Control Engineering Software eNewsletter for June 2002


In this issue:

Who benefits most from software

Do you sometimes wonder who benefits most from large-scale software applications? Do they seem so complex that only a consultant or integrator can apply them? How is a manufacturer's support after the sale?

Infoworld editor in chief, Michael Vizard, in his June 3 column online at says, 'Ask yourself one simple question: was this software written in a way that increases my job security and gets me home at a reasonable hour, or was it written in a way to enrich consultants at the expense of my organization?' Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against integrators and consultants in general. After all, I was one once. Still, it is a valid question.

I have the opportunity to talk technical people at most of the industrial software suppliers and see their latest efforts. They show me how their newest efforts are designed to install easier, communicate better, and interoperate with hardware and software from other companies. I'm seeing a lot of Web-based support programs, including some innovative 'expert' sites and chat rooms.

What is your experience with software suppliers? Are they making it easier for you to purchase and install products or get upgrades over the Web? Is support keeping up with the increasing complexity?

Let me know at

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Simulation Software Symposium

I just had an opportunity to visit Brooks-PRI Automation in Salt Lake City for its seventh annual simulation symposium. This event brought together users, integrators, and consultants from around the world. Participants shared insights gained from actual implementations of simulation and emulation applications. Simulation involves modeling a process at the beginning of design, while emulation ties the model to actual controls. This process enhances optimization and debug prior to startup.

I discussed this software in a simulation article in April 2001, and contributing editor, Tracy Coates, reviewed it the following October. See for more.

A consistent theme of presenters was the key role played by controls engineers. Working with simulation analysts by completing code earlier in the machine or process design stage, start-ups can be done earlier and with less pain.

Ever read 'The Goal' by Eliyahu Goldratt? This book is a discussion of the theory of constraints told in novel form. Kevin Kohls, director of throughput analysis and simulation at General Motors, explained in the keynote address how GM has begun using Theory of Constraints analysis with simulation modeling to achieve the goal. By the way, what is 'the goal?' To make money, now and in the future. His advice is to first understand the root cause of a problem before applying technology.

Discussing the symposium wouldn't be complete without mentioning 'Matt and Jay's Walking Tour' of Salt Lake City. We saw the sights of downtown SLC with the unique perspectives of Matt Rohrer, AutoMod co-director and Jay Stacey, sales manager.

Find the company at

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Disaster recovery

Cimplicity Manager Disaster Recovery System, a disaster recovery and information backup tool enables plant personnel to restore information to PCs in minutes, rather than the hours required for manual recovery. After recovering a PC, the Disaster Recovery System enables re-application of the incremental backup files that are part of the Manager scheduler system, ensuring ongoing preservation of important information. The system supports FAT, FAT32, and NTFS file systems, and popular network interface cards, such as 3Com and Intel.

For more, visit

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Invensys manufacturing solutions

Invensys has formed Manufacturing Solutions organization, which includes products from its Wonderware, Foxboro, and Baan operating units. It provides turnkey solutions to optimize the manufacturing supply chain for discrete and hybrid manufacturing customers.

Components of these 'supply chain accelerator solutions' include:

  • Production workflows, where manufacturing work processes are captured and executed as standard responses to defined manufacturing events

  • Information visibility through an enterprise portal, which provides access and visibility to all relevant manufacturing information generated during the manufacturing process, delivered in the appropriate 'context,' offering improved decision support

  • Enterprise application integration, which integrates disparate sources of manufacturing information across the enterprise and delivers production information

  • Private supply chain, a solution developed to extend production workflows throughout a manufacturing enterprise, across multiple processes, lines and cells, and between multiple manufacturing facilities.

Check it out at

For more, visit

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Your comments from last month

One of the questions I asked was about Microsoft and alternatives for automation. Several people wrote that they were looking at Linux as an alternative. Look for my article on embedded control in July, where there will be a discussion of a Linux-based PLC open source project called MatPLC.

A reader just clued me in to Vista Controls for a software company that provides ports to not only Microsoft Windows 2000/NT/XP, but also to OpenVMS, Solaris, Linux, Tru64 Unix, and PowerMax. If you are looking for a Linux solution, check out

Professionalism was another topic that brought several responses. I quoted columnist Dale Dauten regarding a developing trend to require suits and ties in some corporate offices again. Several people voiced displeasure at how sloppy casual dress can become. While not advocating suits necessarily, they believe that you can go too far and thus show disrespect to those you deal with. Other thoughts were that professionalism is an attitude and way of working. Most of us prefer to deal with people who are professional in what they do.

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Instant Messaging

Instant messaging (IM) is one of the big battlegrounds for Microsoft, AOL/Time-Warner, and Yahoo. Beginning with teens and pre-teens chatting with friends, IM is catching on in the corporate world. Some companies have tried to block it citing both security concerns and time wasting. On the other hand, corporate IM could be a big growth market and perhaps a boon to customer service or project teams. Look for many companies to begin marketing IM to you.

What do you think of IM? Will this help you in your job? Should automation software suppliers include IM in their products?

Let me know at

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Component historian for network support

ECHO (Embedded Component Historian Object) is a time-series database for networked computing applications. This tool enables developers to add real-time data archiving to hardware devices or software products. Users can create a data storage function to archive and retrieve data at rates exceeding 200,000 values per second. It leverages native functionality of Microsoft Windows 32-bit environments with an event logger and performance counter and its native 64-bit 100ns resolution and Unicode support. The product interoperates with other databases, such as MS-SQL or object databases, as well as with interface technologies like XML, ADO, and SOAP.

A free demo is available for download at while OSIsoft is found at

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Fault tolerant software

Eternal Systems launched FT/ORB, an embedded fault-tolerance solution, and NIFTI, a lightweight fault-detector/notifier software. Designed for distributed, multi-tiered, embedded computing environments, Eternal Systems FT/ORB 2.0 transforms true fault tolerance to an affordable, off-the-shelf solution. The product is available for OMG CORBA, Java, VxWorks, Linux, Unix, and more.

President Tom Laux says that the idea is to create an application-transparent fault tolerance. Since many faults are not hardware-related and not all programmers are conversant with fault tolerance, company founders thought that a way to allow people who have little or no understanding to accomplish this essential task would be a positive step. A function of the product could be to provide continuous application availability, for instance, monitoring several sensors on a chemical vat to see if one is sending erroneous information.

Currently the system works with CORBA. Are any of you are either using or thinking of using CORBA for your databases?

You can check out the company at

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Control Engineering Online redesigns; DCS webcast

You may have noticed a redesigned Control Engineering Online at /

Some new or enhanced features include a more organized search function, better navigation, integrated site/e-newsletter registration, and the Control Engineering bookstore.

One of our sister magazines, MSi, did a sponsored webcast on distributed control system migration. If you want to take a look, the June 12 webcast is archived at

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