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RTP Corporation Finds Success as a Focused DCS Supplier

Monday, July 18, 2005

By Larry O'Brien

Keywords
RTP Corporation, DCS, Critical Control, TMR, Safety System, High Availability

ARC Advisory Group Brief on RTP Corp

Summary

With all of the recent consolidation in the DCS marketplace, the prospects for smaller suppliers would seem to be limited, given that the top six suppliers control over 85 percent of the global market. RTP Corporation, however, is an example of a small, independent DCS and critical control system supplier that has carved out a successful niche for itself, both in distributed control systems and in safety and critical control systems based on a common architecture. With their value proposition focused on highly reliable and cost-effective hardware platforms for critical control applications combined with a unique software offering and pricing strategy, RTP Corporation, has proven that small suppliers can still find sustainable success in a challenging market.

Analysis

DCS and overall process automation market consolidation has been a reality for many years. In the DCS market, for example, most of the traditional second tier suppliers have been swallowed up to become part of the half dozen or so large process automation suppliers that dominate the market today. As suppliers continue to expand their scope of business to include a wider range of software and services, they are increasingly outsourcing the hardware-related aspects of their business to third party partners. Hardware
expertise currently being outsourced includes everything from design to assembly. Smaller system suppliers are finding it increasingly difficult to compete on the same playing field. RTP Corporation has instead developed manufacturing as a core competency. All of RTP's hardware and software products are designed and manufactured in its facility in Pompano Beach, FL.

RTP Corporate History

RTP Corporation, however, is unique among smaller process automation suppliers. Founded in 1968, RTP began operations as a division of Computer Products, Inc. The company's core business was providing data acquisition systems to the nuclear market, as well as I/O, data acquisition, and control systems to the manufacturing industries, particularly for harsh environments with extreme EMI and RFI conditions. In 1997, RTP experienced a change in ownership and became a privately held company. The strategic direction of the company was also refocused, and RTP is now aggressively pursuing process automation applications outside of its core business in the nuclear industry with its RTP 2300 High Integrity Control System (HICS) platform and related control software offerings. Today, RTP's clients include customers in the metals and mining, power, food & beverage, oil & gas, chemicals, wastewater treatment, and factory automation industries.

System Architecture

RTP's strategy for process control as well as critical and safety control is focused on the RTP2300 High Integrity Control System (HICS) platform, which consists of a set of standard hardware and software components that can be combined to create systems for applications ranging from discrete to triple modular redundant (TMR) safety systems. RTP Micro 2000 Series provides a high integrity solution that can be used as intelligent remote I/O in critical applications where loss of communications cannot result in loss of control. The RTP 2300T Triple Modular Redundant system provides the highest levels of integrity and availability, and features data and communications validation with triple, dual, or common I/O, depending on redundancy requirements. The system can be configured with up to 10,000 I/O points, which can be distributed over a wide area.

RTP also offers a wide range of I/O for all application ranges up to TMR. Key features of RTP I/O include fast scan rates, 16-bit A/D precision, high Common Mode Rejection Ratio (CMRR), and over voltage isolation protection. RTP I/O communications cards support Modbus Master and Slave serial communications and Modbus TCP for connectivity to devices and other systems.

From the hardware perspective, the RTP HICS is unique in that it is suited for a complete range of application criticality, from low priority applications to high-integrity, fault tolerant applications residing on a TMR architecture, all based on the same common hardware platform. The system has already been certified for nuclear applications, and has been submitted to TÜV for SIL 3 applications, with approval expected within the next year. RTP Corporation will also continue its nuclear certification process (1E), where RTP products already have a solid reputation and installed base.

Since manufacturing the control hardware is one of RTP's core competencies, the company can keep its hardware costs down significantly, with a controller and I/O pricing structure that is more similar to that of the PLC market than the DCS market. When compared to traditional TMR systems, which usually command a significant premium, the price differential can be particularly significant.

A Unique Software Strategy

Also unique to RTP's offerings is the NetSuite of software. Developed completely by RTP, NetSuite's PTDB is a redundant, common client/server tag database. PTDB automatically addresses tags and serves them to the rest of the NetSuite applications. PTDB also has built-in redundancy, which ensures that critical tag addressing information is always available. RTP NetArrays serves as the engineering suite, and defines signal validation routines, which support both I/O and sensor redundancy. NetArrays is IEC 61131-3 compliant and includes IEC 61131-7 Fuzzy Logic Control, C++ support, a State Object for batch control, and support of Structured Text. The Structured Text capability was developed specifically to allow for migration of structured text programs from existing applications.

RTPView serves as NetSuite's HMI, and includes a library of over 1,500 images for developing object-oriented graphical displays. RTPView also offers connectivity to third-party systems through OPC-DA. The RTPADA Alarming and Data Archiving System records and stores process variables at a sustained rate of over 100,000 tags per second. The alarm management system offers redundant capability and was designed specifically for highintegrity and redundant applications.

NetSuite is a full suite of software that you would expect to be available from any large DCS supplier, and includes many functions, such as an alarm management package, that are not found in the basic suite of applications from many DCS suppliers. RTP's software strategy differs from that of the mainstream DCS suppliers because it offers an unlimited license for NetSuite across the enterprise for a flat rate of $6,000. The client only has to purchase one license and they are free to deploy the software throughout the enterprise without worrying about number of seats or number of tags used in an application.

Clearly, it is not RTP's intention to generate a lot of revenue from its software business, but its expertise in hardware and its low manufacturing costs allow the company to charge less for software and support services than major DCS suppliers. Similarly, the hardware business remains the primary source of profitability for the company, so it does not have to concentrate on making more money from its software business by charging a lot more for software upgrades and maintenance contracts.

End User Value Proposition

RTP's goal is to sustain its core installed base in the nuclear business while pursuing opportunities in the overall realm of process manufacturing. The company already has many systems installed in industries from power generation to oil & gas to food & beverage. RTP's unique strategy, which is more similar to that of the traditional model of the DCS business, is appealing to a wider range of customers that are looking for an easy to apply solution that is both cost-effective and offers high reliability and availability.

Recently, ARC spoke to one of RTP's newer clients in the nuclear fuels processing business. While this industry is outside the realm of the general process industries, the application that the system was purchased for is a mixture of batch and continuous applications requiring 17 controllers and 10,000 I/O. The application also requires high availability and high reliability control. Avoidance of unplanned downtime was a major concern for this user. In the nuclear fuels business, any slip is going to result in months of shutdown because of regulatory concerns, costing the company significantly.

The user had another DCS installed from one of the big six suppliers, but the platform was an old one and the user was having difficulty keeping the system up to date. The decision was made to replace the system and RTP was evaluated in addition to the legacy supplier.

The user chose RTP because they believed that the new offering from the legacy supplier could not offer the level of reliability and availability they needed for their application. An in-house lifecycle cost analysis was also done, and it was determined that RTP 2300's would have significantly lower lifecycle cost than the competing system, with cost savings in the million dollar range over the lifecycle of the system. Key criteria that resulted in the lower lifecycle cost were RTP's longer warranty (three years versus one year for the competition) and the company's policy of long-term support for its products. The user also viewed the fact that RTP builds its own hardware as a plus. The wide range of I/O options was also cited as a major purchase criterion.

The company believed that because RTP is a smaller company, it also made it easier to communicate with them and get in touch with the right people if they had any questions. While RTP does not have a substantial services business, the customer did utilize the company's training and education program, which it found to be more than adequate.

The $6,000 unlimited software license was a significant factor behind RTP's selection. The user reported that the software was also easy to use and they have experienced no problems or bugs in the software. The licensing policy made it easy for them to develop offline testing of the system with no added cost, and facilitated making incremental additions and improvements to the system. Because of this, the user was able to install the system in various areas of the plant that were not linked to critical processes, making for an eventual phased migration to mission critical applications.

Conclusions

  • RTP is an example of a focused niche supplier that is finding success in a market that is dominated by large suppliers with an ever increasing portfolio of solutions and services.

  • RTP's primary differentiators are its expertise in hardware production and assembly and its ability to offer a full range of control options, from high availability, critical TMR applications to simple monitoring applications, on a single hardware and software platform.

  • RTP's software offering is another key differentiator. The company's policy of offering an unlimited license for $6,000 is one that is unique in the DCS market, and one that may appeal particularly to small and mid-size process automation users.

This paper was written by ARC Advisory Group on behalf of RTP Corporation. The opinions and observations stated in the paper are ARC's. For further information or to provide feedback on this paper, please contact the author at lobrien@arcweb.com.

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