When smaller, faster, and less expensive are not the final answers

In this space throughout the year, Control Engineering has covered PLCs, terminal blocks, board level products, test and measurement equipment, servo motors, control valves, and other products. Looking back, one theme is dominant: everyone wants smaller, faster, easier, less expensive components to get the job done.


In this space throughout the year, Control Engineering has covered PLCs, terminal blocks, board level products, test and measurement equipment, servo motors, control valves, and other products. Looking back, one theme is dominant: everyone wants smaller, faster, easier, less expensive components to get the job done. Technological change sometimes seems to move at the speed of light.

That same theme rings true for the operator interface (OI) terminals industry. In one year, since the last OI terminal survey, respondents have requested and witnessed many changes. In 1999, the definition of an OI terminal was the vital question. Now, the $1-million question is: 'How can it make my job easier?'

According to Jon Giardina, product marketing specialist for Omron (Schaumburg, Ill.), operator interface terminals are moving toward supporting a global market. Anything a manufacturer of screens can do to simplify projects will be a significant differentiator.

Rich Barnich, vp of engineering for Ann Arbor Technologies (Ann Arbor, Mich.) says, 'We are seeing more interest in thin-client computing.

'By creating a terminal based on browser technology and terminal emulation, and having a centralized server for upgrades and maintenance, the total cost of ownership is lowered with the thin-client solution,' adds Mr. Barnich.

Control Engineering polled 1,500 readers, in part, to explore changes occurring in the OI terminal industry. Three hundred and one completed the survey resulting in a 20% overall response rate.

Objectives of the study were to examine the operator interface terminal features that respondents currently have and the features they want; investigate how respondent purchasing levels of operator interface terminals have changed during the past five years, and their anticipated levels in the next five years; and qualify respondents' involvement in recommending, specifying, and/or purchasing operator interface terminals products.

Nearly all, 98%, of respondents recommend, specify, and/or purchase operator interface terminals. Of those 98%, upon which the rest of the results are based, 62% recommend, specify, and/or purchase operator interface terminals for in-plant requirements; and 30% do so for OEMs (resale).

When asked what is the leading primary application for operator interface terminals, 49% responded both continuous and batch processing. Twenty-five percent responded discrete products manufacturing, and continuous processing came in third with a 15% response.

Then and now

Compared to CE's 1999 'Product Focus' on OI terminals, this year's survey respondents are expecting more versatility. For instance, in one year, there was a 2% decrease in respondents who had personal computer display, and a 9% decrease in those who wanted the technology.

'I think there was an awful lot of arm waving about the advent of Windows CE on the factory floor that sparked users to consider switching from proprietary OI platforms. Expectations of low cost, high performance, and embedded devices were high, but the products didn't materialize as quickly as hoped for, and the ones that did reach the market ended up as high-cost or low-performance solutions,' says Kerry Sparks, product manager-operator interface, for Cutler-Hammer (Westerville, O.).

'The embedded solutions are starting to offer open connectivity, diskless operation, and fast boot-up, but the hardware costs are still relatively high compared to proprietary solutions,' he adds.

Ron Drew, operator interface product manager for Automationdirect.com (Cumming, Ga.), agrees on the reason for the decline.

'Features such as easy installation, low cost, high quality information graphics and PLC connectivity have been the most likely cause in the decline of personal computer display purchases. With features like these, a full-blown PC becomes a less practical choice,' says Mr. Drew.

Similarly, other areas that witnessed a change were an increase in gloved-hand operation; adding the feature 'combined with controller'; and a decrease in the use of Microsoft Windows CE.

'There is always a need for robust OI devices for heavy industrial applications in such industries as steel and aluminum, tire and rubber, foundries, automotive, etc. These applications tend to be tough on rotating media and touchscreens, hence the call for gloved-hand operation. This doesn't preclude the use of touchscreens, just that display size (touch area size) and touch screen technology become big factors,' says Mr. Sparks.

'Combined with controller is a reflection of the increase in availability of packaged solutions that combine operator interface, I/O, and control for small applications with low I/O counts. And, although there is a decrease in CE, don't count it out just yet. There are alternate embedded Windows platforms. For example, NT embedded, is gaining momentum as a robust OS that provides many of the benefits of CE at only a slight price premium,' adds Mr. Sparks.

While many changes have occurred in the OI terminals industry, features currently in use compared to those respondents want, have not changed much in the last year.

Respondents continue to use displays separate from controllers at 38%, while 26% would like to have the technology. Similarly, 35% of respondents have dedicated terminals, and 22% would like to have it. New this year in the survey is the use of displays combined with controllers at 30%, and 24% of respondents plan to use it in the future. (See graph.)

Eyes on future progress

So what technological advances can we look forward to in the OI industry?

'The use of open technologies such as OPC, ActiveX, and XML are quickly becoming more prevalent on the factory floor. The integration of various software packages into a unified OI presentation is gaining momentum too,' says Mr. Sparks.

Similarly, 'There is a great flurry of activity in the wireless and handheld arena. Voice activation is still pretty experimental on the factory floor, but a lot of attention is being given to it and to all kinds of cable-free, hands-free operation,' adds Mr. Sparks.

Bill Backen, director of systems marketing, Honeywell Industrial Control (Phoenix, Ariz.), also predicts broad changes occurring in the industry.

'Specific requirements that we see emerging from the marketplace indicate the need for soft keyboards. Soft keyboards are flat-panel displays using software to emulate the look and function of a hard keyboard. Real-time automatic reconfiguration of the soft keyboard based on user name, job description, or task being performed are all growing requirements,' says Mr. Backen.

Marc Drenning, sales manager, Ann Arbor Technologies, comments on an area CE has covered many times this year seamless integration.

'A general theme across the industry is openness. As MES and ERP systems demand real-time information from the factory floor, all information obtained and controlled from machines and processes via the OI needs to be distributed throughout the enterprise network. The newest OI terminals will need to take advantage of the inexpensive Ethernet networking protocol and help provide seamless integration from the factory floor to the executive floor,' says Mr. Drenning.

OI terminal products

For more information on operator interface terminal products, circle the following numbers, or visit www.controleng.com/freeinfo . For a broader listing of OI terminal manufacturers, go to the Control Engineering Buyer's Guide at www.controleng.com/ buyersguide .

All in the family HMI, software

Palatine, Ill. Magelis XBT takes a family approach to electronic human machine interface, providing one development and operation software package for an entire product range. The technology delivers benefits to original equipment manufacturers, job shops and manufacturers in industries that include paper, steel and fiber, substation automation, printing, and pharmaceuticals. Magelis XBT satisfies the need for electronic operator interface for most PLCs and features alphanumeric and text displays, and graphical keypads and touch screens for use in factory automation systems and integrated control processes. It also offers an extensive memory range; design and applications development; symbol library; and EEprom or PCMCIA program storage. www.SquareD.com

Schneider Electric

Intel power for rugged environment

Ann Arbor, Mich . The e-Series industrial control computer is said to provide the processing power of Intel with the reliability and fast boot-up of an embedded system. The small, rugged computer uses non-rotating solid-state memory, allowing it to run without a hard disk or other moving parts. The e-Series can integrate with other plant systems due to built-in standard Ethernet connectivity and Windows NT operating system. Other features include Intel Celeron 433 MHz, 32-MB DRAM, 10-GB hard drive, antiglare display, two serial ports, and DeviceNet or Profibus I/O networking. www.nematron.com


Functionality in small spaces

Milwaukee, Wis. PanelView 300 keypad operator interface terminal offers functionality in environments where space is at a premium. The small monochrome LCD and 'feature-rich' design allow for performance in applications that demand a small, less expensive interface. PanelView 300 features screen security, and allows users to log alarms historically and as active versus inactive; universal language support to create object text in 46 languages; PC memory cards for application transfer; and communication interface options to Allen-Bradley's MicroLogix, SLC500, PLC and ControlLogix platforms. www.rockwellautomation.com

Rockwell Automation

Color touchscreen, bundled software

Charlottesville, Va. GE Fanuc Automation's Display Station 2000 Series now includes WTA Model, a panel-mount industrial computer with a 10.4-in. active matrix resistive-touch TFT color screen for contrast at VGA resolution. WTA Model comes bundled with Cimplicity industrial automation software, combining the power of an operator interface with an industrial computer running Windows NT. Designed for demanding applications, the 233 MHz Pentium-powered touch station includes features such as minimum 64 MB EDO DRAM, minimum 6 GB hard drive, ISA and PCI expansion slots, onboard 10/100 Ethernet, external IDE floppy drive connector, 4 MB onboard video, and Windows NT Service Pack 4.0. www.gefanuc.com

GE Fanuc Automation

Flat panel computer for industrial application

Greenville, S.C. DisplayPac-18 features an 18.1-in., 1,280 x 1,024 (SXGA), 256 k-color, TFT LCD, and a resistive touchscreen, housed in a cast aluminum enclosure. DisplayPac-18 is designed for industrial and machine control applications that require maximum information display and powerful computing. Powered by a Pentium III processor with up to 850 MHz, 10/100BaseT Ethernet, two serial ports, two USB ports, parallel port, and mouse and keyboard/speaker connectors, DisplayPac-18 systems come with Windows 95, 98 or NT installed. A PC/104, 16-bit slot offers I/O expandability. www.cdynamics.com

Computer Dynamics

Slim package for rugged environment

Wellington, Fla. Exor's Elin family of embedded industrial computers are said to provide the power and convenience of a desktop system in a slim package suitable for the rugged environment of a factory floor. Flash drives are incorporated into the design in lieu of hard drives for added reliability and resistance to shock and vibration. All models are NEMA 4/12, CE compliant, and tested operational for three days at 55 °C as completed systems. Elin is available in display sizes ranging from 6.5-in. TFT to 15.1-in. TFT, with all units having a maximum depth of 4-2/5 in. www.exor-rd.com


Executive software and communication drives

Columbus, O. PanelMate PC, an online version of the PanelMate Power Series executive software and communication drives, is designed to run on an industry-standard Intel-based personal computer and the Windows NT 4.0 operating system. Integrated PanelMate PC systems have been tested and certified to run with options such as DeviceNet scanner cards, and Ethernet cards, reducing system integration time and ensuring optimal runtime performance. PanelMate PC is said to have the same functionality as the PanelMate Power Series and is compatible with applications created for this and other Power Pro products. www.ch-cutler-hammer.com


Terminal communicates to multiple devices

Healdsburg, Calif. Model 2300 smart PLC and motion control operator are said to be ideal for connecting to multiple devices across vendors. It offers programmable touchscreen HMI, as well as two serial communication ports, a programming port and a PS2 keyboard port. Designed to withstand tough factory and outdoor environments, Model 2300 is used for applications requiring operator input, operator prompting, process or machine monitoring, and communication to other controls and/or process equipment. The 'intelligent' operator terminal is NEMA 4/12 and CE rated when panel mounted. www.eason.com

Eason Technology Inc.

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