ARC Forum Mulls Automation's Future

The future of automation will be on the World Wide Web, according to most speakers at Automation Technologies Forum '98 sponsored by Automation Research Corp. (Dedham, Mass.). The conference on Feb. 9-10 brought together manufacturers, integrators, and automation users to discuss future trends.

03/01/1998


The future of automation will be on the World Wide Web, according to most speakers at Automation Technologies Forum '98 sponsored by Automation Research Corp. (Dedham, Mass.). The conference on Feb. 9-10 brought together manufacturers, integrators, and automation users to discuss future trends.

The speakers project that controls engineers will write hypertext markup language (HTML) pages for web servers and web clients on Microsoft Windows NT platforms. Users will experience many benefits from object programing using compoenet object model (COM) and OLE for Process Control (OPC).

They add that Java will be a valid programming tool in the specific NT environment, as well as for device-independent programs. In fact, the OPC Foundation is working on a paper that will establish a method for writing Java applets for OPC.

Vendors are developing these technologies for engineers who want open systems—the ability to build systems from commercially available components. However, while open systems provide more flexibility and competition, they frequently lack a single point of responsibility. As one engineer asked a panel at the forum, "Who will support me when the process goes down?" The answer is that users must choose vendors carefully before buying, and make sure vendors have experience in the industry, have tested products, and have good partner relations with suppliers.

The forum's speakers also agreed the network of the future will clearly be Ethernet-based. Although various device-level networks will continue for a while, Ethernet will be the primary control and information network. They added that this "future" already exists in many manufacturing sites.

Likewise, more data will be sent and presented in the future using Internet technology. Devices will have embedded Java or Microsoft WindowsCE applications and will also be web servers. Internet browsers, such as Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Internet Explorer, or custom-written engines will fuel moves to human-machine interfaces. "Push" technology, developing now for the Internet, will be used to send alarm e-mail to appropriate monitors and computers.

Andy Chatha, ARC's president, noted in his kick-off address that technologies from information technology (IT) departments are finding their way to the factory. In many cases, control engineers will be working with IT personnel more often. Mr. Chatha added that engineers should "train" IT people in the specific needs of machine and process control and find ways to work with them.





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