Control Engineering's E-News Letter for Embedded Control - January 2001


In this issue:

Leading the Revolution

'There is an ever-growing population of mediocre companies and an ever-diminishing population of truly great performers.' Sound familiar? I hope not. Gary Hamel makes this bold statement in Leading the Revolution (Harvard Business School Press, 2000). Control Engineering readers are typically innovators and should really like this book. Hamel calls for activists and revolutionaries to transform their companies from within citing examples and giving tools.

Excerpts from Leading the Revolution :

'The Age of Progress is over. It was born in the Renaissance, achieved its exuberant adolescence during the Enlightenment, reached a robust maturity in the industrial age, and died with the dawn of the twenty-first century.

'There was the unshakable belief that progress was not only possible, it was inevitable. Life spans would increase. Material comforts would multiply. Knowledge would grow. There was nothing that could not be improved upon. The discipline of reason and the deductive routines of science could be applied to every problem, from designing a more perfect political union to unpacking the atom to producing semiconductors of mind-boggling complexity and unerring quality.

'The age of progress has been a stern taskmaster-and never more so than in recent times. Employees around the world have been strapped to the wheel of continuous improvement. With eyes glazed, they have repeated the mantra: faster, better, cheaper. Employees have found themselves working harder and harder to achieve less and less. That's the reward for surviving the downsizing, outsourcing, and restructuring that have so dramatically thinned the ranks of industrial-age companies.

'We now stand on the threshold of a new age-the age of revolution. In our minds, we know the new age has already arrived; in our bellies, we're not sure we like it. For we know it is going to be an age of upheaval, of tumult, of fortunes made and unmade at head-snapping speed. For change has changed. No longer is it additive. No longer does it move in a straight line. In the twenty-first century, change is discontinuous, abrupt, seditious. In a single generation, the cost of decoding a human gene has dropped from millions of dollars to around a hundred bucks.

'The world is increasingly divided into two kinds of organizations: those that can get no further than continuous improvement, and those who've made the jump to radical innovation.

'Industry revolutionaries take the entire business concept, rather than a product or service, as the starting point for innovation. Revolutionaries recognize that competition is no longer between products or services, it's between competing business concepts.

'The age of revolution requires revolutionaries. If you act like a ward of your organization, you'll be one, and both you and your company will lose. So if you're still acting like a courtier or a consort, bending to the prejudices of top management, buffing up their outsized egos, fretting about what they want to hear, getting calluses on your knees-stop! You're going to rob yourself and you company of a future that's worth having. No excuses. No fear. If you're going to be an activist, these have to be more than T-shirt slogans.'

Leading the Revolution is part inspirational, part call to action, and part tools for the revolutionary. As a manufacturing professional with hands on the tools of production and productivity of your company, you have a unique position to find better ways for your company to adapt to changing markets and even invent new processes to propel your company into more innovative business plans. What are you spending your time thinking about?

'I am no longer a captive to history.
Whatever I can imagine, I can accomplish.
I am no longer a vassal in a faceless bureaucracy.
I am an activist, not a drone.
I am no longer a foot soldier in the march of progress.
I am a Revolutionary.'


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Peer to Peer networking for project collaboration

Heard about peer to peer networking, yet? The concept has hit the popular press by way of Napster, the music file-sharing program. Peer to peer is a way to use the Internet to share information without the overhead of a server. Oculus Technologies (Boston, Mass.), a new company sprung forth from MIT research, has developed software that allows project teams to share information across the Internet.

I just talked with president Chris Williams and marketing vp, Robin Waldman, about this revolutionary new product. The genre is called Collaborative Product Commerce (CPC) and the product addresses the problem of managing and sharing frequently changing information.

Oculus product, CO, works across applications like databases, CAD, spreadsheets, as well as across many operating systems. It allows users to specify data (not whole files, could be just one cell of a spreadsheet) that can be shared with the team. Levels of authorization are provided allowing read only, change capability, etc. By linking a cell from one spreadsheet across a project team, all members are updated in real time whenever the original spreadsheet is changed.

No wonder that automotive companies are looking seriously at it.


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Access machine data from older CNCs

There are approximately 2 million machine tools in use with older CNCs. Replacing these controls with modern PC-based control is expensive. These older machines are still cutting metal just fine but manufacturers need to get data from them. e-Manufacturing Networks (Burlington, Ontario, Canada) has created a Machine Tool Interface Board (MTIB). This is an inexpensive retrofit for any controller. It has developed a low level protocol product capable of talking to any proprietary control and uses Ethernet with standard communication protocols like TCP/IP, FTP, and SNMP for corporate connectivity.

The MTIB stores the current state of the machine, control and part program in a new, published XML format specified by the Open Modular Architecture Controller (OMAC) organization. OMAC XML is accessed via a Message Information Board (MIB) using SNMP. Instead of polling the control for its current status (a method that is not scalable), SNMP allows events such as alarms to be trapped and then sent to the server.

Linux, known for its security, is used as the embedded operating system of the MTIB and as the manufacturing network gateway.

The MTIB turns any CNC into a web server. It also features 21 standard I/O points to monitor things like fluid levels and pressures or even Spindle ON/OFF. Additional analog or digital points can be monitored and additional I/O added due to the standard PC/104 expansion slot. Data monitored is timestamped and sent to a central server where it is stored in an SQL database. Applications such as MES, Scheduling, ERP, or MRP can monitor the current state of the control via XML or access additional data through standard SQL calls.


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Linux does manufacturing?

NetSilicon (Waltham, Mass.) provides Ethernet on a chip for embedded networking applications-for instance embedded in a sensor or small controller. The company continues commitment for open source Linux solutions for intelligent networked devices. It's increased commitment to Linux and other open source solutions include addition of EL/IX applications programming interface (API) to its NET+OS product, and the availability of a Java-based product.

In October 2000, NetSilicon released its first open source product, NET+Lx, the first seamlessly integrated, Linux-based hardware/software platform for networked devices. It is the only solution that integrates embedded Linux, certified networking applications, and an Ethernet-ready system-on-chip into a single, production-ready product.

'Since NET+Lx began shipping in October, we signed on more than 30 customers who are beginning new development projects,' said Cornelius 'Pete' Peterson, chairman and CEO, NetSilicon. 'The market acceptance of NET+Lx has clearly demonstrated the value of open source solutions in the intelligent, networked device market. We believe that open source products will be important for a large portion of the market, and NetSilicon is committed to creating more open source product options and alternatives available to the OEM design engineer.'

Red Hat Inc. ported uClinux, a version of the Linux operating system to the NET+ARM system-on-chip. By working with Red Hat, NetSilicon is able to add a new dimension to its open source offerings, as uClinux also supports the EL/IX applications programming interface (API). NetSilicon will extend the EL/IX API to its NET+OS product, which will allow open source applications to run on this real-time operating system.

The NetSilicon open source plan includes:

  • Adding EL/IX APIs to all platforms, enabling open source application software to run on a real time operating system, as well as Linux;

  • Java, providing improved code efficiency over C++; and

  • Additional service and support resources, assisting customers and partners with open source development, optimizing internal engineering resources for focus on product development.


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Siemens Ports PCS 7 OSx to Linux

In March 2000, Siemens Energy and Automation Inc., made the decision to port its next release of PCS 7 OSx (4.1.1) to the Linux operating system. PCS 7 OSx is the Siemens UNIX based hybrid process control system that uses PLC's for process control.

OSx was based on the Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) UNIX variant, Open Server 5. However, in 1998, Microsoft and Intel announced that they would be transitioning personal computer hardware away from serial, parallel, and PS/2 ports in favor of USB. Seeing that the latest version of SCO Open Server v5.0.6 does not support USB, Siemens needed an operating system to be used that would support USB hardware in the future.

Siemens began its search in 1999 for an operating system to replace OpenServer. Linux was attractive due to its cost and stability. Although Linux does not yet support USB, the upcoming 2.4 kernel will. After 6 months Siemens settled on Red Hat Linux. This variant had the backing of a professional organization with the largest installed base. The goal of the port was to make no changes to the existing user interface or functionality. OSx was designed for portability from the beginning, so this goal would easily be accomplished.

Compiling the System

We started the port by compiling OSx source under Linux. Most applications compiled with no problems. However, the Linux compiler and linker are not the same as in SCO. Some independent libraries are now a standard part of the C library or have different names. Certain other components required new libraries to be specified during linking. Additionally, command line options for the C Preprocessor, the Compiler, and the Linker are different under Linux, although there is much overlap with SCO. These required modifying some 'make' files.

The C language has a defined standard, but there is some latitude allowed in implementation. Some functions and system calls do not have the same name under Linux, some use a different set of parameters, and some return different values. As a result, some OSx source code was modified.

Some OSx source code that compiled correctly needed modification to execute correctly at runtime. Some C library functions behave differently with Linux. Additionally, Linux is less tolerant of using null memory address variables before they are assigned a value. Using the Linux debugger, the misbehaving code was identified and modified.

OpenServer uses the UNIX System V lp print system, while Linux uses the Berkley BSD lpr system. Printers supported by each differ. Extensive modifications to the underlying OSx print system were made. The list of supported printer types is the only user interface change from SCO to Linux.

Several OSx components are from third parties. In particular, the user interface is based on the Motif window manager and Kinesix's Sammi. Under SCO, Motif was standard. Under Linux, the default window managers are Gnome or KDE. Siemens had to find a Motif vendor to avoid having Kinesix rewrite Sammi for a new window manager. Siemens chose Metrolink because the company was responsive when problems were found. Siemens also had to work closely with Kinesix to get Sammi ported to Linux successfully.

Each version of UNIX has different ways of configuring and allocating runtime resources. OSx has always made changes to the UNIX kernel to increase the number of resources available, particularly for networking in a multi-station environment. Linux is no different; however, the mechanism to do so differs from SCO.

The OSx installation was based on the SCO Mass Installation Tool Kit. Under Linux, OSx modified Red Hat's Anaconda with OSx applications packaged into RPM bundles. This allows the installation to be essentially prompt free.

Siemens was able to successfully port OSx to Linux with only a minor change in the user interface and no change to existing functionality. This version is available as of the first quarter of 2001.

David J. Marks, senior software engineer
Siemens Energy and Automation


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Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

Several months ago, I asked how you felt about working with IT departments. Sounded like things were better than they were a few years ago, but there are different cultures and ways of looking at technology between IT personnel and control engineers. A new concept is starting to be promoted to me for publicity-CTO. The CTO has responsibility for keeping a company up-to-date on important technologies and guiding the company toward efficient use of technology.

Do you have a CTO now?

Would you want one?

What would you tell your new CTO about manufacturing requirements?

Send a note to . I'll report the comments.


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Many of you have been quite vocal about the need for improved product quality and more responsive service support from your control and automation system suppliers.

From Feb. 4th through Feb. 24th, Control Engineering Online is sponsoring a control and automation service support survey. We want to learn what service elements are really important and report the results in the June 2001 issue. You may be eligible to win one of five $200 e-gift certificate drawings! What a deal, a chance to sound off AND win a prize.

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