Java-Based Control Aids Nonproprietary Enterprise Integration

Like early rail passengers switching trains whenever track widths changed, travelers among computers on the factory floor and the executive office can get bogged down by young technologies. Many developers boast of seamless links and easy enterprise integration, but snags and delays persist.One solution that promises fewer speed bumps is a new open, Java-based control system from Sun Micr...

01/01/1998


Like early rail passengers switching trains whenever track widths changed, travelers among computers on the factory floor and the executive office can get bogged down by young technologies. Many developers boast of seamless links and easy enterprise integration, but snags and delays persist.

One solution that promises fewer speed bumps is a new open, Java-based control system from Sun Microsystems (Palo Alto, Calif.) and Cyberonics (Berkeley, Calif.). Recently installed for evaluation and pilot scale production of pharmaceutical compounds at Berlex Biosciences (Richmond, Calif.), the control system was also demonstrated at ISA/Tech 97 in October. Berlex staffers are using the Java-based control system and a batch fermenter in a pilot project to produce recombinant protein in mammalian cells.

The earlier demonstration included controlling the fermenter with a Siemens PLC, which was in turn controlled by a JavaStation network computer running Sun and Cyberonics' Java-based control system. The application controls temperature, pH, and dissolved oxygen content of the mixture in the fermenter. The Siemens PLC runs standard transmission control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP), which "opens up" the control system and allows it to work with standard Internet protocols and Java—instead of what Sun officials describe as "proprietary" technology, such as Microsoft ActiveX or PLC protocols.

"It took us about three weeks to develop this control system," says Paul Bowman, Cyberonics' vp of technology and R&D. "In general, I've found that I'm more than five times more effective at developing new control systems with Java. Likewise, features such as web-based control are relatively easy to implement."

Other benefits of the Java-based control system include its ability to work with legacy systems and off-the-shelf hardware; flexibility and extensibility in configuring systems; remote viewing and control capabilities; and savings on equipment and administrative costs. For example, the JavaStation and the TCP/IP card were far less costly than proprietary hardware.

Besides its project with Cyberonics, Sun has also worked with several other companies to demonstrate Java's cross-platform abilities, scalability, and security. Sun's recent associates include Cegelec (Pittsburgh, Pa.), the Foxboro Co. (Foxboro, Mass.), Intuitive Technology (Marlboro, Mass.), Schneider Automation (North Andover, Mass.), and Westinghouse Process Control Division (Pittsburgh, Pa.).

"Java offers a superior route to factory and enterprise integration of varied platforms and applications, which means process data can flow seamlessly and securely anywhere in the enterprise," adds Reed Hornberger, Sun's manufacturing market development director.

In related news, Sun also recently unveiled its Activator software. This program is expected to resolve incompatibilities between programs written in Java's official version and Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser. Though not currently related to the Java-based control systems, Sun officials acknowledge that the Activator program may also assist manufacturing applications as links between the factory floor and administrative offices make greater use of the Internet and browsers.



Comparing Java and ActiveX

Java

PROS

Works across many types of platforms

Components are reusable

Programs written once can be run on many diverse machines

Users safe from rogue code

Fast-growing support from software vendors

CONS

Young technology

Small installed base

Requires knowledge of the programming language. However, Java visual tools are coming to market that enable developers to work in Java without knowledge of the Java programing language

ActiveX

PROS

Runs in all Windows

Extends existing technology for using software objects

Growing support from software vendors

CONS

Runs only in Windows applications

Large components (ActiveX controls)

Much code is not reusable

Users could viruses, rougue code



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