Following on from last year’s Simatic User Group Forum held in the Drakensberg, Siemens Automation & Drives moved the 2003 forum to international waters... on board the Olympia Countess. Held over four nights and three days, the cruise ship, previously part of the Cunard fleet and sister ship to MSC’s Rhapsody, journeyed from Durban to Bazaruto Island (Mozambique) and back.
If the 60 attendees of the forum thought that they were in for a time of lolling about on sun-drenched decks surrounded my beautiful Greek demi-gods, then Siemens Automation systems product manager, Craig Hudson, soon put that to rest. The rigorous programme had an early morning start and ended late in the afternoon. Conference organisers, élan Communications spared no effort in ensuring that the programme ran smoothly... even to the point of bringing its own audio-visual specialist on board to guarantee that there were no hitches.
That is not to say that the group enjoyed NO recreation... rather that gleaning a mass of information on the latest Siemens technology was given first priority. The evenings were often a time of riotous fun, with the entire ship (almost 800 passengers) partaking in theme parties. But more about that later...
The conference assembly was divided into smaller groups that rotated through a variety of topics. Some of the specialities covered included:
* Using highly colourful presentation techniques, regional manager Heiko Katheder (Siemens, Germany) spoke on the future of Simatic as well as recent developments in component based automation.
* Microsystems specialists, Dieter Meyer (Germany) and Martin Taverner (South Africa) reported to the group on the latest releases in the Logo! product range as well as innovations in the S7-200 group. Communication highlights, including the latest Industrial Ethernet developments were also covered.
* With industrial networking becoming an ever-important issue, the technology update on ProfiNet and ProfiSafe by Jochen Christ (German) and local networking specialist Hertzog Makete gave the forum much food for thought.
* Local scada specialists, Tommie Chambers and Rocco de Villiers, launched the newest version of Siemens scada solution, WinCC Version 6.
* The latest innovations in Siemens MES solution, Simatic Framework were introduced by Robert Spurlatti (Italy).
* Anton Kotze and Rowan Dickason, drive specialists from Siemens South Africa, gave updates on drive technologies, drive monitoring systems, harmonic suppression techniques and Siemens' active front-end technology.
* A technology that is making inroads into the South African market is the use of ASI-bus to control emergency shutdowns. Ulrich Dusel (Germany) gave practical demonstrations on the configuring and commissioning of such systems. Emphasis was placed on the legal implications and traceability of the system in case of industrial accidents.
* Andreas Pfrommer (Germany) launched Version 6 of Siemens process control system, PCS7. Key features highlighted included:
* Multiclient operation with the ability to view all or only selected areas of a plant.
* Increased system capacity.
* Client/server architecture.
* Redundancy for both servers and archives.
* Online modification capability.
* Some of the latest ultrasonic and radar level measurement technologies were introduced by Greg Smook and Phillip Tempel.
* A number of Siemens system integrators, including Siemens Industrial Solutions & Services, AST and Abacus Automation, presented some of the solutions that they had provided using Siemens technology.
Wednesday morning of the trip saw the Olympia Countess dropping anchor approximately 1 mile off the coast of Bazaruto. By some miracle of organisation, all the guests on board were ferried by rubber duck to the shore. Some of the conference group took the opportunity to try out the local waters for both scuba diving and snorkelling. Others in the party preferred to keep their feet dry and took long walks on the beaches of the island. By the late afternoon, with the tide rapidly coming in and all 800 passengers loaded back on board, the ship weighed anchor and started the voyage back to Durban.
Theme parties during the evening included a 'bon voyage' theme, a tropical-fiesta theme, a formal dinner hosted by the captain of the ship and a Greek-themed evening in celebration of the national registration of the vessel. On more than one occasion the festivities continued into the wee hours of the morning.
"The feedback we received from attendees of the forum was overwhelmingly positive," commented Craig Hudson. "In fact, we did not receive a single negative comment. I believe that we achieved the 'technology transfer' that we set out to accomplish and that every attendee came away with a vast acquisition of knowledge. There is no doubt that we will hold a user forum in 2004, even if it might not be held in quite as radical a venue as international waters!"
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