Control Engineering HMI eNews for November 2002
Reader feedback, OMAC, users demand
Referring to the note from Jürgen Bischhaus, managing director of Beijer Electronics, regarding remotely updating software in my October HMI newsletter, a reader took exception to suppliers concerned with constantly updating software. He writes, 'For those end-users whose regulatory constraints (e.g. FDA) prevent frequent software updates (or make them impractical), this approach to creating software products is horrible! I don't want 'beta' versions in my production equipment. What happened to quality with software companies? I still can't believe that we users let them get away with this! I will continue to give themfeedback that this approach is not acceptable, and I hope that you and your readers will help me change the software vendors' attitude.'
No doubt, Mr. Bischhaus is trying to fill what his company sees as a customer need, and we are in no position to comment about the quality of the solution. However, the reader does point out some real problems faced by those of you in the trenches. Constant updates, whether from Microsoft or your favorite HMI application supplier, are a real problem. No update goes completely smoothly. They all take some engineering time. Plus, regulatory validation is imperative in many industries, so a 'simple' update may have untold consequences on your time and budget.
In a similar vein, a representative of an automation technology provider raised a question at the recent Packaging Working Group meeting of OMAC (open modular architecture control) during the recent Pack Expo, in Chicago. 'If all the control is open, and you can save an IEC program as an ASCII file from one vendor then load it on another vendor's control, then how can we gain a competitive advantage?' The answer from many in attendance was, 'Within your box [controller].'
Private conversations I had during the show with end-users and suppliers alike focused on this problem. One person sagely pointed out that if all the large users say jointly, 'We want a standard function block to do this and interface like that (or whatever the technology desired),' and if they back that up with purchasing decisions, then there will be an industry standard function block (or whatever technology is desired). The competitive advantage will be quality of solution, price, local representation, global presence, and so on, rather than a closed solution that ties your hands to one supplier forever.
In other words, this was the same advice as the reader-speak up and tell your suppliers what you want. You can also join an association like OMAC to exert collective influence.
Let me know, too. I'll pass along comments. Contact me at email@example.comA tale of two shows: ISA and Pack Expo
OK, I'll resist repeating the Dickens' paraphrase, but ISA Expo and Pack Expo were certainly a contrast. Attendance was a little light at ISA, but then the most of the major automation suppliers snubbed the show. While the aisles weren't thronging, there did seem to be a 'buzz' that's been lacking for a couple of years. Meanwhile, Pack Expo filled five levels of McCormick Place in Chicago, and the aisles were, well, packed. There were plenty of automation suppliers evident. Check out past and future coverage of the shows at the Control Engineering Online news archive .
Of course, some of the buzz at the show was generated when the GE Fanuc acquisition of Intellution became public knowledge. Emerson Process never really integrated Intellution into either the company or other products. GE Fanuc vp, Kevin Roach, immediately told me that the company has great plans for integrating it into the fold. While I theoretically like to see competition from lots of smaller companies, consolidation and integration seem to be the current trend. This may be the way to keep the industry healthy and provide better solutions for you. We'll see how it goes.
For more comments from Mr. Roach and some more thoughts, click here to read a news analysis on the subject.
One attempt at putting some life into the ISA event was orchestrated by Jim Pinto and Dick Morley known as 'Dick's Last Retort.' Jim was president of Action Instruments and sold it to the company that became Invensys. He spends time now criticizing that company. Dick is the 'father of the PLC' and noted industry guru, venture capitalist, chaos theoretician, and futurist. Taking the form of panel with questions accepted from the floor, the no-holds-barred discussion was a lively alternative from walking the show floor for a couple of hours. My estimate of attendance was about 500, almost evenly split between exhibitors and attendees. That was a great turnout.
Wireless technologies will become mainstream soon, according to most of the panel, while Mr. Morley held that the continually growing number of transistors packed into a chip along with better memory is the future trend to watch. John Berra, president of Emerson Process, certainly came across as a passionate and articulate defender of our industry. His challenge is for all of us to pick up the torch and convince our companies about automation's benefits.
Audience concerns seemed to be mainly about reliability and security of open systems. Reference to some of the patent infringement cases drew audience response, many of whom expressed negative opinions of lawyers.
The only comment that I had to take issue with was Mr. Pinto's remark that Microsoft's .Net was just marketing. This actually is a technology. Many companies are building products on that platform, some of which were demonstrated on the show floor. I think that .Net will improve manufacturing data handling in the next few years.
See also Mark Hoske's, CE editor-in-chief, Daily News recap of the meeting at ' ISA 2002: 'Last retort' panel encourages industry activism .'
AAT, Omron partner on bundled units
Omron's HMI software, CX-Supervisor, and AAT's webLink industrial panel PC partner to provide a bundled unit.
Sometimes it's just better and easier to buy a computer with application software already installed. You don't have to worry about setting up drivers and tweaking the system.
Well, Ann Arbor Technologies (AAT) and Omron Electronics have partnered to bring you Omron's HMI software, CX-Supervisor on AAT's webLink industrial panel PC. Microsoft Windows 2000 and the application are preloaded on the Intel Pentium III or IV PC that includes serial, USB, and Ethernet ports along with either 15- or 17-in. flat-panel color TFT touchscreens.
While displaying the product at the Omron Pack Expo booth, AAT vp, Dan Benson, pointed out the unique ventilation designed in for the Pentium IV that keeps overall package size within reason. List price starts at $7,400.
Tablet PCs could replace some laptops
Manufacturing software is expected to be available for Tablet PCs soon.
Did any of you who attended ISA get a chance to stop by the Microsoft booth and see one of the new Tablet PCs? I wrote about an earlier version tablet PC adapted by Siemens Energy & Automation as MOBIC (Mobile Industrial Communicator) in May 2002. ( Click here to read the article .)
Well, Microsoft has released new Tablet PC software based on Windows XP and many companies have announced hardware. The HP version is a 'convertible,' that is, having a keyboard like a laptop that flips around, revealing a pen-based interface that would be analogous to carrying an electronic clipboard that's supercharged. Some are large Pocket PCs.
MIT's Technology Review magazine announced it will publish to the Tablet PC format in future issues, as well as several other magazines. Franklin-Covey, the planner company, announced a version for the new format.
I love the Pocket PC, but it is easy to see that reading news or a magazine on a larger screen would be better. In fact, many people can probably ditch the heavy laptop in favor of these devices. Expect to see manufacturing software available for these soon, especially for warehouse and inventory applications, but I could see them used for troubleshooting and remote HMI, as well.FFTs revisited, tutorial offered
In September, I recommended a book on FFTs- The FFT: Fundamentals and Concepts by Robert W. Ramirez published by Prentice Hall.
For those who found the price a little more than you wish to pay to learn about frequency domain analysis, try out this tutorial from National Instruments . Registration will be required, but you'll find this a good short course on the subject with some practical insights and tips on programming within LabView.
Click on the title to read my September book review, ' Learn all about FFTs .'
Publish reports on the Web
Do you publish reports from your automation in HTML format for viewing by browsers? How do your users configure their 'home pages' for personal navigation to all desired reports? SyTech's XWeb Director version 1.0 generates custom home pages that are automatically hyperlinked to any unstructured collection of HTML files. Its designer provides an environment to specify the 'look and feel' of home pages, the specific directories that contain the HTML files, and the output location, e.g., a fileserver or Web server. Each time a new HTML page is published to the specific directories, the home pages and hyperlinks are updated accordingly.
The company's latest version, 4.0, of its flagship product XLReporter provides new historical interfaces to Intellution's iHistorian and Wonderware's InTouch's InSQL/History Logs, as well as industry standards such as OPC-HDA. This version also offers automated Web-page publishing of Microsoft Excel reports in XML for spreadsheets format (XML-SS) so that reports can be viewed in a standard Web browser.
The product automatically generates historical reports in Excel, publishing them to printers, fileservers, intranets, and internets.
For more, visit TheReportCompany.com
Why Web-enable a machine or process
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Mike Rothwell, director of the Cincinnati product division for Advantech Automation Group about why and how people should Web-enable their machine or process. He provided these thoughts.
Internet access can provide compelling competitive advantages for linking manufacturers with service technicians, customers, suppliers, and subcontractors. Proven affordable technologies are readily available to connect any PLC, machine control or I/O to the Internet and intranets. Machine-to-Internet access has the potential to become a standard utility, a make/break for doing business.
Web-enabling gives real time access to data and control virtually anytime and from anywhere it's required. It uses communication with any manufacturer's PLC or I/O to send information via the Internet to anywhere in the world. Unlike the 'horizontal' integration of standard B2B and B2C implementations, Web-enabled automation drives real-time accessibility 'vertically' down to the level where things are actually produced, ordered, tested, and stocked.
Such accessibility and connectivity can do lots of good things in better controlling production, such as better monitoring and reporting, plus providing a real-time link to customers and suppliers directly from manufacturing.
Beyond the internal advantages or benefits, outside factors may drive you to become Web-enabled. Customers are coming to expect 'real-time' deliveries of product and information. As individual consumers, we are experiencing on-line ordering, status checking, and next-day or same-day deliveries of merchandise. We want the same for our business. Web-enabling your process will be a real competitive advantage.
The basic parts required for real-time, Web-based data access and control include an interface to the machine/process-usually made by Ethernet connection, a Web server to expose manufacturing data, a data service or interface such as XML, and finally, a browser.
Web-enabling doesn't mean that you need to replace your present machine or process controller, nor invest in an industrial PC for your browser interface. A new breed of 'thin' Web devices can fill the role in many applications. They combine ruggedness with low cost by providing only the functionality required.
What would be your response as a user? Are you Web-enabling any parts of your machines or processes, yet? Has it been successful? Any horror stories? Any big benefits?
Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org . I'll pass along the comments.
Coming in November Control Engineering
In November's issue of Control Engineering , I cover some new robotic developments in the cover story. PC-based robots and 'delta' pickers for high-speed sorting and packaging are bringing many benefits to automated packaging and assembly lines. A review of medium-voltage motors by executive editor, Frank Bartos, looks toward the other end of the spectrum-things over 3,000 volts. The issue should be available by mid-month at Control Engineering Online . Until then, catch our Daily News updates.
If you missed the panel discussions and online trade show of our Supply Chain Link Expo, there is still time to view it all from the comfort of your own chair. It will be archived until January 17. Go to controleng.com/webcasts or visit the Expo for more.
'Standard roadmap to manufacturing productivity' shows how OPC Foundation improves manufacturing by delivering non-proprietary technical specifications-a common roadmap to productivity. Speaker is Tom Burke, OPC Foundation president and advisory software developer at Rockwell Automation.
'Everything you need to know on one screen' discusses software that shows key performance indicators for manufacturing, design, sales, logistics, or whatever needs monitoring. This 'digital dashboard,' a human-machine interface on steroids, can be rapidly customized to fit users needs and changing business goals. Panelists advise on how to get the most from this software. Panelists are Jamie Bohan, Business Manager for the Honeywell Industry Solutions Uniformance product line; Kevin Roach, Vice President, Global Solutions Business, GE Fanuc, part of GE Industrial Systems; and Chris Colyer, Group Industry Marketing Manager, Manufacturing, Microsoft. This session is sponsored by GE Fanuc .