Control Engineering Embedded Control E-News for October 2002


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Thinking about thinking

A recent cartoon in the Dilbert Calendar by Scott Adams (Andrews McNeal Publishing) started me thinking about thinking.

Pointy-haired boss: Wally, you're invited to my new 'after-5' club. A select group of employees will meet after work to think of creative ideas.

Wally: Is there a club for people who know how to think during business hours?

Find more Dilbert at

This reminded me of a story Earl Nightengale told many years ago. Seems a little boy in grade school was gazing out the window, completely lost in thought. The teacher noticed and ceased talking. Soon everyone in class was watching him in complete silence. The little boy noticed the change and came back to the moment. 'What were you doing?' asked the teacher. 'Thinking,' said the boy. 'Don't you know you're not supposed to think in school?' asked the teacher before she realized what she was saying.

Do you ever have time to think on the job? How often can you read articles and brochures looking for new ideas that can be applied toward making your process more effective, efficient, or productive? I've heard of companies, even worked for a couple, where reading trade journals or business publications like The Wall Street Journal was considered 'unproductive' time. You were expected to read and think after business hours. There are even companies who force control engineers into full-time maintenance roles instead of giving them some time to do some 'engineering,' that is, think up and design ways of doing things better.

What's your experience? Do you work for a more enlightened place? What do you do with your time? Let me know at

Motors and motion chips, embedded channel, webcasts

Executive editor, Frank Bartos, reviews chip-based motor and motion control in October Control Engineering and Control Engineering Online . While you're online checking out the October issue, look for daily news and reviews from ISA conference held October 21-24.

Click here to link directly to the Embedded Channel on our website .

Reed Business Information, our parent company, held an online Expo and Conference October 16 and 17. Control Engineering sponsored two conference sessions that can be viewed from the archive for the next three months at or .

Topics include Tom Burke, OPC Foundation president and advisory software developer at Rockwell Automation, discussing how OPC boosts productivity.

Also, Jamie Bohan, business manager for Honeywell Industry Solutions, Kevin Roach, vp of Global Solutions Business at GE Fanuc, and Chris Colyer, group industry marketing manager for Microsoft, will discuss 'Everything you need to know on one screen: the digital dashboard.' GE Fanuc is sponsoring this panel.

Chips, the silicon variety

Semiconductor manufacturers, those people who provide the foundation for the automation we build, have recently pushed the envelope a little more.

Analog Devices has introduced fully integrated gyroscopes for angular rate sensing applications. The iMEMS ADXRS gyro integrates both an angular rate sensor and signal processing electronics onto a single piece of silicon. This was made possible by the company's iMEMS (integrated Micro Electro Mechanical System) surface micromachining process.

Gyroscopes are used to measure the rate at which objects rotate. The information provided by gyros can be used to trigger automobile airbags during rollover, as well as stabilize vehicles and platforms that move, including automobiles, airplanes, robots, antennas, and industrial equipment. The gyro is mounted inside a 7 x 7 x 3 mm ball grid array (BGA) package consuming 5 mA of current at 5 Volts.

Surface micro machining involves depositing, then etching thin films on the substrate -- akin to common IC manufacturing processes and compatible with on-chip circuitry. The smaller dimensions of surface micromachining leave room for the inclusion of necessary signal conditioning and self-test circuitry on the same chip.

For more, visit

Allegro Microsystems
has developed a programmable linear Hall-effect sensor device in a current sensing application. With the ACS750ECA-100, there is no need for a current transducer (CT) in a circuit. Power leads are electrically isolated from the sensing circuitry, and the device offers low power loss with internal resistance of less than one m Ohm. Motor control applications, among others, stand to benefit from this device. e

For more, visit

Motorola's Semiconductor Products Sector unveiled a low-g inertial sensor developed with MEMS technology that senses three dimensions of movement on a single printed circuit board. It has self-test capability before or after installation. Potential industrial applications for these chips include virbration measurement, bearing wear monitoring, seismic detectors, inclinometers, robotics, and security enhancement equipment.

For more, go to

Texas Instruments introduced a 16-bit analog-to-digital converter (ADC) featuring six independent ADCs in one package. This product allows high signal throughput and simultaneous sampling in motor control, multi-axis positioning, power monitoring, and optical networking applications. ADS8364 provides 250 k samples per second sampling and conversion of all six input channels. It includes six high-speed sample-and-holds, six ADCs, a reference and three reference buffers, and provides interface to DSPs and MCUs.

For more, go to

Linux still makes news

A small, but steady, stream of news and product information about Linux continues to cross my inbox. Linux is the Unix-derived operating system available with a no-charge license with the stipulation that any improvements or additions made by the user will be donated back to the project in a process known as open source. The most audible reason for using it is from 'religious' programmers who harbor great dislike and distrust of Microsoft. Others like the Unix-like characteristic of being a stable OS. A good look at an open source automation project is the MatPLC. It's also a place where you can get involved if you have the talent and desire to contribute to an open source project.

I printed a brief description of the project written by Joe Jansen in my July article ' Embedded Control: Heart of the System .'

You can see more about the effort at

SixNet appears to be trying to provide the platform for Linux control and automation. Its latest releases include 'Ipm' Open DCS controller and remote terminal unit (RTU). The company claims that no knowledge of Linux is needed for most applications. IsaGraf IEC 61131 programming tools or a free Linux C++ compiler are offered for control development. A Linux Web server runs pages developed by any HTML development tool. It is powered by a 32-bit PowerPC MCU.

For more, go to

IOtech e provides DaqX-Linux driver for its DaqBoard/2000 PCI and CompactPCI I/O boards. It is designed for use with version 2.4x releases of the Linux kernel (Debian Gnu/Linux 2.4, Red Hat Linux 7.x, and SuSE 7.x). Users can download the software for free from the IOtech Web site.

Find more at

Arcom Control Systems offers a development kit for Embedded Linux with Java for its 133 MHz AMD SC520 Pegasus PC/104 single-board computer.

More is available at

SBS Technologies has made Linux available, along with VxWorks and LynxOS, on its VG4 6U, VME bus, PowerPC single-board computer. For more, go to


Embedded asset management

When I first started talking to clients about machine monitoring for predictive and preventive maintenance, I didn't have a lot of ways to accomplish what I felt was a very important task. There was a board for an Allen-Bradley PLC 5, some sensors, and a somewhat kludgy interface. Now, a convergence driven by advances in commercial silicon technology of better, cheaper sensors, high-speed communications, improved software, and embedded control modules is bringing this dream of improving equipment uptime to reality.

Rockwell Automation has introduced the Entek XM Series modular and open distributed machine monitoring and protection system. The product consists of a network of intelligent modules to continuously monitor and protect plant-floor machinery and equipment. The information gathered allows maintenance personnel to identify developing faults in the equipment and correct them before production is impacted or safety compromised. As is expected of embedded modules, the system is scalable enabling future additions to the machinery or systems covered. Also offered is Entek Emonitor Odyssey/Enshare condition monitoring software.

For more, visit

Future of PLCs

A ccording to ARC Advisory Group's 'PLC Worldwide Outlook, Market Analysis & Forecast Through 2006,' the PLC market will revive despite the global economic slowdown. The release that I received didn't mention numbers, but it did imply market growth in gross sales dollars. Its analysis included a view that industrial PCs are not yet a threat to market share, and that increasing power of nano and micro PLCs will allow users to use them, rather than larger PLCs, driving down costs.

My view of the PLC market is there has already been a significant change. I don't believe that industrial PCs will have any more impact than they have had, from the perspective of control at least. The choices are already there for 'PC-based control' or PLC-based control, and many will continue to use them. Manufacturers of 'large' PLCs have seen market forces and technology converge to drive down the cost of PLC hardware as smaller, yet more powerful, controllers are introduced. This has introduced a new business model for these companies. Growth in this market lies with what I call 'embedded controllers,' ever-smaller packages at smaller sale prices.

Software is becoming more important in the control mix of products. Object, or component, technologies enable integration of control types only dreamed of just a few years ago. Integrated motion with discrete control plus vision is a powerful reality.

Does any of this sound familiar? Look at the PC industry. Dell has captured the lead in PC sales with a model of low-cost producer. Large companies supplement hardware sales with support, software, and peripherals. There are similarities in our market.

Programming-Embedded components

Ready or not, here comes Microsoft's .Net Web services platform and Windows XP. Brett Muzzey of Microsoft discusses how to use macro components for rapid program development in Microsoft Windows XP Embedded.

A component, the most basic element of a Microsoft Windows XP Embedded configuration, is an indivisible unit of functionality that can be included in an embedded run-time image. The next level of complexity is a macro component, which bundles several individual components. Macro components make it possible for multiple components to be included, or instantiated, in the configuration by instantiating only the macro component.

Creating macro components is helpful for the following reasons:

  • Macro components provide filters. For example, if some components must always be together or certain components must not be included in the configuration, you can create a macro component to fit this requirement.

  • Macro components save time. For example, all run-time images need ROM. You can create a macro component to fit this need, and reuse it each time a new run-time image is created.

  • Macro components simplify the development process. For example, if you know you want to include all parts of the Compact PCI component, you can create a group dependency and include these parts in the group.

Macro components bundle component functionality by expressing dependencies on the components that define that functionality. Some macro components allow blocks of functionality to be conditionally included in the run-time image by allowing individual components to be included or excluded through the macro components settings in Target Designer.

For more information, check out the Microsoft Embedded Site .


Digital frame grabber from Coreco Imaging, Bandit-II Digital, is optimized for vision applications taking advantage of improved image quality resulting from using digital LVDS cameras. Advantages of digital over analog cameras include higher signal-to-noise ratio resulting in higher accuracy, in addition to supporting larger image sizes, faster frame rates, and higher pixel resolutions. The product supports both single and dual tap digital cameras and digitization rates of up to 60 MHz. Other features include interrupt-driven I/O signals and an external clock. Images acquired by the product are transferred in real time to system memory with no CPU usage, freeing the CPU to perform other tasks. The frame grabber's onboard VGA can display high-resolution VGA and TV formats simultaneously for increased application flexibility.

For more, visit

Omron's DRT2 smart DeviceNet slave provides capabilities for monitoring both I/O point status and network communications status remotely. It allows remote monitoring and diagnosis of problems such as low network voltage, communications errors, and short circuits for connected devices. It also monitors number of operations and total operation time. e

For more, go to

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