Apps for the Digital Age

Schneider Electric fine-tunes its industry-specific apps and rounds out its product portfolio with new cloud-based software, closed-loop IIoT offerings and a universal automation configuration tool.

Executives from Schneider Electric kicked off the Wonderware user conference in Orlando this week with a flurry of facts about the company, the economy and the emerging technology trends. All of this set the stage for a number of new product and service announcements that will shape the way manufacturers manage operations and buy technology in the future.

To start, Ravi Gopinath, executive vice president of Schneider Electric, reminded the audience in the opening session that the company’s software business remains strong in the areas of operations control information management, operations management and process engineering because it adheres to a hardware agnostic model.

With that as a base, Schneider Electric continues to evaluate how its product portfolio can evolve to help customers, paying particular attention to fundamental shifts that shape business decisions. Specifically, manufacturers face challenges around commodity prices, but they must also deal with global competition and consolidation as well as regulations around product quality and safety. In addition, a new generation of workers are forcing their employers to reevaluate how enterprise and plant floor technology can be used and consumed.

Then, of course, there are the technology trends that are not passing fads, including: The cloud, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), mobility and Big Data and analytics.

Wonderware’s technology covers a wide range of industries, but the real value-add comes in the specialized applications, Gopinath said. To that end, he is always asking: What does this mean in terms of the new digital age?

“It is incumbent on us to do the work and translate the value of the product portfolio into specific industry segments,” Gopinath explained, noting that the company’s Industry Solutions group supports life sciences, food and beverage, power generation, metals and mining, water and wastewater and oil and gas. This industry-specific strategy is using new application templates that are easy to deploy for faster time to value, he said. In addition, Schneider products will plug into more connection points to leverage IIoT as well as to the cloud as a way to deliver subscription-based models for flexible consumption.

From an IIoT standpoint, Schneider is taking its connectivity to RTUs, PLCs, and DCSs, which it has been doing for decades, and adding support for devices that talk directly to the cloud through MQTT. More importantly, it can take that data and close the loop to improve overall asset performance.

For example, as a proof point, Schneider Electric is digitally connecting the electromagnetic equipment it makes to a historian and predictive analytics in order to manage and monitor fault information, diagnostics and performance for its customers. The information captured can tie into business planning systems to see when something may fail. It can also provide feedback to the engineering teams to tweak how products behave.

Of course, at the heart of the portfolio is HMI/SCADA, which, admittedly, became confusing when Schneider Electric acquired Invensys a few years ago. So the company set out to design a framework that unifies the common core capabilities, which include device integration, interoperability protocols and alarms and analytics. These sit on a converged platform while continuing to capitalize on the strengths of each offering.

“The approach is to make sure HMI/SCADA and real-time control address the needs of different markets,” Gopinath said.

It also has to address technology shifts, including the acceptance of the public cloud—which analysts say has increased by 43.3 percent since 2011. Customers are moving from buying technology to “renting” it. And Schneider Electric is cloud-ready when you are, company officials said.

An example of a new Schneider cloud solution is Wonderware Online InSight which provides access to any of the organization’s production and performance data from anywhere on a mobile device. By typing in the information you are looking for, much like a Google search window, content is automatically generated with screens that look at time series data, bar charts, and even notifies operators when things go beyond certain conditions.

In addition, the introduction of InStudio, a cloud-based, menu-driven collaboration platform, allows an organization to make all of the engineering tools and editors for design, build and test accessible to a global community of users.

“You will no longer go to a job site and not have the software version or corporate standards available because it is always available via the cloud,” said Norm Thorlakson, Schneider Electric’s vice president of HMI and Supervisory.

There were many more announcements at the conference, including enhancements to the company’s Enterprise Asset Performance Management (APM) software and Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM)—now referred to as Manufacturing Operations Transformation (MOT) for the convergence of IT/OT. A preview was offered of InTouch Omni, the next-generation of HMI/SCADA management with multi-site management. But perhaps the biggest news coming out of the conference is Prometheus, a universal automation configuration tool that works across virtually any PLC, RTU or HMI in real time. “Others have tried to do this and write directly to firmware, but Prometheus uses the native editors of any PLC platform,” Thorlakson said.

In addition, Auto Build adds a way to extract data from a PLC program in a defined template and pull it back into Wonderware System Platform to create configuration elements that correspond with user-defined templates. This can harmonize and manage a whole infrastructure in tight alignment with the HMI.

Collectively, the announcements unveiled address the challenges customers face in the future. “We are in the midst of an incredibly transformative time,” Gopinath said. “What we are setting out to do is part of our vision to deliver value in the digital age.”

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