Why IT matters

Welcome to Control Engineering's new column addressing information technology (IT) issues for control engineers. The need for this column grows greater every day as IT becomes much more usable and more used by control professionals. Yet, as control professionals, we do not normally think of ourselves as using IT in our everyday work.

09/01/2003


Welcome to Control Engineering 's new column addressing information technology (IT) issues for control engineers. The need for this column grows greater every day as IT becomes much more usable and more used by control professionals. Yet, as control professionals, we do not normally think of ourselves as using IT in our everyday work.

Why exactly is IT becoming so important in our industry? Three reasons: business, technology, and professional development.

The business reason is easy to understand. There is high value in correct, real-time production information and integration of the shop floor with the top office. Companies are integrating the "make" part of the supply chain into their optimized supply chains. This requires near real-time information from the shop floor and that the shop floor be more responsive to changes in products and schedules. Many companies can no longer run on weekly production schedules and weekly inventory updates. They need to send down multiple schedules per shift, and they need to know within minutes of when production has finished. Complicating the integration problem is that back-of-the-envelope calculations show that only 0.01% of the data we collect on the shop floor has direct business value. Companies need control professionals to identify the important information in the sea of real-time data, collect the correct information from the shop floor, and make it available to business systems. This puts engineering and IT departments on a collision course as they are forced to work together to implement real-time business processes.

Secondly, IT is important because the underlying technologies of control systems and IT systems are rapidly converging. We are using standard PCs, standard networks, standard operating systems, and standard computer languages in our control solutions. Most new control systems are now based on standard Microsoft Windows technology, Intel microprocessors, and Ethernet. New control system devices are typically networked, programmable, and remotely manageable using standard IT systems. Modern control system design also now requires an understanding of software design and computer system validation methodologies, security and redundancy issues, and network design constraints. All of these technologies and methods are part-and-parcel of the IT world. As engineers we need to understand the strengths that IT can bring to control systems and the weaknesses we have to address.

Finally, IT is important because it will affect our careers. Manufacturing companies are not ignoring the increasingly networked nature of control devices and the fact that these devices will have more processing capability, memory, and network throughput than many 1980 mainframe computers. In fact, some companies are combining IT professionals and control engineers into single departments. In these companies control engineers are being treated as IT professionals with specialized training and expertise in real-time applications, real-time programming languages, and control theory. IT departments are expecting that control professionals will also have knowledge in the standard areas of IT.

Because of these changes, control professionals will need to understand currently available IT solutions. These solutions will become part of the standard tool kit that we will bring to control problems. To help you become more familiar with IT technologies, each of my columns will focus on a specific IT issue or class of technology. It will include real examples of IT technologies used in control systems and personal opinion. Some of the first issues to be addressed include how to achieve stability and consistency in the changing IT environment, how to accomplish control networking using IT solutions, and how to design long-lasting solutions for control system integration.


Author Information

Dennis Brandl is the president of BR&L Consulting, a consulting firm focusing on manufacturing IT solutions, based in Cary, N.C. dbrandl@brlconsulting.com




No comments
The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by...
The System Integrator Giants program lists the top 100 system integrators among companies listed in CFE Media's Global System Integrator Database.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
This eGuide illustrates solutions, applications and benefits of machine vision systems.
Learn how to increase device reliability in harsh environments and decrease unplanned system downtime.
This eGuide contains a series of articles and videos that considers theoretical and practical; immediate needs and a look into the future.
Motor specification guidelines; Understanding multivariable control; Improving a safety instrumented system; 2017 Engineers' Choice Award Winners
Selecting the best controller from several viewpoints; System integrator advice for the IIoT; TSN and real-time Ethernet; Questions to ask when selecting a VFD; Action items for an aging PLC/DCS
Robot advances in connectivity, collaboration, and programming; Advanced process control; Industrial wireless developments; Multiplatform system integration
Motion control advances and solutions can help with machine control, automated control on assembly lines, integration of robotics and automation, and machine safety.
This article collection contains several articles on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and how it is transforming manufacturing.

Find and connect with the most suitable service provider for your unique application. Start searching the Global System Integrator Database Now!

Future of oil and gas projects; Reservoir models; The importance of SCADA to oil and gas
Big Data and bigger solutions; Tablet technologies; SCADA developments
SCADA at the junction, Managing risk through maintenance, Moving at the speed of data
Automation Engineer; Wood Group
System Integrator; Cross Integrated Systems Group
Jose S. Vasquez, Jr.
Fire & Life Safety Engineer; Technip USA Inc.
click me