Control Engineering's HMI eNewsletters for December 2002


AutomationDirect offers EZTouch PLC touch panels with a built-in Data Highway Plus (DH+) interface, or Ethernet option cards for use with certain EZTouch panels. Data Highway Plus versions of the EZTouch panels are available in color or monochrome 6-inch models, and 8 and 10-inch color regular or slim bezel models. EZTouch panels with the DH+ card pre-installed start at $1,159 for the 6-inch monochrome version. Also available is an optional high-speed Ethernet communication card, priced at $189, which enables an EZTouch panel to connect to an AutomationDirect PLC Ethernet network.
Click here for more information on the EZTouch panels.



IBM acquires Rational, threatens Microsoft?

Last month's acquisition news featured GE Fanuc's purchase of Intellution from Emerson. This month's acquisition is IBM's proposed purchase of Rational Software. I know some of you use Rational Rose, because I was tipped off to it several years ago by some readers. It is a development platform for embedded control code. Look for some additional information from the company in my February 2003 article on programming tools in Control Engineering. Some commentators have suggested that IBM's move into embedded programming combined with its WebSphere initiative plus the eclipse open source integrated development environment all signal increased competition with Microsoft in that market space. Of course, others suggest that this may be a boon to other programming tools suppliers (Telelogic, I-Logix, etc.) while the 'inevitable' corporate adjustment period works out.

In a related note, Sun's lawsuit to force Microsoft to use its Java implementation in Windows is hitting the news wires. I often wonder if Sun wouldn't be further ahead to just do a better job of marketing, rather than trying to win by lawsuit. Sun has some good products and Java is a good programming language, but the company just doesn't seem to be able to leverage all the good into a proportional amount of market force. And remember that Sun tries to be as dominant in the Java community as Microsoft in Windows. In the Java community, many can vote, but Sun's vote is the one that counts. I think that situation squandered a good opportunity.

Parallels exist in the 'office suite' wars. WordPerfect and Lotus both had really good word processing, spreadsheet, presentation suites that ably competed with Microsoft. Users had a real choice and innovation was driven so that each could find competitive advantage. WordPerfect was sold to Novell only to fade faster than the network. This brings us back to IBM, who bought Lotus evidently only for Notes, since the famed spreadsheet has faded from view. Did Microsoft win, or did the competition shoot themselves in the foot?

To complete the circle, Lotus founder, Mitch Kapor, is helping to finance a project called 'Chandler.' This open source project is being designed as a peer-to-peer technology Microsoft Outlook killer. Outlook is a good program with lots of features, but often the many features make it hard to use. A perceived further drawback is the requirement to use Microsoft Exchange Server.

As Mr. Kapor writes, 'We are using Open Source technologies to build a new breed of productivity applications, taking advantage of the great work the community has already done. By building on top of the best Open Source software we believe we can dramatically reduce the amount of work needed to produce quality software.'

Check it out by clicking here and investigating all related links .

What do you think about open source competition to Microsoft? Do you appreciate the platform foundation Microsoft provides our industry to foster interoperability? Are you puzzled by open source? I'll be writing an article incorporating some of these ideas later in 2003. Let me know what you think.

Email me at

Rockwell Automation Fair topics: Ethernet, wireless, platforms

Enterprise visualization solution components unveiled at the show included VersaView industrial computers and monitors.

Rockwell Automation's annual Automation Fair was another well-attended event with full technical sessions, lots of new products, and many partners exhibiting complementary products and services. Ethernet was definitely a hot topic, as Rockwell exhibited Ethernet connectivity to all its Logix platforms. Wireless was also 'in' with many products and live displays around the exhibition hall.

To the company's credit, it is still following the architectural path laid out several years ago with 'Logix everywhere' and 'View AnyWare' platforms. You can read my summaries of the many releases online in the Control Engineering News section .

Regarding HMI products, several new computers and monitors were unveiled on the hardware side, while 'Automation Desktop' was previewed on the software side. This product is an integrated development environment (IDE) for visualization and data communication. The demos looked very good. I expect to get some feedback from you RA users out there when you get your hands on it and try it out. We'll see how it flies in operation.

For more, see the following articles:

Xerox's new transistors harbinger of better displays

Beng Ong, a research fellow at Xerox Research Centre of Canada, has described the design and synthesis of breakthrough semiconducting organic polymers that show promise for printing electronic patterns on a plastic substrate-the plastic equivalent of etching circuits on silicon wafers. This materials breakthrough could lead to portable, poster-like television screens and monitors made of a single sheet of flexible plastic.

The experimental materials possess the electrical properties that would be necessary for printing plastic circuits. But in contrast to other materials that degrade quickly when exposed to oxygen, the Xerox materials are stable in air, a requisite for low-cost manufacturing under ambient conditions.

Under a National Institute of Standards and Technology grant, scientists from XRCC and the Palo Alto Research Center, a subsidiary of Xerox, are collaborating with teams at Motorola Labs and Dow Chemical to 'develop novel organic electronic materials and processing enable the fabrication of large-area electronic devices, such as displays, using relatively inexpensive printing technologies in lieu of semiconductor lithography.'

Let's see who's the first with a good use of this technology for machines or control rooms.

For more, visit and .

CFO survey bullish on manufacturing

Given this extended economic downturn in manufacturing that has seen just a couple of optimistic signs over the last two years, we're all wondering when things will improve. Fleet Capital just surveyed some 673 chief financial officers (CFOs) of middle market manufacturing companies about their views of the economy, prospects for revenue growth, and other economic indicators.

When I first started in manufacturing, CFOs were the most conservative people in the company in their forecasts and budget outlook. During the late `90's, that prevailing attitude seems to have changed into one of unabashed optimism in their ability to create numbers to match CEOs' dreams. Maybe all the negative publicity of the last year will have a sobering effect on them. I hope so, since the tone of the survey was quite positive.

They are significantly more optimistic about the economy in this survey than they were in the four prior surveys, with nearly 70% stating that the U.S. economy will expand in 2003. Those numbers increase with the size of the business. Eighty-four percent of CFOs of companies with annual revenues greater than $500 million predict the economy will expand in 2003.

In addition to general economic expansion, middle-market CFOs anticipate expansion within their own businesses. Seventy-one percent cited plans for 2003 revenue growth, substantially more than the 51% in the 2002 survey. Only 3% expect their revenues to contract, versus 14% in the prior year.

For more, click here .

Corporate instant messaging coming
It looks like corporate instant messaging is on its way. AOL and Sprint have announced products attempting to bring the pre-teen technology of choice to the workplace. I still have reservations about becoming a slave to the many people who would expect me to drop what I'm doing and respond 'instantly' to their whims and passing thoughts.

On the other hand, some are talking about using it as more of a 'machine-to-machine' solution, that is, harnessing this technology to the service of automation. That sounds like a good idea. Stay tuned. Better still, let me know your experiences if anyone has implemented it.

Email me at

For more on instant messaging, see the following articles:

IEEE president sees crisis in U.S. engineering

Engineering employment has taken a hit in 2002.

How quickly the tide turns. Remember the days when engineers and programmers were in such short supply that companies were trying to make people want to work for them? Weren't organizations like IEEE lobbying for more lax immigration requirements to increase the pool of talent to keep our technical economy going?

IEEE-USA president, LeEarl Bryand, pointed to recent sharp increases in engineering unemployment and declining real wages as serious threats to the long-term viability of U.S. engineering careers. Ms. Bryant went on to express serious concerns about potentially adverse workforce utilization practices that make engineering jobs less secure and careers more tenuous than ever. These practices include reliance on temporary foreign workers, non-standard employment arrangements, and outsourcing engineering work to lower cost, offshore locations.

Click here to read her entire report.

What's the status of engineering talent at your place of employment? Do you feel that your employer wants to keep you? What trends do you see?

Let me know at

New products
Ann Arbor Technologies has added to its webLink family, the webLink 17. This 17-in. TFT flat-panel display integrated computer lists for $4,995 and includes browser with Java support, support for thin clients with Microsoft RDP or Citrix ICA, embedded Microsoft Windows XP, embedded Windows NT, or Linux, PC with Microsoft Windows 98, NT, 2000, or XP or Linux and NEMA 4 front panel with analog resistive touchscreen.

For more, go to

Peritek Corp., a vendor of standards-based video and graphics display control boards for the embedded computing industry, and Silicon Motion, manufacturer of low-power mobile solution chips, will work together to bring 'advanced and affordable' 128-bit 2D/3D graphics technology to the embedded board market.

Peritek plans to use Silicon Motion's high-performance, low-power display controller chips on PMC (PCI Mezzanine Card) graphics board designs. The first of these new designs, the Tropos/PMC, based on Silicon Motion's SM731 graphics engine, was announced earlier this month.

For more, see

Persistor CF2 single-board computer from Persistor Istruments is small and features low power, removable memory and comprehensive programming libraries.

Persistor CF2, a 2.5 x 2.0 x 0.7 in. single-board computer from Persistor Instruments offers features desirable to developers of remote or portable equipment for data logging or control applications, including small size, low power, removable memory, and comprehensive programming libraries for rapid and reliable product or project development.

It combines a 3.3 V 16 MHz Motorola 68332 with a Texas Instruments MSP430 to offer several ways to achieve very low power consumption. Its programmable clock speed allows operation down to 5 mA, stop modes at 250 uA, and a suspend mode below 10 uA. It runs programs written in ANSI C using Metrowerks CodeWarrior.

For more, visit

Check out December Control Engineering, other resources

There is a discussion of the latest with HMI/SCADA software in the December issue of Control Engineering , also available online about the time that you receive this newsletter. The key word for where the technology stands today is 'integration.' As Intellution's Roy Kok told me, 'We are an information integrator.' XML continues to grow in use, and companies are beginning to move to Microsoft .Net platforms. Opto 22's partnership with Nokia to produce 'm2m' (machine to machine) communications with cellular phone technology indicates movement from the static HTML Web page paradigm that is the subject of so many lawsuits. Another trend is 'hosted' solutions where the application resides at a remote computer monitored by third-party service engineers looking out for the customer. Check it out at

As always, any comments, corrections, diatribes, or useful information you may have can be sent to

Also in December is the annual product round up and reader survey of operator interface. Check out what all the readers are thinking.

Control Engineering resources:

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