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


In this issue:



Control Engineering in March and April

Check out the best products of 1999 as chosen by the editors of Control Engineering in the March issue . Winners in the PC-based Control category included Iconics, Intellution, National Instruments, and Think & Do Software. Also in March, the product focus on PLCs revealed CE readers are moving toward smaller and smaller PLCs. It could be that small PLCs might fit nicely in PC-based distributed control architecture. See April Control Engineering for 'How to Build a PC-based Control System.'

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Conferences and trade shows

In the each of the last three weeks, I have been to either a conference or trade show. This means a lot of new products to discuss. The Embedded Systems Conference was held in Chicago February 29 - March 2. Big news there was Linux. Almost all software companies announced support for this operating system. Interestingly, sessions at the Microsoft booth on Windows CE were always well attended. National Manufacturing Week including the National Industrial Automation Show was March 13 - 16. Many smaller PLCs were introduced, but the broader news was continuing information integration from sensor level to enterprise systems.

Linux announcements mark Embedded Systems Conference
Although interest in Microsoft Windows CE remains strong, Linux announcements and Internet connectivity predominate news from Embedded Systems Conference, Chicago February 28 - March 2, 2000. Other trends include embedding Internet access into devices and continued improvements to code development suites. This latter has been significant for the rapid growth of embedded computing since programming is no longer like assembly language plus many debugging, timing, and code sharing tools.

Developments announced at the show include:

  • NetSilicon (Waltham, Mass.) now supports Linux on its embedded Ethernet Net+Arm embedded Ethernet chip.


  • WebPRN (Palo Alto, Calif.) introduces a marketplace on the Web bringing together electronics designers, contract manufacturers, and support people or companies with companies in need of those services. It covers the entire product development cycle from design to support. The Web site includes a searchable database.


  • J-Consortium has released for final comment the Real-time Java core specification.



  • General Micro Systems (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) now offers Intel Coppermine controller cards for VME and CompactPCI. Its product family is scalable from 166 MHz to dual 733 MHz processors on board. Also offered is a VME/PCI bridge that supports full VME64 extensions.


  • CadUL provides more flexible development and debugging options to embedded engineers using Linux/RT-Linux (real time) or the GNU C/C++ compiler (GCC). Through a new filter technology, CadUL's XDB symbolic debugger now accepts code from GCC providing low-level or hardware-assisted debugging. XDB also now provides operating system-level awareness for Linux and RT-Linux.


  • Motorola Computer Group (MCG, Tempe, Ariz.) announced a high availability Linux CompactPCI. With growing interest in Linux among users, MCG has introduced a Linux platform that supports both PowerPC and Intel systems and hot swap capability while achieving 5Nines (99.999%) availability. 5Nines equates to 5 minutes or less of downtime per year.


  • iLogix (Andover, Mass.) continues building a UML graphic design capability now with support for Java, CORBA, Visual Basic for Applications, and the ability to publish the design on the Web allowing collaboration or design review. iLogix furthers announced a strategic parnership with Monta Vista (Sunnyvale, Calif.) supporting its embedded Hard Hat Linux.


  • Lynx Real-Time Systems (San Jose, Calif.) announced Lynux Works. This product provides a common development environment and debugger for the company's BlueCat Linux real-time operating system and LynxOS. User can combine each, e.g., run a controller on LynxOS and HMI on BlueCat with same development environment.


  • WinSystems (Arlington, Tex.) has introduced a PC/104 flash disk storage module that will store from 8 to 288 MB on a single board. Flash data retention is valid for at least 10 years, even with no battery or other power source.


  • Green Hills Software (Santa Barbara, Calif.) unveiled release 3.0 or its integrated development environment (IDE) Multi2000. New features include reference browsing for source code browsing, customizable register view, multitask debugging for Green Hill's ThreadX and Enea's OSE RTOSs, and trace support for ARM's Embedded Trace Macrocell.

National Industrial Automation Show
Last month, I explored the value PC-based control brings to 'e-commerce' with Ken Spenser of Think & Do Software. At the National Industrial Automation show and conference, several products and initiatives were shown that extends this model.

GE Fanuc Automation (Charlottesville, Va.) showed EnterpriseRT, an extension of its Cimplicity SCADA/HMI software enabling real-time data communication to enterprise systems.

Wonderware (Irvine, Calif.) unveiled Maintenance Suite. This product tackles the real time issue from the view of preventative and predictive maintenance.

Intellution (Norwood, Mass.) continues to build upon its history of real-time data gathering by connecting to enterprise software applications.

The other news from the show was in small, block PLCs. Manufacturers exhibiting these included:

Microsoft explained its operating system upgrade to Windows NT-Windows 2000. Steeplechase Software and Think & Do Software have already announced support for the platform. Think & Do told me they have beta systems running on it, and it is performing well.

Look for a future issue of Control Engineering where I will be discussing operating systems for control. I will look at Windows 2000, CE, and NT-embedded as well as Linux. Have any favorites you would like to see discussed? E-mail .

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A Little Buggy

Scott McNealy, Sun Microsystems chairman, is well known for his merciless teasing of Bill Gates and Microsoft. To draw attention to the reported 63,000 'bugs' in Windows 2000 as it was shipped last month, Sun Microsystems executives hired a fleet of 20 bright yellow trucks from a pest control company to circle the San Francisco Moscone Convention Center during the kick off event. The pest control company had second thoughts when it heard who hired the trucks. Seen in the New York Times on-line.

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Soft control automates turbine generator

SoftPLC announced its SoftPLC PC-based control software has been selected by the US Army Corps of Engineers as the standard process controller for five current and five future hydro power generating plants.

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Steeplechase Software makes jump at NIA

Steeplechase Software announced its Visual Logic controller Version 5.0 at National Industrial Automation show. Version 5.0 enhances control connectivity to the enterprise through a series of new features including embedded Ethernet and TCP/IP. The InProcess OPC server is faster than the previous version further enabling connectivity. Windows 2000 is supported in this version.

I had a chance to chat with Steeplechase president and ceo Mike Klein during the week, as well as sit in on his presentation. Mike emphasizes data connectivity, I/O connectivity, and integration of off-the-shelf technologies as benefits of PC-based control. He points to PC's ability to leverage the full complement of Windows NT connectivity. This allows enterprise applications access to real-time production data. This data includes uptime, quality, shortages, as well as remote monitoring and maintenance. The inverse is also true.

Production has access to enterprise information like parts drawings and production planning. His presentation at the NIA Conference can be found on the Steeplechase Web site under 'support.' The presentation discusses these and other advantages of PC-based control, including the increased processing speed of a PC over a legacy PLC. The presentation explains the reliance on a 'real-time operating system' or RTOS.

Steeplechase has taken the position to make the PC as PLC-like as possible without losing PC advantages. Others have systems running on pure Windows NT. I suggest that any users make careful evaluation of the competing positions on particular applications and not get caught up in the various RTOS wars. PC-based control has been proven in thousands of applications.

Sometimes the RTOS wars have deterred people from looking at PCs out of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) generated by PC evangelists themselves. People who have been there tell me to evaluate the alternatives based on the application. PCs will work in many of them.

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Is America moving from manufacturing?

Technology Review January/February 2000 (published by MIT) has an article by Eamonn Fingleton entitled, 'The Unmaking of Americans.' He argues that America is shipping manufacturing jobs to other countries and replacing them with software e-commerce jobs. Manufacturing got used to the practice of outsourcing when Japanese and German wages were still low by US standards. The theory was that American workers were thus freed for higher-level work.

He says manufacturing creates three advantages over information services. First, it creates an excellent range of jobs. Where information and financial services tend to recruit mainly from the cream of the crop, manufacturing harnesses the skills for everyone from ordinary factory hands to scientists and managers. Second, manufacturers have a better chance at export since piracy problems so prevalent for software companies are usually avoided. The third advantage is higher incomes. Manufacturing requires capital investment that helps protect workers from low-wage competition and boosts productivity. Other countries recognize this and enact protections for manufacturers. He thinks some American protectionism in return is required.

I've studied effects of past protectionism and am concerned about trade wars that lead to depressions. What do you think? E-mail .

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PC-based Robots

The Robotic Industry Association (RIA) and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) partnered for an Open Robotics Forum in February. Attendees included users and manufacturers. According to Fred Proctor of NIST the number one item of discussion was reducing the cost to set up a robot and integrate it with the rest of the enterprise. Suppliers are responding with PC-based robotic solutions. See January Control Engineering for a discussion on robots.

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The Merger Urge

Jim Pinto , ceo and industry pundit, sent a note about the continuing merger activity in industrial automation companies. He sees mergers driven by focus on stock market valuations that come from short-term revenue and profit growth. He also believes that our business is flat and mergers will continue as managers attempt to reduce costs. Prediction: the Industrial Automation Big 10 will become the IA Big 5 next year!

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Industrial Information Infrastructure

The management team of Zoneworx (Temecula, Calif.) explained its market focus and new products to me recently. Seeing that customers need real-time factory data to enhance enterprise decision making, the company has released Zoneworx Software Studio, Pathways Enterprise I/O, and Crossroads, an industrial Ethernet switch, providing an infrastructure for moving information from legacy devices to enterprise applications. Evidence of this growing trend to connect everything in industrial automation.

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Another dot com

Control Technology Corp. (Hopkinton, Mass.) is now Inc. with a Linux PLC. Ken Crater, president, and Dan Pierson, chief technology officer, emphasize the open source community approach to operating systems as the benefit of this new approach. I'll have more to say in a feature article later this summer on operating systems including a conversation with Dr. Inder Singh, ceo of Lynx , about its Linux operating system.

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More products from the National Industrial Automation Show

  • Advantech Automation 's PCA-6753F half-size ISA single board computer boasts low-power processor, Ethernet interface, and DiskOnChip.


  • Crystal Group has announced what is said to be the smallest Rackmount Integrated Applications computer which allows 52 units in a standard rack.


  • CTC Parker showed new workstations containing hinged segments providing wide access for serviceability and customization.


  • Cutler-Hammer introduced DN55 flexible multiport I/O blocks for DeviceNet.



  • Intecolor 's WS81 industrial computer is less than six inches deep and includes on-board Ethernet along with I/O options and expansion slots.


  • Mitsubishi 's MC2 PC-based control software now includes all device I/O drivers, exception handling capabilities, and a patented on-line programming technology.


  • Pilz Pipanel WS 15 compact workstation includes safety control monitoring such operating functions as temperature, ventilation, charge level of battery, or hard disk access and signals them on panel face.



  • SBS Technologies announced a 400/500 MHz Celeron-powered computer suitable for DIN rail mounting and a dual fast Ethernet interface for 3U CompactPCI.



  • VMIC 's release 3.0 of IOWorks streamlines program development and project control.

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