Schneider Electric’s 2015 Global Automation Conference—the abridged version

May 1, 2015
Schneider presented big ideas across industries, talked oil prices, safety and security, and plans for its Invensys

This week in Dallas Schneider Electric gathered its end users for its 2015 Global Automation Conference. While much time was spent explaining the company’s on-going plans for the old Invensys brands—Foxboro, Modicon, Triconex—that focus on the process industries, some subjects popped up that are of interest to manufacturers outside the process markets.

On the opening day, Gary Freburger, president, process automation, for Schneider Electric, delivered a rally-the-troops opening keynote, pointing out that rapidly developing technology is presenting new opportunities for manufacturers across the board. “Global technology developments represented by the Internet of Things, Big Data and Industry 4.0 have opened new opportunities for vendors and customers alike to look at the industrial landscape through a different lens and to drive more value in the face of unprecedented challenges," Freburger said.

He added that the acquisition of the Invensys brands only added to an already exceptionally deep bench that reaches across the industrial automation landscape, from highly discrete manufacturing facilities to continuous processing plants to highly distributed SCADA applications common to water/wastewater, mining and oil & gas sectors. Freburger also sees the opportunity to deliver increasingly integrated solutions that bridge the company's automation, electrical and information technology offerings.

For the report on the opening day speech from our sister publication Control, go here.

Another presentation that spans the manufacturing world was this review of the recent precipitous decline in the price of oil by Al Rivero, Schneider Electric's lead for unconventional oil & gas in North America. Rivero puts into context what the drop means—and doesn’t mean—for industrial and private consumers. According to Rivero, the current 57% percent slump in the price of oil in the 207 days since June 2014 is well in line with the past five “corrections” in the market. The market essentially recalibrates itself every four to five years, with prices dropping relatively precipitously then slowly recovering. From 2008 to 2009, for example, the price dropped 77% over 169 days then took 472 days to recover half of that value.

"On average, it's 160 days to recover 50% of value," Rivero said. "It's a cyclical business, and this is not our first rodeo."

These days, no user conference is complete without a strong component on the questions of both physical and cyber safety and security. Nasir Mundh, global director, safety services, and Joshua Carlson, systems cybersecurity manager, both of Schneider Electric, introduced attendees to a few scary numbers: More than 300,000 new malware programs are released onto the Internet every day; there were 245 reported industrial control system (ICS) attacks in the United States in 2014 (emphasis on "reported"), according to the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center; 79 of these involved the energy sector, and 65 targeted critical manufacturing.

Then Carlson added this sobering thought. "But the problem with facts like this is that they are already out of date. The best that we can ever hope for when it comes to cybersecurity threats is to be totally on top of what we knew yesterday. The threats are always changing." 

For some strategies for dealing with the reality of always playing catch-up, go here.

The nexus of safety and security was the subject of a moderated panel discussion at the conference. Scott Mourier, global process automation SIS expertise area leader, Dow Chemical Company, and Andre Ristaino, managing director, Automation Standards Compliance Institute of the International Society of Automation, explored the connection between the two. The conclusion?

“We need to move safety and security out of their silos, because often security issues are safety issues," Ristaino said, adding that security incidents that can lead to safety emergencies can as easily be accidental and internal as they can be malicious. "This isn't about technology. It's about people and procedures. It's about having a shared vocabulary where the same words have the same meanings. We need to make the same commitment to security that we have made to safety."

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