DCS Systems and the “Connected Enterprise”
It’s been just a few weeks since my FT Batch presentation at the Rockwell Process Systems User’s group meeting in Chicago and I remain overwhelmed by a significant theme of the event: our modern DCS systems are now a “connected enterprise.” If you read this overview article on Rockwell’s site, The Connected Enterprise puts the Industrial internet of Things to Work for You, you can see that we have moved past just talking about IoT and on to actually being “connected.”
For others of you who may have been in the DCS industry for 25 years, it really is amazing the hurdles we have overcome. In the 1990s we were happy just to program a system that allowed us to control PID loops and have their outputs be cascaded to other loops on different subsystems. Heck, I even remember writing a custom script to pass PID parameters inside RTU Modbus strings and send them via serial modems to a remote water handling station that was too far away to be reached by our node network. This was cutting edge. Really, it was.
Now we regularly set up DMZ networks, white list servers, segregate VM nodes, and attach to mobile devices on our control systems! All in a quest to get even more far reaching information into the processes that run our plants.
One keynote slide at the meeting suggested that there may be as much as $65 billion worth of legacy hardware in need of being connected. This is much higher than previous claims I have heard mention. So all this makes me wonder, how old is a legacy system?
Somewhere in the early 1990s, many of us got our first personal email addresses on Compuserve or AOL. In the mid 1990s, you were probably using Netscape to buy something on Amazon.
In the late 1990s, you might have got a Palm Pilot or Blackberry to replace your Day Timer.
But not until 2007 and 2008, with the onset of Androids and iPhone, did technology become inexpensive and pervasive enough to really allow manufacturers to connect everything. Not just our phones, but ultimately for our thermostats with Nest in 2011.
I would argue that as recently as 5 years ago, most process users would not allow Ethernet to run critical controls equipment. We can probably say that “connected” capability is less than 5 to 10 years old. Alright, so maybe the lot it amounts to is $65 billion.
And full disclosure … I have owned and used an AOL account, Netscape browser, Palm Pilot, Android, iPhone, and Nest. How about you?