Brownfield Plants on the Path to Industry 4.0
Numerous visitors witnessed how the component supplier had evolved into a specialist for solutions — a specialist in process automation. The ability to put yourself in the mind of your customers and try to understand their requirements so that you can develop the right products for them is one thing. But Phoenix Contact went even further — evolving into a pioneer for solutions with which operators of brownfield plants could approach the process of transitioning their plants in the age of digitalization: step-by-step, with a clear focus and a sense of proportion.
The focus here was not on the products that Phoenix Contact can contribute for this. Instead, the focus was on concrete examples of solutions and services for operators to help them get their plants ready for the digital future. Regardless of whether this was the engineering services required for a retrofit or adaptation solutions to minimize faults during the migration of control systems, whether for identification systems that enable digitally-assisted maintenance or the wireless networks required for this — Phoenix Contact products boost safety, security and plant availability in many different ways.
Smart Monitoring on an Open Platform
The automation platform PLCnext Technology and the cloud computing solution Proficloud that is integrated in it are the latest highlights in the series of Phoenix Contact innovations in technology development — for the time being at least. The ecosystem enables the operator to raise a wealth of data even for existing processing plants and to create added value. As a result, long-term and sustainable process optimization or predictive maintenance can be made possible. For a long time this was the task of control and maintenance systems, but in the face of big data these reach their limits. By contrast, web services and artificial intelligence can exploit the potential here.
And this is where Namur comes in. As a representative of the interest group for process automation, it aims to make sure that the use of existing and additional field data is free of repercussions and secure, without disturbing core processes. Namur’s concept for doing this is the Namur Open Architecture, or NOA for short. The open and secure platform PLCnext Technology offers good solutions for this. Parallel to the process control, sensor data is sent e.g. via OPC UA to Proficloud, where it is then further processed. Here, apps from third-party providers — for example offerings from sensor, actuator or skid manufacturers — can also be utilized. In future, users should be able to help themselves in the PLCnext store or connect to further cloud platforms if required. This opens up the world of Industry 4.0 to the user — simply at the click of a mouse.
Namur Annual General Meeting 2019 — Sponsorship as a Signal of Intent
With the open architecture of PLCnext Technology, Phoenix Contact could completely revolutionize the world of control technology. Even though classic connection technology is set to remain a core part of the portfolio — an area that still has potential for improvement according to Bent. In the era of digitalization, the company from Blomberg/Germany also sees itself as a developer of disruptive technology.
Taking over the sponsorship of the Namur Annual General Meeting for the autumn of 2019 has set a clear marker. “We want to show that the market for process automation is still a very important market for us,” stresses CTO Roland Bent. As one of the few companies offering the full combination of connection technology, electronics and automation technology know-how, Phoenix Contact is planning to demonstrate completely new data connectivity solutions in the future.
In the process, working together as partners — not only with customers, but also with startups and even with competitors — will remain an important part of Phoenix Contact's formula for success. Bent believes that it is important to provide enough space for new topics to develop, for example in its new business fields that are exploring sectors like e-Mobility and Additive Manufacturing. The resulting width makes the company future-proof — by constantly laying the foundations for the ever new paths that Phoenix Contact will embark on together with its customers.
Alongside ideas and technology trends, it is currently more important than ever to manage the rapid growth. With 17,400 employees worldwide and production sites in eleven countries, the Phoenix Contact Group now turns over significantly more than two billion euros per annum. And it plans to grow further, primarily organically. But acquisitions will also contribute. Bent explains: “Our priority is to add and expand from a technological point of view. This means that our acquisition strategy is not directly driven by growth.”
A Pioneer into the Digital Future
In an attempt to remain at the cutting edge in terms of technology and to always develop the best products — and in particular products that meet the specific requirements of the users — Phoenix Contact is involved in various committees. Trendsetting activities here include the participation in the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA) as well as in the definition of Single Pair Ethernet and the Advanced Physical Layer for use in Ex-proof areas.
The support for the OPC Foundation in the standardization of OPC UA down to the field level points in the same direction: Phoenix Contact is continuing to drive developments in the field of machinery and system networking, from sensors to the cloud. For its countless customer industries, the company has thus become a pioneering companion into the digital future.
* The author is a freelancer at PROCESS.