Control Engineering's E-News Letter for Embedded Control - April 2000


In this issue:



April's Control Engineering

Check out wireless data acquisition at high speeds -Indy 500-style-in April's Control Engineering . Also get tips on ' How to Build a PC-based Control System. ' Look for a discussion of how manufacturers and users are applying Ethernet as a 'fieldbus' in 'Ethernet's in Control' in May and participate in our on-line survey. Go to for April articles:

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Spring Comdex

The spring showcase of computer technology, Comdex , was just held in Chicago at McCormick Place. The registration line was the longest I've seen in years at a trade show, and the exhibition floor was packed as well. Attendees were interested in Microsoft's Windows 2000 and the many applications building on it, but the Linux area of the hall was also well attended. Sales of 'Penguin' apparel and other items were brisk. I wound up with a couple of Penguin coffee mugs, too. (The penguin is the symbol of Linux, a Unix-like operating system enhanced by a world-wide community of programmers working for the 'cause.')

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Leadership and Chaos

Chaos theory studies something called deterministic chaos. The explanation it offers for how freedom functions is an orderly universe is that the shape of the entire system is predictable or predetermined, but the shape takes form through individual acts of free agency. The shape of chaos materializes from information feeding back on itself and changing in the process. This process creates newness because the system is nonlinear. In a non-linear world, very slight variances, things so small as to be indiscernible, can amplify into completely unexpected results.

Computers taking a few nonlinear equations and continuously feeding back into the system the results of those equations generate patterns called fractals. Every where in the physical world can be seen fractal qualities. As Dr. Wheatley says, 'One primary lesson I have learned from fractals is that a world ordered by patterns does not explain itself through traditional measures.' Studying fractals requires focus on qualitative factors and whole patterns. One gets lost in individual parts or discrete quantities. Further, chaos theory looks at shapes in motion.

What does this mean for organizations and leadership? Learning to look for wholeness is a new skill. Years of data analysis have left us drowning in increasing minutia. So the first thing to do is look for recurring behaviors and themes. Shapes are not discerned from close range. They require distance and time to show themselves. Pattern recognition requires sitting together reflectively and patiently.

Fractals originate when a simple formula is fed back on itself in a complex network. Organizations that display a strong commitment to their values make good use of this fractal creation process. Self-similarity is achieved not through compliance to an exhausting set of standards and rules, but from a few simple principles that everyone is accountable for, operating in a condition of individual freedom.

Therefore, we need leaders who understand that we are best controlled by concepts that invite our participation, not policies and procedures that curtail our contribution. They understand the concept that Viktor Frankl learned while in a Nazi concentration camp, 'Our greatest motivation in life is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning.'

There is much more to the book, but these ideas suggest leadership as a way to encourage freedom for creativity while reiterating the core mission of the organization. Have you experienced or practiced anything like this? What results have you seen? E-mail .

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GE Fanuc introduces bundled PC control and HMI solution

GE Fanuc Automation (Charlottesville, Va.) has introduced ControlStation integrated control and HMI solutions running on either Microsoft Windows NT or CE operating systems. A common integrated development environment based on new FrameworX application software merges control and HMI development.

The Windows NT version features color displays from 10.4- to 18.1-in., 10/100Base-T port, two serial ports, and expansion slots. The Windows CE version has 6- to 10.5-in. displays in a NEMA 4 box with integrated computer, and Ethernet, serial, and parallel ports. FrameworX uses such technologies as OPC and ActiveX components along with relay ladder diagram and sequential function chart editors.

FrameworX has an interface much like Visual Basic with several smart windows that change depending on context. For example, the programming editor window shows when entering logic while a click on the HMI tab brings up the operator interface development window. IEC 61131 relay ladder diagram and sequential function chart are supported now with plans to add others. Another addition planned for the near future is motion control support.

GE Fanuc PLCs and PC-based control are supported along with many types of I/O including DeviceNet and Profibus. In fact, one project can support multiple I/O types. The help windows are all HTML and linked. In the properties dialog for control is the ability to publish a web server page in HTML. This is an easy way to make each controller a web server with any web browser becoming the remote HMI application.

During a product preview with me at our offices, product marketing director, Al Patel, and sales support manager, Kevin Dowell, put FrameworX through its paces showing the power of an integrated development environment. Since customers are concerned with making real-time factory information available to enterprise systems, data is automatically published in OPC format enabling that communication. Mr. Patel also noted, 'Customers are tired of having to do all their own integration to accomplish PC-based control, so we offer bundled solutions in a few ways to meet various customer expectations.'

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Steeplechase expands motion control offering

One of the benefits of PC-based control is ability to integrate various types of control. Steeplechase Software Inc. (Ann Arbor, Mich.) has announced release of version 6.4 of the integrated motion driver for the MEI-DSP card from Motion Engineering, Inc. (Santa Barbara, Calif.). Supported functions include:

  • Rotary Rollover for continuous rotating motion;

  • Enhanced Position Triggered Move for start-up motion of a second axis that is based upon the position of the first axis;

  • I/O During Blended Motion that allows the user to set outputs that are triggered at the point of blending one interpolated move into the next; and

  • I/O Triggered Move function that is useful for start-up motion of an axis triggered by an input or output valve.

The product is targeted for packaging, web handling, and material handling.

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Labtech Notebook and Control applications support
Microsoft's Windows 2000

Another important integration is incorporation of web technologies with control and HMI. Labtech Corp. (Wilmington, Mass.) announced the Microsoft Windows 2000 version of its software family: Labtech Notebook, Notebookpro, Control, and Controlpro. In addition to hundreds of I/O, analysis, and data display functions, the products stream process data directly from the PC-based controller bypassing the need for a separate Web server.

Web browser viewer objects are automatically installed on client PCs. The software then displays real-time data in Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Internet Explorer, or virtually any stand-alone PC-based application, including Excel, Word, and AutoCAD. A single browser page can show data from several different process locations and provide historical trends of real-time process data.

They also provide full multiprocessing capabilities. Benefits include the ability to run multiple copies on the same PC. Multiprocessing also allows each module to run on separate parallel processors. This way each processor can be configured for optimal handling of the particular software module's function. Finally, multiprocessing allows users to assign Labtech software a priority when running with other software packages.

In addition to its graphical front-end, all Labtech software allows users to create Excel, Visual Basic, or C/C++ applications with full access to all the software's capabilities.

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Two new products from Advantech

Advantech Automation (Cincinnati, O.) has introduced two new products. Web OIT is a 6-in. Windows CE-based panel PC with PLC and Internet connectivity. It talks to a PLC on Modbus and hosts user-defined web pages. The web pages are served to remote monitors running a web browser. Soft Logic Controller comes housed in a variety of panel PCs bundled with KW IEC 61131 programming and control software and Iconics HMI software. ActiveX objects and COM and DCOM technologies are supported.

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Microsoft releases preview version of BizTalk Server 2000

Building on the BizTalk initiative announced last year, this preview release provides the next step in Microsoft 's solution for Internet application integration using XML. Offered as a single product, BizTalk Server 2000 offers a secure and reliable delivery, routing, and transformation of business documents, and development tools and application adapters in order to XML-enable existing applications. The preview version BizTalk Server 2000 can be downloaded from Microsoft's site at no charge. Final release of the product is expected later this year.

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Roll up your keyboard and take it with you

A new German-made flexible 104key keyboard can be rolled into a 3' roll for easy carrying. Flexboard Office is waterproof, dust-proof, and withstands most common cleaners and disinfectants including bleach. The industrial model can withstand stronger chemicals. Flexboard comes in several colors and with a one-year warranty (the industrial model for two years). The sealed surface prevents penetration of liquids (e.g. water, soda, coffee) while permitting washing. Man & Machine (New York, N.Y).

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Tripp Lite's PowerAlert now 'Red Hat Ready'

In another indication of growing support for Linux, Tripp Lite 's PowerAlert UPS Management Software has been tested and approved by Red Hat Inc. to install and run flawlessly using the Red Hat Linux operating system.

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Sony technology embedded into Adept's Production Pilot
Virtual Factory Software

Here is a sign of increasing power in automation system modeling and simulation. Adept Technology Inc. announced an agreement with Sony Corporation Adept worldwide technology licensing rights for Sony's Design for Assembly/dis-assembly Cost-effectiveness (DAC) technology. Adept will embed the technology into its Production Pilot process planning and design software. Sony DAC is an assembly/dis-assembly and cost effectiveness rating methodology or scoring system used by designers to measure and analyze the effectiveness of their factory assembly designs. Production Pilot is a 3D CAD-based assembly process planning and design software.

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Palm computer as PLC hand held terminal

We've seen various Windows CE devices introduced as palm-sized HMI devices, here come the popular Palm computer. HandyHMI is shows data and allows some control, for example setting timer/counter presets. Currently supported are: Allen-Bradley DF1, Mitsubishi FX, and Modbus. Soon, Intelligent Actuator's Robo Cylinder will also be supported. GE Fanuc,, Omron, and Aromat will follow in the coming months. All that's needed is the Palm's hot-sync cable and a null modem adapter. HandyHMI is developed by Cliff Jones, founder and president of Narly Software (La Habra, Calilf.).

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