Convergence, transparency seen as leading trends in electrical systems

PLANT ENGINEERING recently met with Jean-Pascal Tricoire, executive vice president, Schneider Electric International Div., and Chris C. Richardson, president and CEO, Schneider Electric - North American Div., to discuss trends in industry. Following are some highlights from that interview. Tricoire and Richardson see the convergence between automation and power as a major trend.
By Staff May 6, 2003

PLANT ENGINEERING recently met with Jean-Pascal Tricoire, executive vice president, Schneider Electric International Div., and Chris C. Richardson, president and CEO, Schneider Electric – North American Div., to discuss trends in industry. Following are some highlights from that interview.

Tricoire and Richardson see the convergence between automation and power as a major trend. In the past, control systems and power systems were treated separately. Now there is a trend to very integrated solutions between the two.

They are also seeing more convergence with communication technology. And this is a big step in the direction of maintenance predictability and maintainability, they say. The next big step, Tricoire says, is not only power automation, but communication, especially through web technology.

Richardson explains that Schneider Electric has been working to facilitate those trends in two basic areas. The first is the adoption of open architecture that is based on Ethernet or other very commonly used communication protocol. The second is the creation of web-enabled products with the capacity to communicate via the internet.

As these technologies come together, the “transparent factory” envisioned 7 or 8 yr ago begins to become a reality. “Somebody can really get the transparent access to all the parts of his electrical power control system. So basically, we’ve got drives, for instance, that are wired to the web server. You connect to the web, you have the specific drive address, and you can see what’s happening. You can go deep into your automation system. The more and more products are interconnectable through internet-based communications means their information can go anyplace. It is truly transparent,” Tricoire says. With this kind of transparent access, the most knowledgeable people can be brought to bear on a project no matter where they are. “I think the transparent factory brings you better capabilities to better use your competencies among your maintenance people,” Ticoire says.

The technology is available. The problem is the cost. But, Richardson says, “The whole mentality is changing. The more the machine is seen as an integral part of the process, producing product, the more investing there will be in preventive maintenance, anticipating problems, adapting to those problems, and monitoring them ahead of time.”

Moving ahead

The key for most plants going forward, Richardson says, is the ability to retrofit. “It’s fundamentally upgrading the technology using some part of the infrastructure to be able to communicate and get power better applied to the machine,” Richardson says. “In the short term, build in flexibility, because I don’t think you are ever going to know exactly what you’re going to need. I don’t deny the cost, but flexibility at the appropriate cost. And flexibility requires more intelligence to be able to adapt quicker. Any engineer should be looking for technology built upon even more intelligence, flexibility, higher speed, reliability, and better monitoring.”

And Richardson adds, “The other thing is he’s got to get a set of vendors around him that he can develop for the long term and understand what is going on. This is where partnerships come in.”