Control Engineering's Process Control Newsletter for April 2001


In this issue:


ABB listed on New York Stock Exchange

Friday, April 6th marked a big day for Zurich, Switzerland based ABB Ltd. when ceo Jorgen Centerman rang the opening bell and celebrated ABB's listing on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol ABB.

Click here to learn more


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Happy birthday to

March 26th marked the first anniversary of; the online community where control engineers share technical issues and help one another (and sometimes editors) get answer to questions and solve real-life control problems.

Features of's web site include:

  • Real-time Q&A;

  • Automation tutorials;

  • The Automation List discussion group;

  • The PLCArchive of contributed PLC programming examples; and

  • The PuffinPLC Project for Linux-based open source control.

Click here to learn more


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World Batch Forum meeting in Orlando

It's a dirty job, but somebody has to go to Orlando, Florida in early April. Unfortunately, no one at the World Batch Forum (WBF, Chandler, Ariz.) ask me what hours the conference sessions should be held, so I didn't get much sun. Anyway, about 90 users and 125 suppliers got together to talk about things like benchmarking for success, e-manufacturing, predictive material deliver to a batch system, and a bunch of other topics.

I picked up some useful material I'll be using in my August article about e-Manufacturing for process industries. There was also opportunity to discuss 'hot' topics with users, and I think I have some good ideas for future articles.

One of the nice things about attending WBF is you get a copy of the PowerPoint presentations AND a copy of the speakers text on a CD-ROM. (That sure makes it a lot easier to recall various topics a couple of months after getting home.)

This was the eighth North American conference, and WBF announced the availability of a CD-ROM with previous conference presentations and speaker text. The price for non-attendees wasn't available, but for more information about the CD-ROM or other WBF activities, visit


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The Power of Six Sigma by Subir Chowdhury

Frequently I receive books in hopes I'll read and provide a review. (Unfortunately none from John Grisham or Tom Clancy.) Usually the books I receive are more academic than practical, and I'm never able to get past the first few chapters. However, recently Subir Chowdhury sent me a copy of his new book titled 'The Power of Six Sigma.' The first thing that caught my eye was the size. This book is about the same physical size as a 'Reader's Digest' and is 140 pages from front to back cover (just about right for a two-plus hour airplane trip).

'The Power of Six Sigma' is written in a style that made me feel like I was sitting in a restaurant booth and eavesdropping on two guys talking about what Six Sigma is all about and how it helped this one guy's business reduce product variability and gain market share. There were a few places where I think the author missed an opportunity to explain away some of the common objections to implementing Six Sigma, but for the most part, this book does a good job of over-viewing the Six Sigma process.

If your business operates in a batch or discrete manufacturing mode, it will be easier to visualize how to apply what the two guys in the book are talking about than if your process is continuous in nature. Nonetheless, if you think Six Sigma might benefit your company, this book is a worthwhile read.

The Power of Six Sigma is by Subir Chowdhury, ISBN 0-7931-4434-5, published by Dearborn Trade, 155 North Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL 60606-1719


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ISA standards are easier to obtain

Been thinking about joining ISA (The Instrumentation, Systems, and Automation Society, Research Triangle Park, N.C.)? Here's a decent reason. ISA recently enhanced membership benefits, and for the next year members can download ISA standards for a one-time $25 fee.

If you've been making do with out-of-date standards, been thinking about establishing a standards library, or just need to better understand of a particular topic, this bargain deal might just be the answer.

For more information, visit


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Leveraging the work of others

One of the list-server groups I subscribe to recently included an inquiry from a lone process control engineer working at a very small pharmaceutical company. This fellow was looking for guidance on standards and procedures he had developed to ensure his company was properly complying with regulatory requirements in the use of control and automation systems. It occurred to me there are probably a lot of lone control engineers and technicians facing similar situations.

If you work in an industry that must meet certain regulatory requirements (i.e., FDA, OSHA, EPA, etc.) and those regulations require you ensure the control and automation systems are being used, managed, and maintained responsibly, you might find the GAMP (Good Automated Manufacturing Practice) document, developed and distributed by the International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineers (ISPE, Tampa, Fla.), useful.

GAMP provides a comprehensive set of guidelines designed to assist the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry comply with ever-increasing regulatory inspections of computer-based systems. Even if you're not subject to the same level of scrutiny as say a pharmaceutical producer, GAMP still may be beneficial with its supplier selection and user responsibility sections.

Topics in the supplier section include:


  • A framework and lifecycle;

  • Validation planning;

  • User quality and project planning;

  • Supplier quality management systems;

  • Configuration management; and

  • Specification and testing of systems and system interfaces.

Topics in the user good-practices section include:


  • Good documentation management;

  • Good engineering practice;

  • Validation of information systems; and

  • Validation of process control system.

A third section of GAMP provides guidance for the management of automated plant control projects including:


  • Projects subject to validation;

  • Retrospective validation of legacy systems; and

  • Operation and maintenance of validated systems.

For more information on ISPE and the GAMP document, visit


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Easier legacy system retrofits

If you're looking for a way to 'network enable' say some old Omron and Allen-Bradley S5 PLCs (programmable logic controllers), Lantronix (Irvine, Calif.) may have just what you're looking for with some 'new' OPC (OLE for process control) 'redirector' technology.

Now before you say redirector technology is nothing new, hear me out. The problem with previous redirector or virtual communication port technology was no Windows computer could handle 1,000 fake serial ports. What makes me think this technology is new is it's an across-the-board, multi-vendor application solution that makes it possible to treat 500 to 1,000 PLCs from a dozen different vendors as a single Ethernet data source. You no longer need a dozen drivers or lots of proprietary media to Microsoft Windows gateways. Although Windows may choke on 1,000 active sockets, at least it's not as impossible as trying to support COM1 to COM999.

For more information, visit /


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3,000+ industrial automation ActiveX objects

The folks at Software Toolbox (Matthews, N.C.) recently licensed their Symbol Factory and Symbol Factory ActiveX software to Elipse Software (Avon, N.C.) for use in the Elipse 32-bit SCADA (supervisor control and data acquisition) application designed to run on Microsoft operating systems.

By licensing Symbol Factory, Elipse Software is able to deliver an extensive library of industrial automation objects and software components, allowing users to create richer HMI (human machine interface) application displays.

For more information visit or visit Software Toolbox at


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Conferences, seminars, and exhibitions

May 22-25 Simatic and APACS+ Users Meeting (Chicago, Ill.) Visit for details.

June 10-14 Intergraph Process & Building Solutions is sponsoring 'International Process and Power 2001' in Orlando, Fla. Visit for details.

August 7-9 Profibus Trade Organization's General Assembly Meeting will be held in Scottsdale, Ariz. Contact Mike Bryant at (480) 483-2456 or for details.

September 10-13 ISA Expo 2001 will be held in Houston, Tex. Visit for details.

September 24-27 Fisher-Rosemount Users Group Meeting (New Orleans, La.). Visit for details.


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April in Control Engineering

Cover stories: Sensing

Advanced (inferred, virtual, soft) sensors
Real-time process control requires real-time measurement of critical-to-quality variables. When measurement devices are not available, cost too much, lack plant/shop floor robustness, and/or take a long time to produce results more and more processes are turning to advanced algorithms capable of producing what have become known as inferred, virtual, or soft measurements. This article will examine how basic measurements and software are being combined to produce inferential sensors.

Pressure sensing
Pressure is the second most-measured variable in process sensing applications after temperature. Despite its ubiquitous nature, pressure-sensing technology has been slow to evolve. Recent improvements in many areas make it worthwhile to examine technology trends and applications for these devices. A sidebar on pressure sensor basics is planned.

Security in software
Automation software security issues have expanded from plant-floor tweaking and adequate backups to intra/internet access concerns. Here's a look at how technology connectivity is changing automation and control software security.

Simulation in discrete manufacturing
Increasingly powerful software tools and hardware platforms enable a new generation of manufacturing simulation even to generating basic control code after a virtual look at the manufacturing process. The article will look at three applications: embedded control, machine control, and packaging line control.

Product Focus: Transmitters
Original Control Engineering research examines trends and user issues concerning transmitters. Recent product descriptions from leading suppliers will be included, along with research results from a reader survey.

Back to Basics: Linear feedback devices
Linear encoders, like their rotary cousins are the most common feedback devices used in motion control systems. Here's a look at basic principles and capabilities of linear encoders and alternatives available to users.


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