Intellution shares plans for 2001
I n the 80's the 'I' in Intellution equated to innovation in the advancement of HMI/SCADA (human machine interface/supervisor control and data acquisition) technology. After attending a two-day open-kimono at Intellution's new Foxborough, Mass. office, it appears innovation has returned to Intellution.
During the January 25-26 press event, Intellution (a wholly owned subsidiary of Emerson) shared, and in several cases demonstrated, major product enhancements scheduled for release throughout 2001 and also unveiled an innovative product that produces source code in Java, C++, or C, called iLogic.
To ensure attendee's understood why Intellution believes their product introduction and enhancement plans are properly designed and positioned to meet growing enterprise demands, Intellution's ceo and co-founder Steve Rubin explained the design philosophy for all Intellution products.
'Back in the 80's, Intellution chose a platform based design philosophy as opposed to a suite-based philosophy. Platform based solutions are user `tweakable' or `customizable'. Suite based solutions provide a lot of features, many of which the user may not require or would like to use differently, but can't,' explained Mr. Rubin.
Mr. Rubin explained Microsoft-Windows operating system is a platform-based example because it allows users to tweak how the system performs by changing ini, sys, and registry file content. Microsoft Word, Excel, and Access are suite examples, each providing considerable features and capabilities, but minimal user customization.
Mr. Rubin also shared he believes current manufacturing integration architectures [hierarchy] are short-lived and new integration architectures will resemble cell-phones with individual everything. If Mr. Rubin's vision is correct, products designed using a platform philosophy should be easier to scale to fit new integration architectures than suite based designs. (See Control Engineering , Jan. `01, p.26 to read more about integration architecture designs.)
From the beginning, Intellution's FIX product sat between controllers and planning and scheduling systems, fulfilling a coordination role, usually as a control room operator interface. Over the past ten or so years, the role of coordination has become increasingly more complex and time sensitive, requiring HMI/SCADA applications to continually add functionality where today the control room has become the focal point for conducting real-time business information transactions to achieve agile manufacturing. Merely installing an HMI/SCADA solution that provides graphics, alarming, and trending is no longer sufficient.
Apparently Intellution recognizes the dynamics of the changes in what occur in today's control rooms, because not only is FIX receiving major enhancements, it's been renamed to iFIX. In fact, all Intellution products now begin with the letter 'i' to reflect their expanded role in supporting information integration via of technology's such as VBA (visual basic application), ActiveX, OPC (OLE for process control), ODBC, DDE, scripting, and the Web.
Significant among the planned iFIX 2.5 release enhancements is: Windows 2000 ready, alarm handling improvements, VBA 6 support, and terminal server support.
That's right, terminal server support [read server/thin client]; the ability for multiple users to run concurrent sessions via standard browser interface's using intranet/Internet technologies. Performance skeptics calm down, the demonstration of terminal server performed every bit as fast as if the application were locally hosted and we were promised no tricks were being used to make it look good. The single biggest long-term advantage to this sort of application deployment is only one application needs maintaining.
In the historian arena, Intellution is introducing iHistorian, a stand-alone product designed to replace Intellutions's previous historian which relies on the existence of FIX. When released in the summer of 2001, iHistorian will provide a scalable (100,000+ tags) and fast (25,000 tags per second) historian designed to collect plant wide data as close to the data source as possible. Like any good historian, iHistorian supports several ways and means of addressing missing and/or questionable data.
Intellution's iDowntime product was released earlier this year, and is designed to make use of iHistorian and FIX historical data in the form of downtime reports to support root-cause analysis and facilitate improving process and equipment uptime.
For batch system users, Intellution's enhancement plans for iBatch include the addition of iWorkInstruction and a 'soft' phase logic module. Soft phases are things like update the inventory, validate a manual addition was made, trigger a report, etc. all actions frequently required to support 'real' or controller based phases.
A key advantage of soft phases within iBatch, as opposed to developing them as part of the iFIX application, is they automatically become part of the phase and batch records and carry with them appropriate parameters necessary for regulatory compliance.
iWorkInstruction allows adding detailed, context sensitive, and user developed operator workflow instructions on how to perform manufacturing processing steps to the iBatch application. Again, because iWorkInstruction's are an integral part of iBatch, they become part of the automated and manual batch records assembled as processing advances.
Electronic signatures are another scheduled product enhancement, but because authority and security concerns extend beyond batch, Intellution has chosen to implement electronic signatures within iFIX.
In 1990 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began working through electronic signature issues with results producing a finalized ruling known as 21 CFR Part 11 in Aug. 1997.
Until about Jan. 2000 the FDA didn't enforce 21 CFR, partly because companies were struggling to meet the regulation and many control systems just weren't capable of compliance, but that's changed. Today FDA inspectors are getting tough and issuing more and more dreaded 483's-warnings. Collect enough 483's and the FDA can and will shut down production.
Intellution recognized a need to help their customers deal with electronics signatures, but wanted to ensure anything they developed and embedded into their products fully complied with 21 CFR regulations. Working in concert with recognized FDA regulatory compliance consulting expert, Stelex (Bensalem, Pa.), Intellution has been able to develop an electronic signature capability within iFIX that helps users comply with 21 CFR Part 11.
The good news for user's not covered by FDA regulations, yet in need of control system authority and security solutions, it's likely Intellution's electronic signature enhancement could be a key solution enabler. (For more information about Intellution's 21 CFR Part 11 activities including a best practices guideline document, visit www.intellution.com.)
If you believe what you read and hear, connectivity, data sharing, information, and knowledge management is the name of the game in the 21st century. To that end Intellution's iLogic product may help lead the way, at least from a plant/shop floor perspective.
Based on IEC 61131-3 and -5 standards, iLogic provides a familiar looking development environment and supports function block and ladder logic; sequential function chart support is planned for a future release.
Like other IEC compliant tools, iLogic produces executable source code in C, C++. Where iLogic differs is it can also develop Java applets.
C and C++ is becoming the de-facto language of hybrid control and automation systems across the plant/shop floor, so there is good rationale for Intellution to enter the 'soft' control market space. Especially if you consider an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) could develop control logic and ship it with their equipment without concern of the controller platform it will execute on when it reaches the end user. But why Java?
Well it turns out, Intellution has developed a companion product called iTLink designed to meet current information integration challenges, and perhaps nudge Mr. Rubin's architecture vision of individual everything, Java might just be the best way to send data anywhere, anytime, to anything. For example, assume an OEM has developed the control logic for their equipment and made that logic available in C++. Now assume within the control logic is a need to send a message with embedded data to a PDA, pager, or cell phone if/when certain equipment conditions exist. Publishing the information using IT standards (i.e., XML) and packing it into a Java applet eliminates a lot of hardware/software issues.
Is Intellution on to something? Time will tell, but iLogic and iTLink are without doubt the results of innovative thinking.
For more information, visit www.intellution.com