Omron and Rockwell join forces on open fieldbus development

Japanese automation giant Omron Corporation is to collaborate with US company Rockwell Automation on research and product development of open communication fieldbus devices.

Under an agreement signed in Tokyo, the companies will combine forces to promote common fieldbus technologies and open communications which use Ethernet IP, DeviceNet and ControlNet.

This joint operation will be in direct competition with Siemens’ Profibus-based products.

Omron and Rockwell are roughly the same size, but recognised there was a high degree of duplication in their development of DeviceNet and related open protocol fieldbus technology. Rockwell originally developed DeviceNet and ControlNet as communication protocols for connecting distributed control devices on machines and production lines, and focused on making the systems an open architecture during the 1990s.

Rockwell dominates the US market, with some European penetration, while Omron has a stronger position in Asia, where it holds a 40% market share in DeviceNet products and promotes other open protocols alongside its own architecture, ControllerLink.

Omron is also one of the main suppliers of control components and factory automation systems devices in Europe. These include sensors, PLCs, human/machine interfaces and other industrial automation components.

In Europe, Omron operates factories in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. According to Michael Juniper, London-based divisional manager for Omron Electronics: `The aim of the new agreement is to collaborate on non-competing technology, such as open standards like fieldbus, in order to expand the market.

`There are no plans for capital tie-ups, merger or exchange of senior executives between Omron and Rockwell,’ Juniper added. `We will continue to be separate companies. Apart from research into open protocol technologies we will still be competing for sales of automation products in many markets.’

However, other forms of cooperation are likely to follow, including cross branding and e-commerce developments.

The two companies will also collaborate on software product development for OPC (object linked embedding for process control) a hybrid for industrial applications aimed at creating more robust performance.

Omron employs about 50 engineers at its research centre in Southampton who are developing object linked embedded-related products for automation. The group spends about 7% of its turnover on R&D.

A key part of the collaborative strategy is aimed at increasing penetration of the market for automation products in China. Together, Omron and Rockwell aim to avoid duplicated research efforts while also challenging the might of Siemens, which promotes the competing Profibus fieldbus protocol.

Omron chief executive Ytoshio Tateisi said: `The agreement has been driven by the converging needs of automation customers worldwide. By combining the strengths of Omron and Rockwell and aligning our open architectures, we are working to ensure interoperability across the globe. This will help coordination of production across the multiple remote sites that are typical of modern multinationals.’

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