By Mike Bacidore, Managing Editor
Right around this time each year, monarch butterflies begin their annual migration to the temperate southwestern climes of California and Mexico. No one quite understands how they all know when and where to go, since the monarch’s lifespan is normally just one year, so it would have no recollection of following the elders on previous migrations. Researchers attribute it to either the mysteries of DNA or the siren’s call of warmer temperatures and high-altitude winds that allow them to travel such long distances.
If you’re thinking I’m about to tell you about some great winter vacation destination and a cheap airfare to get you there, you’re reading the wrong publication, my friend. Although migration rhymes with vacation, the similarity ends there.
But just as a monarch butterfly starts its lengthy trip, machine builders often find themselves, one step at a time, migrating to new platforms. It might start with a harmless upgrade in HMI, this one with higher-quality graphics and a more user-friendly interface that can be operated by uneducated field mice.
Ah yes, that looks much nicer.
However, it turns out the OI isn’t as interoperable with the I/O as the machine automation supplier said it would be. But that’s just because you’re not using a protocol that lets them talk to each other. This actually is a blessing in disguise. It removes the veil that was hiding the inappropriate modules and exposed them, so now they can be replaced with something more suited to the task that definitely will be compatible with the HMI. In fact, here’s something in the same product family line.
The next thing you know, you’ve replaced the controllers and servos and completed a full migration to an entirely new platform that requires new documentation, new engineers and a new budget. What happened? How did it end up going this far? And who is that guy in your hotel room with the work order for after-sales training?
Many of you are old enough to remember this scenario. Some of you unfortunately might have lived through it yourselves. But with the new claims of machine modularity and component interoperability come hopes of truthiness.
Why should you believe now? What is different? First and foremost, a variety of organizations—from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) to the OPC Foundation and the working groups of the Organization for Machine Automation and Control (OMAC)—are more focused on creating standards that allow suppliers, designers and builders to create open architectures, allowing companies to make more modular replacements of their systems or machines. But which organization’s standards apply to which companies and components? Can’t we all just get along?
While smaller companies still will make large-scale replacements that entail a full migration, largely because their legacy systems often aren’t in step with newer open standards, larger machine builders are more inclined to take smaller steps and keep their costs down by making replacements in stages.
Still, according to a study conducted by ARC Advisory Group (arcweb.com), “2008 will be a pivotal year for competitive system migration, and suppliers will become more and more aggressive about targeting their competitors’ installations.”
Even though open standards and modular machine building is what everyone is aspiring to, truthiness is compromised as more and more industrial automation and control vendors create migration divisions as part of their strategic plans to gain market share.
And yet, hope still has wings. IEEE and IEC agreed in September to extend their partnership for creating standards jointly. We can only hope this kind of cooperation between standards organizations finally might turn migration into an instinctive practice, allowing machine builders to thrive, and not just survive.