HART/Fieldbus Foundation director Martin Zielinski swept through Europe last September on a PR offensive designed to drive home the message that anything FDT/DTM could do, the soon to be enhanced EDDL—E2DDL perhaps?—would be able to do, if not better, then at least as well.

That impression of inevitability was somewhat undermined over the winter when Rockwell Automation, at the same time as revealing its alliance with Endress+Hauser, put its weight behind FDT/DTM. But the real bombshell came on the first day of Interkama, when Yokogawa announced that it too would be joining the steering committee of the FDT/DTM Joint Interest Group (JIG). Suddenly it’s Siemens and Emerson who are looking isolated. Of the major process automation vendors, only Honeywell remains poised somewhat uncomfortably on the fence, and with most its PKS Advantage partners already in the FDT/DTM camp, it’s difficult to see how it can avoid falling into line with them.

Rising accusations

Backers of FDT/DTM are keen to present it as complementing rather than replacing EDDL, and most will continue to develop both Device Descriptions (DDs,) and DTMs, not least because, as instrument vendors, they can’t afford not to. Inevitably, the technical arguments are fast being submerged under accusations of politicking and of using the technology on the one hand as a restriction of trade and, on the other, as a means to lock users into proprietary asset management solutions.

Sound familiar? Well, yes. But with Siemens and Emerson in one camp, and Rockwell, Invensys, ABB and now Yokogawa in the other, attempts to present this as another America versus Europe issue won’t stand up. Fieldbus Wars, Round 2, it ain’t, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be just as bitter.

Andrew Bond, andrew@abpubs.demon.co.uk, is a journalist based in the United Kingdom, and is the Editor of the Industrial Automation Insider, a monthly newsletter delivered via e-mail. www.iainsider.co.uk

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