“Over the last 15 years, the group that has been downsized the most is engineering. Why? Because engineering is perceived to be doing things that have a cost, but no benefit,” declared Peter Martin, vice president, strategic ventures, for automation vendor Invensys Process Systems, in Foxboro, Mass.
Martin’s remarks came during an opening day keynote address at the April 17-19 joint User Conference sponsored by Expertune Inc., a Hartland, Wis.-based supplier of process and control optimization software, and Tips Inc., an alarm management company based in Georgetown, Texas. Despite bad weather on the East Coast, about 110 customers showed up for the Austin, Texas, event, the first-ever User Conference for the two companies. Around 20 percent of attendees represented manufacturers who are customers of both companies, executives said.
Hearts vs. paper
In his keynote, Martin said the reason for the large number of engineering layoffs is straightforward. Traditional corporate accounting methods have been inadequate to measure the benefits that engineering provides, he explained. But this situation also presents an opportunity, Martin noted. When the contributions of engineering are accurately measured, he said, the results show that “engineering is driving more value to the bottom line than any other group. Executives know this in their hearts,” Martin added. “But they don’t see it on paper.”
Invensys has developed an approach for real-time, finance-based performance measurement that can be used to show the value of engineering and to drive asset performance optimization. “If we can measure the business in a new way, we can build the controllers that will close the loop on business control,” said Martin, noting that Invensys has actually applied for patents on the methodology it has developed.
“Our next challenge as an industry” he said, is to take control technologies developed for the factory floor and use them to do business control—to actually drive the business. The net result, according to Martin, will be “continuous improvement on economic value. And boy, will that catch your chief financial officer’s attention.”
Martin’s keynote, titled “Extracting Measurable Value from Manufacturing Assets,” helped set the theme for the conference, which focused on continuous process industry improvement. “Tips and Expertune share a common philosophy of getting the best that you can out of the assets you have,” summed up George Buckbee, director of marketing and product development at Expertune, during opening day Conference remarks.
What prompted the combined User Conference? While Expertune and Tips have no formal partnership, they have known each other for the past 10 to 12 years, after Tips developed drivers for an Expertune product, Chris Wilson, Tips marketing manager, told Automation World. The companies have begun working more closely together during the past two to three years, Wilson said, as competition increases from large, distributed control systems (DCS) suppliers who sell “full-package” automation systems, including optimization and alarm management capabilities. So the joint User Conference seemed like a natural thing to do.
The three-day Conference was broken into two tracks with sessions covering performance management and alarm management respectively, as well as hands-on tutorials covering each technology. One hot topic on the alarm management side was “dynamic alarming,” which involves altering alarm structure based on plant state, as a way to reduce or eliminate the “alarm flooding” common in many process plants today.
Expertune introduced two new products at the Conference. Key features of the new Version 7.0 of Expertune’s flagship PlantTriage product include its multi-language support, and its enterprise connectivity, enabling enterprise-level users to view and drill down into data from multiple plant locations, said Buckbee. The other new product, ProcessApex, will deliver specific diagnostics, advice and improvement suggestions in real time for process unit operations.