Control Engineering Newsletter for Software -- February (Issue B) 2002

06/04/2002


In this issue:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March in Control Engineering

Watch for the March edition of Control Engineering where we unveil the Editors' Choice awards for 2001. Our editorial staff, five of us with field experience, reviews the past year of print and online products to choose the top 35 considered to have technological advancement, impact on the market, and service to industry.

 

Companies are recognized for achievement at the kick off of National Manufacturing Week , this year March 17. CE editors are out in force at the annual event held at Chicago's McCormick Place. Are any of you planning to attend this year? We are usually running from appointment to appointment while companies are sharing information about new products and initiatives, but feel free to stop me briefly and let me know what coverage you'd like to see in future editions.

 

Also in March will be a report of an extensive survey of motion control by our executive editor, Frank Bartos, along with staff from a sister publication, Design News.

 

 

 

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Feedback: programming and Lessig

Linux believers didn't deluge my inbox after my question in the last Software issue? Must be that there is still a wait and see attitude toward that. Linux is used in some control applications, but evidently now widely in industrial control. I thought maybe I'd hear more about use in servers, but control engineers are evidently staying away from that set of problems.

 

I did receive a passionate and eloquent response both to the programming question and my discussion of Lessig's book, The Future of Ideas. While sharing Lessig's concern about freedom of ideas, the writer felt that Lessig, as an academic, forgets that patents have the purpose of promoting commerce. The real problem is that the Patent Office is underfunded and understaffed allowing spurious patents to get through.

 

Agreed. It seems willing to let the courts be the arbiters of what is a good patent. This leads to the discussion that follows about patents in our industry. Schneider Electric has either purchased or received several patents and seems to be trying to gain some kind of advantage from them. Trouble is, are these patents for what the rest of us thought were 'open standards?'

 

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Schneider Electric patent buzz

Not being a patent attorney, I always thought that patents were awarded for something you did, not just dreamed. You invented a better way to make something real, showed that it worked, and received protection for a period of time from competition so that you could profit. This would protect smaller companies from the market force of larger companies or companies in industries where it takes a very large R&D investment to come up with a product that can be readily reverse engineered and copied later.

 

We remember the famous court case of the person who was unable to retain patent rights for the idea of taking an eraser (already invented) and a pencil (already invented) and putting them together. Well, maybe a similar thing has happened in our business. Schneider Electric (parent of Telemechanique, Square D, and Modicon) purchased a patent that expresses the idea of putting a web server in a controller.

 

It also received patents for web servers in its PLCs communicating across the backplane and another for taking information from PLCs and exporting to a spreadsheet. The interesting thing about this last one is that they patented using any means of communication including OPC to accomplish this. They were a member of OPC Foundation at the time working on this open standard of information exchange. Officers of OPC Foundation have refused to comment for the record.

 

Schneider Electric is no longer listed as a member on the OPC Foundation web site.

 

The other thing that we know is that Schneider has sued Opto 22 for infringement of the patent to put a web server in a controller. That suit was filed a year ago. Another time, the company tried to publicly auction off the rights to its other patents on a web-based auction.

 

There has been nothing public since. Talk in the hallways during the recent ARC Forum in Orlando revolved around other Schneider initiatives to pursue acknowledgement of its patents from other companies.

 

What does Schneider hope to gain? One executive once told me in conversation that he was frustrated that the company does not seem to get the recognition for technological innovation that it deserves. Some think that the company just wants this publicity. Perhaps it wants royalty payments from all companies using what we thought were 'open' technologies? Or does it think it can put all the other automation companies at competitive disadvantage? What does this mean to industry pursuit of open standards? Or, will the industry move so quickly that these patents are rendered obsolete?

 

Do you have any thoughts, opinions, or information you would like to share? Let me know if the information can be quoted openly or if it is confidential. I'll respect your wishes either way. E-mail gmintchell@cahners.com .

 

For other Control Engineering coverage of this issue, please go to:

 

/archives/news/2001/march/gm0319b.htm /archives/news/2000/june/gm0601a.htm /archives/news/2000/july/0007nws11.htm /archives/news/2001/march/gm0301a.htm
www.controleng.com/ch-pcbased/pcbenews.asp
/archives/news/2001/january/gm0125b.htm

 

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Invensys reorganizes, again

Invensys , the British conglomerate and parent of Foxboro, Wonderware, Triconex, Baan, and many others, has announced a reorganization and company focus. Joe Cowan, president of Invensys Manufacturing and Process Solutions division, recently spoke to Control Engineering editors to explain what this means to our readers. Among the items of note:

 

Significant brand names will be retained

 

The company will continue to build the Invensys name

 

Wonderware's ArchestrA platform will be the foundation for the division's software products; and

 

There will be an emphasis on building solutions, that is, putting together teams that can put hardware, software, and service together for large projects.

 

When it was pointed out that Invensys has said similar things before, Mr. Cowan replied that 'the proof is in the execution. Watch to see the actions we take over the next couple of years.'

 

I like to see several strong competitors going after each other in a market. I believe that makes for success for everyone, supplier and user alike. So, I wish Joe and the rest of the Invensys team well, and perhaps you'll see several strong companies competing for your business.

 

For the news, see: /archives/news/2002/February/jm0221a.htm

 

For more on ArchestrA, the emerging underlying software architecture, see: /archives/news/2001/july/gm0702a.htm /archives/2001/ctl0901.01/010901.htm

 

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Software for simulation, emulation

These thoughts on system emulation came from Ian McGregor, international emulation manager, Brooks Automation , developers of AutoMod simulation software with emulation.

 

Users of industrial simulation products have long sought a way to eliminate the need to reproduce the logic built into the simulation model when the experimentation and analysis phase is complete and the real control system has to be developed. Additionally, modifications to existing systems are frequent, as product dimensions change and cycle times are altered to accommodate different products. System efficiencies can drop as a result, and online fine-tuning can halt production for prolonged periods.

 

With emulation, the unavoidable phase of automated material handling systems (AMHS) commissioning can now be taken off the critical path, easing the hardest part of any AMHS project. Using an emulation model, testing and debugging of control software can be completed offline so mistakes are made in a computer model rather than in the actual system. Testing offline results in significant cost savings.

 

Additionally, much more thorough testing can be carried out using emulation than is possible on site. Control system bugs are caught and rectified before the AMHS is installed. In addition, costs are reduced as the time traditionally spent waiting and watching for problems is cut.

 

Emulation translates to better control over the commissioning phase of a project meaning a more predictable start up, with the system ramping to full production faster.

 

 

 

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Software for asset health maintenance

Rockwell Automation announces real-time information exchange between Enshare integrated condition-based monitoring software and the Maximo computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) from MRO Software , eliminating the need to manually transfer data between systems. Enshare generates automated diagnostic information reports called Intelligent Advisories. When these text-based recommendations are integrated with the Maximo database, the status of the work order can be tracked. The bi-directional link allows maintenance specialists to see changes to work requests in one system automatically updated in the other as soon as the next database reading is done, view equipment work histories, and monitor maintenance quality over time.

 

 

 

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