Control Engineering's monthly newsletter for Machine Control -- May 2002


In this issue:



Welcome to Machine Control E-news

Welcome to the latest of the topical e-newsletters from Control Engineering. This one covers products, technologies, and companies specific to machine control. If my name looks familiar, it may be because I write on several topics. Coverage areas include PLCs and other forms of controllers, discrete sensors, programming tools, company news, and anything thought provoking that I can find.

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If machine control is not your area, go to our Web site and opt out of this one and choose the newsletters that cover your interests. I love feedback. Let me know what interests you, what upsets you, or what you need to know to do a better job. You can reach me at .

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Rockwell acquires soft CNC package

We covered news of Rockwell Automation acquiring resale rights to the soft CNC product, PA 8000, from Power Automation on Control Engineering Online May 16 at /archives/news/2002/May/gm0516a.htm

John Lewis, Rockwell director of alliances and business partners, says that this strategic relationship came about because the company was looking for ways to respond to its customers' requests for open CNC architectures on machining lines.

Initially, Rockwell will resell the product, primarily for control retrofits. Work has begun to integrate the product with the Logix engine plus NetLinx communications and ViewAnywhere architecture. This integrated control platform will position Rockwell to go after automotive powertrain applications, as well as other machining business.

Users will be able to use RS Logix 5000 editor. The engine is very fast, capable of scanning 2000 blocks per second. This is, of course, too fast for most mechanicals, but perhaps some applications would benefit from the ability to make that many small moves that would eliminate secondary steps like grinding. For the future, Mr. Lewis says that they are looking at integrating with products from the Entek division of Rockwell to accomplish things like tooling diagnostics.

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Business ethics

With business ethics gaining high visibility in the popular media, it looked like bad timing for the Stanley Works to try to 'move offshore' to avoid paying U.S. federal and state income taxes. There is no need to relocate anything. The company would have no assets in Bermuda.

Seems that there was a glitch in the shareholder voting. Employees who held stock through their 401K program were originally told that shares not voted would be counted as 'No.' Later another announcement was made to the effect that those shares would be voted proportionately. Few noticed the change. That evidently made the difference, as the final vote was narrowly 'Yes' Some employees have expressed unhappiness.

I bet that the company still expects fire and police protection, roads and other infrastructure improvements, an educated workforce, military protection from attacks, favorable trade laws, etc. The company just doesn't want to pay for those things. I believe that if I'm a citizen of a country, state, and/or city, that I should make my fair contribution. I expect others to do that, also. Most cities have depended on business leaders to provide leadership and financing that serve the public good. Are we all so self-centered now that we just want to take and not give back?

Am I out of step with 'reality?' What's your company up to? What do you think? E-mail .

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Comeback for ZiLOG?

A recent press release announced that ZiLOG's plan of recovery was accepted by the bankruptcy court. Chairman and ceo, Jim Thorburn, noted, 'We are a very focused company with a great brand name and rich heritage.' I first learned assembly programming on a ZiLOG chip a long time ago, so I have fond memories. I haven't followed the company closely for a while, but I'm glad to see it bouncing back. The quote about focus struck home. Too many companies lose focus trying to be too many things to too many people. Then, things have to get bad before a manager with focus and vision takes over.

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Machine Control in Control Engineering

The latest Machine Control article was in the April print edition. It discusses some of the trends and new technologies in discrete sensors-proximity switches, photoelectric switches, limit switches, and more. It can be found online at /archives/2002/ctl0402.01/020402.htm . It's simply amazing what advances in chips mean for adding power to these devices.

This year has been the year of product advancements. There have been six significant product introductions announced first in Control Engineering so far. Two more will appear in May, one in June, and one in August. There have been controllers from Control Technology Corp., Mitsubishi, and, coming in May, AutomationDirect. Cutler-Hammer/Eaton unveiled a cool new proximity sensor in March, while Schneider Electric's new family of sensors was described in April. Ann Arbor Technologies' new control/HMI platform was announced in March. Intellution's InfoAgent appeared in February. Look for another cool new PLC and a vision system in the future.

All of these products fall into the 'better, faster, cheaper' category. This is a good year to re-evaluate your control system and see if there is room for improvement.

Here are links to the companies mentioned:

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Effect of patents on innovation

Several people have written about the effects of all the litigation linked to Schneider Electric. For one thing, almost no one is talking for the record. However, through conversations with people in the supplier part of the industry, I've concluded that small companies that lack the financial muscle to fight are standing on the sidelines, holding back new products that would possibly benefit the industry, and waiting for the court decisions. Larger companies still seem to be releasing products. For instance, Rockwell just announced a Web-enabled PLC-5. See news item at /archives/news/2002/April/gm0423a.htm . Despite my optimism, it appears that any decisions are still many months away. We'll just have to continue using the best products available to keep our plants operating and see what happens.

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Cool products

Cool new products continue to come out. Looks like the industry is still vital.

  • DataBolt from Balluff is a data carrier mounted in a small bolt that holds up to 2000 bytes of data. It can be used for production tracking and analysis. The company also released an absolute quadrature output option on its Micropulse BTL-Z rod-style linear displacement transducers.

  • Sealevel Systems' SeaPort PLC-16 provides eight optically isolated inputs and eight Form C relay outputs with USB communication to a PC controller.

  • VMIC's VMIVME-7765 dual Intel Pentium III processor single-board computer features speeds up to 1.26 GHz and up to 2 GB SDRAM. VMIVME-5565 fiber-optic Reflective Memory VME board allows real-time communications among up to 256 independent systems at rates up to 174 Mbps.

  • National Instruments released its fastest 16-bit analog PCI output modules. NI PCI-6731 and NI PCI-6733 feature 1 MS/s per channel, two counter/timers, and software-controlled, onboard timing signal routing.

  • VersaLogic now offers its VSBC-8 single-board computer in extended temperature version operating from -40 to 85 deg C. A new STD 32 single-board computer is based on the low power Intel Pentium family requiring about 16% less power than the equivalent.

  • Metrowerks has released CodeWarrior Development Studio for Motorola HC08 Microcontrollers. The product is a tool suite for 8-bit application developers in a variety of markets, including automotive, consumer, and industrial. Studio includes ANSI C/C++ and compact C++ compilers; True-Time simulator; a project manager; and a full-chip simulator.

  • Acces I/O Products introduces Model 104-IIRO-8, a low-cost eight-channel PC/104 utility board featuring change-of-state detection and 60 V optical isolation on the input lines, and standard Form C SPDT relay outputs. The board may be installed in any standard PC/104 motherboard slot or stack.

  • Sixnet has released Etherbus, an IP67-rated Ethernet switch. It is a fieldbus-style real-time Ethernet switch, which can be mounted directly onto a machine or exposed wall in harsh environments. The switches use waterproof and vibration-protected environmental connectors, which are also offered by the company.

  • ADlink Technology introduced the DAQ-2200 series, 32-bit PCI bus 64-channel high-speed multi-function data acquisition cards. The cards can sample up to 64-channel analog signal with different gain setting and scan sequence. Each channel can be configured with a different gain, uni-polar or bipolar, single-ended or differential while the information is stored in the channel gain queue.

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