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


In this issue:

Phoenix Contact scores at conference

Over 400 engineers, technicians, and systems integrators attended the first Industry Forum at Phoenix Contact to learn about open systems, distributed I/O, and other technologies. I had the privilege of hosting a panel session that included Mark Knebusch (Phoenix Contact), Mike Klein ( Steeplechase ), Russ Agrusa ( Iconics ), Emilio Matt ( Microsoft ), Sam Hoff (integrator Patti Engineering ), and Kevin Jones (integrator Pak/Teem ). The story was open systems, distributed I/O, PC- based control (integrators are adopting it), and, especially, OPC for open communications.

Aside from the occasional 'that would be a monopoly' joke, questions involved Linux, fieldbus wars and the future of Ethernet, and how to build a PC-based system for maximum uptime. Mr. Klein told of a potential customer who wanted his software on Linux since his engineers could tweak priorities and other code in the OS. Steeplechase engineers were leery of supporting an operating system where the customer was changing basic and important OS parameters. The consensus on PC stability was to make sure your hardware works with Windows NT, watch out for memory add ins, and video cards. There are many systems running in manufacturing without crashing. (See also April 2000 Control Engineering , 'How to Build a PC-based Control System.' )

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Microsoft Woes (Gary's soapbox)

The never-ending saga of the United States v. Microsoft keeps creeping. So far, I've avoided discussing the Microsoft anti-trust case, but the foundation of PC-based control is Microsoft technology. The case started partly with incorporation of Internet Explorer in Windows, which was considered unfair competition with Netscape Navigator. Another part deals with the egos of major players in the computer industry, such as Larry Ellison of Oracle and Scott McNeely of Sun Microsystems . They saw a way to take on Microsoft outside the market. Now we have non-technical people (like Judge Jackson) making decisions about operating systems. Perhaps market decisions of those who know would be a better mechanism.

The Assistant Attorney General prosecuting the case said the result of acceptance of their recommendations would be 'exciting new products, with more choices and lower prices for consumers.' Observing the tremendous amount of innovation and new products built on the current de facto standard, I can hardly wait for the 'exciting new products with more choices' that would come from a breakup. Another thing to think about is the relative cost of the OS to overall price of a PC. How much would we really save with a less expensive Windows? Estimates I've seen are in the range of $20 or less.

Do you think there will be an effect in the industrial market because of this? Send a note to .

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Time to think

'Never be afraid to sit a while and think.' -Lorraine Hansberry

A classic story describes a young boy in school. He was sitting at his desk, obviously unaware of the lesson going on around him. Soon, everyone was quietly watching him. He became aware of the change in the class and came back to awareness. The teacher asked, 'What were you doing?' 'I was just thinking,' he replied. 'Don't you know you're not supposed to think in school?' she responded.

Is that the way it is in business? Do you feel like there is no time to think, and, if there were, you had better not be caught doing it?

What do you do when you think? Here are some ideas. Let me know if you have others.

  • Ponder various 'what if' scenarios of the new automation project.

  • Plan the structure of the program you are working on to make it concise and logical.

  • Visualize a new process method that makes products more quickly at less cost.

  • See yourself in five years-what you are doing, how you look, how happy you are.

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May's Control Engineering

I delved into the gory details for the article on Ethernet I/O. Technologies involved with Ethernet include TCP, UDP, and IP programming as well as various physical media. Several companies now support Ethernet TCP/IP at the I/O module level. Are you considering Ethernet as a fieldbus alternative? What do you think? Take the Control Engineering On-line Survey. We'll report the results in a future issue.

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Windows CE advances

Microsoft's embedded operating system, Windows CE, continues its strong presence. Wonderware (Irvine, Calif.) announced InControl CE runtime engine, along with the release of a specific InControl 7.1 platform upgrade designed for Contec (Milpitas, Calif.) Windows CE industrial computers. It provides integrated, open-architecture control.

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Jim Pinto opens web site

Jim Pinto, founder of Action Instruments (now part of Invensys ) and well-known industry commentator, has just launched a website. You see him quoted here occasionally. Look for his news and views, plus links to his fieldbus articles, poems, and industrial automation musings and predictions. Point your browser to . Also look for Jim's new e-newsletter.

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Hot memory technology

Motorola Labs, the research arm of Motorola Inc., in conjunction with the DigitalDNA Laboratories of the Semiconductor Products Sector, has demonstrated a revolutionary memory chip. This 'universal memory' allows the integration of multiple memory options within one chip, enabling faster, lower power, less expensive solutions for next-generation wireless products. Other potential applications include wireless applications, organizers, appliance electronics, automotive electronics, personal computers (especially laptops) and consumer electronics. It is a true 3-volt nonvolatile Magnetoresistive Random Access Memory (MRAM) with an address access time of less than 15 nanoseconds. Initial data of several billion read and write cycles indicate the potential for unlimited endurance.

MRAM is expected to offer significant performance advantages compared to existing memory technologies. It is expected to have better write characteristics because it does not require high-voltage tunneling like nonvolatile FLASH memory. It will offer 'instant on' capability, eliminating the lengthy boot times for computers and other electronic devices. MRAM is also expected to substantially reduce the battery power drain for portable devices because it does not require the background refreshing of DRAM.

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