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Technology gets a facelift

June 25, 2021
Reinvented DCS and PLC technology just a part of changing automation solutions

Mark Bulanda was named executive president of Emerson’s Automation Solutions business in February. In this role, he oversees an $11.2 billion business that helps companies leverage automation software and technologies to optimize operations, protect personnel and reach sustainability targets. He was appointed to Emerson’s Office of the Chief Executive, which helps to develop and guide the company’s global business strategies, in 2016.

Prior to his role leading Automation Solutions, Bulanda was senior vice president of planning and development for Emerson. In this role, he oversaw the company’s acquisition and portfolio management activities and was instrumental in driving Emerson’s software initiatives.

Bulanda began his career with Emerson in 1985 as a co-op engineering student and was promoted to various sales and marketing positions within its businesses before becoming president of ventilation products at Emerson Motor in 1998. Two years later, he was named vice president and general manager of its commercial and industrial motors unit. Bulanda then served as vice president of corporate planning and in 2005 was named president of Emerson Climate Technologies’ White-Rodgers business. He served as president of Control Techniques, an Emerson Industrial Automation business unit headquartered in the United Kingdom, from October 2009 to 2012. He held this role until 2016, when he was named vice president of acquisition planning and portfolio management.

What are three key things that a machine builder, system integrator or manufacturer should know about Emerson?

Mark Bulanda, executive vice president, automation solutions, Emerson: Emerson is a long-term, trusted automation partner with many industry leading brands, and over the past few years we have made significant investments to expand our portfolio of software, control and intelligent sensing technologies to better serve our customers, improve designs and optimize operations.

As a global technology provider and manufacturing company, Emerson understands how challenging it can be to keep pace with today’s rapidly changing landscape. We are partnering with many OEMs and system integrators to help through several new programs that provide greater access to our experts and technologies, while also simplifying commercial interactions, so our customers can focus more time on their next-generation solutions and less time worrying about complicated integrations and inadequate long-term support.

Industrial manufacturing has never been more dynamic, from significant financial and workforce challenges to unprecedented development cycles and accelerated sustainability efforts to reduce carbon footprint. It’s truly an unprecedented time, and we believe that technology plays a crucial role in enabling manufacturers to meet their business objectives. We have created unique solutions to help our customers to reduce time to market, monitor and manage energy consumption and enable remote operations, so that our customers can keep pace with these changes.

What new technologies are driving your product development and why?

Mark Bulanda, executive vice president, automation solutions, Emerson: Emerson’s entire portfolio is designed with one goal: to help our customers operate safely, efficiently, reliably and profitably. Automation is the greatest strategic lever producers can use to reach top-quartile performance vs. their competitors, and we provide the most complete set of solutions to accomplish that goal.

Emerson has a long history in sensing technologies and continues to invest in new sensor applications to help customers to achieve a pervasive-sensing strategy, with greater flexibility and lower installed cost. A big step forward in this continues to be adoption of wireless technologies to reduce the cost of deployment, especially in the hybrid and process industries. We also have unquestionably the largest final control and actuation portfolio in the industry, critical since it is the only technology that physically controls the process. Emerson’s installed base of devices is one of the largest in industry, which is an important part of the automation ecosystem.

Emerson continues to advance the control technology landscape by reinventing DCS and PLC technology. We continue to evolve DeltaV and Ovation DCS systems for energy, life science and power segments, as well as Emerson’s PACSystems PLC platform for discrete end markets and machine builders.

New software technology designed to harness the power of cloud also is important because big data and remote collaboration, spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, is here to stay. Managing the massive increase in data being generated in plants has motivated us to introduce the Plantweb Optics Data Lake, a new component in our Plantweb Optics Platform. Optics Data Lake brings all the benefits of a modern, cloud or on-premise-based, comprehensive data management environment combined with the deep domain expertise required to make data actionable. This is a critical step for moving customers out of siloed data models and giving them the foundation to liberate data to be used efficiently and quickly wherever it is needed, and to integrate their operational and enterprise data at scale. Our analytics software then goes to work on this unified data, using first principle, machine learning, artificial intelligence and/or other data science analytics to help improve decision making. We also provide a library of template applications that are ready to deploy for many applications, such as analysis of common equipment classes, dramatically reducing development and deployment costs.

Interest in autonomous operations has increased dramatically in our customers since the beginning of the pandemic. Our software development teams continue to make big technical and usability improvements in control systems and analytics applications to support that goal. Incorporation of technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality and digital twins all enable less personnel on site, easy remote operation and troubleshooting, and more automated decision making.

Digital-twin technology has also proven invaluable for capital projects and workforce training. Digital twins of equipment and processes combined with simulated control systems has enabled remote acceptance testing. When these twins are combined with virtual reality models of physical assets, we enable complete virtual operation of both physical and digital systems. This provides hands-on, near-real-world training as skilled workers retire or new plants start up.

We have also released new edge computational products. The field mounted AMS Asset Monitor is targeted at equipment diagnostics generally in the hybrid and process industries, whereas the highly unique RX3i CPL410 controller combines the capability of deterministic machine-connected PAC controller with an open Linux environment for both process and edge analytics, or whatever application or connectivity you desire, in the same physical device. This is a great product for machine builders looking to add their own value-added applications to their control strategies.

Cybersecurity has of course become embedded in everything we do, and we are working on some unique products in that area. Stay tuned. The Advanced Physical Layer (APL) is an emerging new technology for field connection in the hybrid and process industries that promises Ethernet speed and flexibility while providing the simplicity of two-wire twisted pair connections, even in intrinsically safe areas. We are developing several products incorporating that technology.

Finally, sustainability has become a greater driver in our entire customer base, and these technologies work together in our customers’ ecosystems to improve efficiency, contributing to improved sustainability. We encourage development of new sustainable processes, such as hydrogen and carbon capture and expect to play a large role in enabling them. But all processes can benefit today from the energy and material efficiencies our applications and technology can provide.

How does the Industrial Internet of Things figure in your business strategy?

Mark Bulanda, executive vice president, automation solutions, Emerson: As much discussion and publicity as there is around it, we see the Industrial Internet of Things as simply a means to an end. Company goals and business cases are what come first with digital transformation—not the technology. We want to help our customers to realize their digital transformation goals by implementing tools that leverage IIoT technologies in a practical, scalable way that meets their unique operational needs. I have already mentioned our sensor focus, and we have also made significant acquisitions in the software space to enable value from that new and existing sensor data. As a company, we have a $2.4 billion embedded and standalone software portfolio and continue to invest in developing and expanding our full suite of digital transformation solutions, including IIoT solutions, the Plantweb digital ecosystem.

Also read: Predictive technologies embrace remote connectivity

How will machine automation and controls alter the way companies staff their operations in the future?

Mark Bulanda, executive vice president, automation solutions, Emerson: The advancement and adoption of technologies combined with lack of skilled workers will drive the trend toward remote and potentially autonomous operations, but success will always depend on human ingenuity from the plant floor to the C-suite and in between. In the future, machine automation and controls will handle certain tasks that will free up engineers and operators, allowing them to focus on studying, executing and carrying out higher-level strategic business decisions, such as responding to market trends and dealing with unforeseeable disruptions instantaneously. This requires an intimate knowledge of the company’s culture, its digitalization strategy, its weaknesses and how to capitalize on them.

How is the development of software solutions impacting your requirements for hardware?

Mark Bulanda, executive vice president, automation solutions, Emerson: Several factors are shaping future hardware architectures. On one hand, cloud computing is driving greater centralized hardware demand, whether for large-scale data management or SaaS; that is in the hands of the big cloud companies. However, we also see plant networking infrastructure going through an evolution. The demand for edge computing and local operational analytics is pushing us all to higher performance hardware and more on-site data generation, including the products I already mentioned. Cybersecurity is an ever-increasing concern, and simpler solutions are needed than many of today’s complex structures as the need for OT data in the IT world only increases. Standards such as OPC UA and TSN should enable simpler and flatter solutions for the future.

Our strategy is to provide the right hardware and software solution, and where that software is located—on prem, hybrid, cloud—to our customers where and how they want those solutions. The automation industry is going through a transformation, and Emerson has the right domain knowledge, hardware, software and implementation methodology, uniquely positioned to help the market go through this transformation.

As engineering and IT continue their convergence, which one is and/or will be leading the direction of future automation and technology?

Mark Bulanda, executive vice president, automation solutions, Emerson: It’s important to first understand and appreciate what both groups bring to the table. IT brings the latest technology, technology scalability and an understanding of the enterprise computing environment. IT is great at driving enterprise standards. However, the operational technology (OT) experts bring a deep understanding of the actual manufacturing process, as well as the variety of engineering disciplines that converge in an industrial facility. OT experts know what the business impact on operations can be from new technologies and applications and defining the ROI of projects; and they are essential in having new technologies be embedded in operational processes. So, both are critical, and they will have to learn to collaborate.

There must be a collaborative responsibility with one set of shared goals that both groups agree on for desired outcomes. The most successful projects are both top-down and bottom-up; each discipline brings domain expertise and experience to solve the problems. Without leadership to empower the workforce with proper training and change management, automation technology advancements are limited in their impact. People are essential to the equation, especially when you consider how the pandemic has changed the way people work and removing them from work environments due to social density considerations.

Looking into the future, how will technology change your company over the next five years?

Mark Bulanda, executive vice president, automation solutions, Emerson: Just like our customers, we want to drive greater sustainability in our operations, improve collaboration across our teams and maximize the performance of our manufacturing facilities around the globe. So, virtually everything I’ve said is true for us, as well: adopt digital technologies to drive better decisions and better measurable outcomes. We want to ensure the safety of our people, improve efficiency which improves sustainability, reliability and drive productivity to deliver the performance for our shareholders.

About the author: Mike Bacidore
About the Author

Mike Bacidore | Editor in Chief

Mike Bacidore is chief editor of Control Design and has been an integral part of the Endeavor Business Media editorial team since 2007. Previously, he was editorial director at Hughes Communications and a portfolio manager of the human resources and labor law areas at Wolters Kluwer. Bacidore holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He is an award-winning columnist, earning multiple regional and national awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at [email protected] 

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