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Accelerating out of the gates

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DUNCAN Schleiss is the global vice-president for systems marketing, Emerson Process Management . Schleiss is the vision and drive behind the DeltaV system, and in 2003 received the prestigious E.G. Bailey Award from the ISA for his leadership and vision in the process automation industry. He was honoured for numerous contributions to the society and the process automation industry, including helping to launch Emerson’s DeltaV digital automation system. Schleiss is only the 14th recipient of the award in the society’s 58 year history. Here he talks with Denes Bolza, editor of Process & Control Engineering (PACE).

DENES BOLZA: Whats the big picture with DeltaV?

DUNCAN SCHLEISS: We’ve made complex, sophisticated technology easy. You only have to think of technology we use every day, like VCRs, which have become more complicated over time, sprouting too many buttons that people can’t deal with any more. Fieldbus emerged as a very elegant technology, but it wasn’t easy. With our third generation of fieldbus, we’ve made it very simple for the average guy to use. Nobody wants to be mucking around and learning rocket science in the middle of the night, when they need to replace a transformer or a valve.

How has DeltaV been improved?

We’ve expanded DeltaV’s scalability, ranging from extremely small to our theoretical fence, or maximum, of 1.8 million tags – which is as big as we can comprehend. DeltaV also has many new features that enable us to maintain our leadership in fieldbus. We like to believe we’re the best in the world, having been part of the launch of that technology. Emerson knows more about fieldbus than any other company.

Is it becoming easier to simplify complex technology?

No, it has not become easy at all. And while you can’t measure complexity itself, looking back you can measure the results of it having been made easier.

What do you mean?

Well, for example, take MP3 players. The most elegant of them all is the iPod. Even though it’s pretty sophisticated, it’s not bristling with buttons. It is easy to use and just works. You can generally get the gist of it in five minutes and don’t need a manual to enjoy the experience.

Were being expected to do more with less, so having easy technology cant hurt, can it?

Having to do more with less is a recurring theme, particularly in Westernised societies where head count pressures are resulting in the do-more-with-less theme. In the past there might have been an engineering department of 10 people; now it’s a group of two and, in some cases, we have seen the department abandoned altogether. So we have to target the generalist, where the technology is easier to use than before because one doesn’t have the time of day to study deeply into subjects. That’s becoming increasingly important in the products we deliver. We focus on easy first. Revealing the inside of the technology to customers is not a good thing any more. With advanced control, for example, the highest priority is that it must be made easy. Deploying model predictive control by example must be a very simple affair. So the concept of “Let’s go and hire consultants and keep them on site for a year” is not going to happen in most of the plants that we touch.

What drives the big-picture vision?

Predicting the future. If you’ve only got seven days to live, what you do today and tomorrow is very different to what you did yesterday. Wouldn’t your behaviour change in a big way? Sure! In plant operations, it’s possible to predict equipment failure in most cases. This allows you to take preventative action ahead of time, during degradation, without waiting for the process to go haywire. If you know about equipment problems, you can avert process problems. For example, a key factor in the BP Texas City disaster* in the US last year was the failure of a level transmitter. The process worked okay until they needed the transmitter, and it led to catastrophic results. The failure could have been easily predicted with digital technologies, such as the intense diagnostics of fieldbus, but impossible to predict with 4-2 mA technology. Likewise at Buncefield in the UK. In today’s world, it is becoming inexcusable not to deploy smart technologies that can keep plants safer and running more optimally than before. Especially since the cost between the two is marginal.

* In March 2005, 15 workers were killed and more than 170 injured when explosions and fire erupted during the restarting of a process unit at BP’s Texas City refinery.

Why is there resistance to change?

It’s a dilemma. As consumers, we are quick to recognise value and change. For example, I moved from my old vinyl albums to CD-ROMs and from CDs to an MP3 without hesitation. We all have. The risk is low. The value is high. And decisions are made. In the world of chemical and nuclear plants or refineries, we behave quite differently, as though we had a new chameleon skin. It seems that most of us resist new things. “It’s been this way for so many years, why would I change?” Part of the problem is that we exert great diligence to set up work practices and procedures. These are made by a team and approved by many. To all of a sudden undertake a shift in technology that requires a rewrite of all your work practices and everything you’ve learnt over the past 30 years is a test that is not insignificant. That is a barrier – not a technical barrier as much as a work barrier – and this barrier is real. We are attempting to tackle this barrier but cannot do this without customers’ visionary participation.

Who is the best qualified to pioneer such change?

Anyone who’s prepared to stick out their neck a little bit, backed by management. The plants that are the most successful (and I measure that degree by our customers’ success) are those that have a person of vision and perseverance. Most people are content with the status quo than change.

Change always catches up with people in the end, doesnt it?

Actually it is the opposite. There are those companies that change all the time – these are the survivors. The others wither and die soon enough. In this competitive world, if you’re not on top of the game financially, ultimately you’ll lose out. Take an example in safety. Here, we’ve introduced a state of the art safety solution built around standards such as IS 61508/61511. In some countries, non-compliance to these standards could lead you to a really tricky personal situation. Should a disaster occur in a facility and somebody is hurt or, worse yet, killed, you personally – as the plant manager – and not the company can be held liable and face criminal prosecution. Ignoring what is going around the world and living in the status quo can lead to real personal problems. We’re starting to see this example become a reality in certain countries. Some countries still freewheel in this area while others are tightening up.

Youve been described as the vision and drive behind DeltaV. Are you driven by the need to see a safer world or is it that you can see more clearly through the clutter?

That is flattering. There is a strong team behind DeltaV of which I am one. But regarding your question it is difficult to see through the clutter and sometimes we get a little sidetracked in our delivery of the vision. Here is a personal story that you might find interesting. When we released our safety solution, a young CFSE (certified functional safety engineer) come up to me. He was brimming with excitement. He said, “I’m very excited about this product.” I echoed the opinion that I was too. Our reasons were quite different. He truly believed that the solution would make the world a safer place reminding me that there’s more to it than market share and financial success which was my perspective. We know we’ve got a great product and we know it’s going to do well. We’ve spent a fair amount of money and we’re looking at a return on investment – and we’re excited about that. But here we had two people, standing shoulder to shoulder, with different dreams and passions. Sometimes it’s not about money.

Where did the name DeltaV come from?

From delta-v which, in general physics, denotes change in velocity. V is velocity. Delta-v over delta-t is acceleration. We tied the name to the notion that we wanted to accelerate out of the gates and change industry. Now we play around with it a little and say it’s Delta customer “value”.

When was DeltaV introduced?

In 1996. On occasions we get customers who ask us if it’s still too new. That gives you an indication of how fast people move. On rare occasions, we get the customers who ask us if it is too old.

What are your answers?

The first question is easy to answer. If you need 10 years of runtime experience before you buy something, this suggests that you’re a very slow adopter – and that you wouldn’t even buy a two year old car. To those who ask us if the technology is too old, we point out that we’ve only recently introduced the DeltaV SIS. The solution of integrated digital architecture end to end is still new, and we’ve only recently embraced safety into that architecture. Here, we’re also about to introduce the world of wireless, as in wireless pressure transmitters that communicate also with a digital protocol. The architecture continues to evolve. In fact, some of those solutions lead to pretty disruptive changes in customers’ value propositions.

Where is the pot of gold? And how do you go about reaching it?

We look for evolutionary technologies that deliver revolutionary business results to our customers. Some of the technologies we play around with, however, while interesting from a pure science perspective, have no street value whatsoever.

Looking into the future, what are your developers talking about but which is yet to be realised in practice?

Wireless transmitters are just moving past the talk scenario into the implementation game. This is going to make a step change. Looking over the horizon, it’s tricky to see what is coming. There will be a big impact in our world with the movement from Windows XP to Windows Vista*. I expect people will move to Vista because it offers higher security. Two other technologies coming up in Vista have great promise for process control. The first is Windows Presentation Foundation, which has potential in terms of changing user interfaces. This is the world of scalable vector graphics, in that I can draw graphics once and put them on big screens or small screens, or tablets, handhelds, etc. The other technology is called Windows Workflow, which moves one up into the MES world, where actions and assignments can be moved around the plant and into the office world. In terms of usability, big changes are happening, led by Microsoft, with regard to revealing the functionality in Word. Here, only 20 percent of functionality gets used by the average person. The other 80 percent is hidden in places that are inaccessible. How do you reveal this functionality in a way that makes it intuitive and easy to the user? We’d love to believe that someone can sit down at a control system and start implementing it with no training.

* There’s an 80 percent chance that Microsoft’s next-generation operating system, Vista, will be ready in January. Microsoft has designed the security system from scratch to mirror that used by Unix, Linux and Apple’s Mac OS.

Will Microsoft provide the entire solution?

Microsoft sometimes delivers a set of tools that customers and/or vendors have to stitch them together. It seems on occasions as though you can’t put the thread through the needle. Our developers are working on Windows Workflow right now, trying to determine where Microsoft leaves off and the rest of us pick up. Whether Windows Workflow will have great promise or not is too early to tell.

Whats the future for engineers?

If I were a budding engineer or thinking of entering the engineering profession, I would worry about the possibility of my job being shipped to India or China. By 2010, China and India combined are expected to have 80 percent of the world’s engineers. That would not put me off an engineering career necessarily but I’d be looking for a position that cannot be moved. You’re always going to need somebody in-plant. So there is that protection. This demand can only increase. While many people will be turned off because jobs are being moved, this will leave us with a demand for people entering the profession. If my son were to say that he wants to become an engineer, I’d be very supportive. I see a future for engineers that is not going to go away.

Will the engineers role change to one of lateral thinking rather than maintenance?

High tech made easy is part of our future. So engineers’ roles will change. They will be able to handle more balls in the air more efficiently than today. Instead of focusing on one particular unit, they will be able to spread their expertise across three or four.

Will the role of the vendor change?

With the number of people in plants steadily decreasing, operating companies will rely more and more on their automation suppliers as partners in running facilities. Emerson’s service capability in advanced control is ramping up steadily to meet that trend. We can share our service experts across multiple facilities, where an individual plant may not be able to afford that.

What about the factory of the future? Whats that going to look like?

I once challenged a customer with a vision of the plant of the future that is quite different to today. Instead of a massive refinery, what if the refinery came in a container? To increase throughput, you’d simply stack more containers, join them at the header and exit at the other side. Some of this is being played out in the pharmaceutical world but success has not been reached yet. Will the shape of plants change dramatically? Perhaps not in your or my lifetime. But it will change. It must – like everything else.

Is there evidence of fear-mongering to force rapid change?

Not that I can see. While I’d like to see big step changes in the way we do some things, our industry doesn’t lend itself to that. People are slow movers. I see steady change over time as manufacturers are forced to respond to increasing pressures, such as regulations.

Do you expect further industry consolidation?

I’ve predicted consolidation in the past and it never happened, so I’m reluctant to predict it again. I think some of the small players will consolidate but the big players – the top six – will stand pretty much alone. I’d be surprised if there was a merger between any of them. But, as I’ve pointed out, I’ve been wrong in the past and I’ll be wrong again tomorrow.

Whats Emersons vision on vision?

At Emerson we’re expected to be on the technical frontier. We’re primarily engineers at heart, top to bottom. We are tasked by executive officers to have between 30 and 35 percent of our annual revenue come from products introduced in the last five years. We have a steady annual cash infusion funding our technology program to deliver this demand. In order to constantly deliver new products and services, and thereby deliver more value to customers, one needs to be regimented in thinking and execution – and one must have people with vision.

Vision is handy but what about keeping your feet on the ground?

We learn much from our customers, through endless observations and questions. We visit plants, we read the noticeboards, we watch people at work. Often folk are all running so hard that often they can’t see that there’s a 10 times better way to do something. It pays to sometimes just stop for a moment and smell the coffee.

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