Control Engineering’s E-News Letter for Embedded Control – January 2002

By Gary Mintchell June 4, 2002

In this issue:

  • Control Engineering January
  • Expand your control horizons
  • Lost jobs
  • Programming
  • Business leadership
  • Cool products
  • Control Engineering News

Control Engineering January

Check out the special report on controllers in January Control Engineering . This is the first of a two-part survey of the status of controllers in automation, and they have really changed over the last few years.

Also in January, I have an introduction to XML and its related technologies. It was once cool to embed ‘web pages’ in a controller. Now, it’s cool to embed information-serving capability by using XML. This will be the important method of communicating information over the next few years.

Coming up in February are discussions of how Internet technologies are used in manufacturing, the second controller article, and a survey of contact temperature sensing.

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Expand your control horizons

Benson Hougland, director of technical marketing at Opto 22, , pointed out recently that we need take the initiative to bridge the gap in vocabularies between the Information Technology world and Industrial Automation. Studying Ethernet and XML would be a start. He made a further point that there is no reason for control engineers to limit places where they can earn a living at their trade. For example, look at all the places in a convenience store where the combination of embedded control and networking would help their profitability.

Dan Benson, Ann Arbor Technologies vice president, , was just telling me about opportunities for embedded control products. He also sees opportunities outside the traditional automation market. The company has had success with its Microsoft Windows CE embedded computing products, but Dan sees potential for real-time Linux as well.

The next time you leave the office or plant, take a look around and see opportunities for control engineers all around you. It may become the basis for a new business, or even industry.

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Lost jobs

As I write this, the country is digesting the shock of the size of the Ford restructuring. It’s amazing just how fast a company can go from best to bad. Analysts have been quick to say the company got ‘fat and lazy,’ but this doesn’t apply to the many Ford engineers I know. Further, the February Wired magazine, , has an article called ‘Meltdown: Big Steel in the Borderless Economy.’ It has some pretty depressing pictures of closed steel factories. This kind of news is a reminder that we need to help our companies be as competitive and successful as possible, but sometimes either the market or bad management can affect us all.

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Like many people, I learned a lot of technology over the years from Byte magazine, . I think it lost its way a little in the later `90s and now it is finding its way back as a Webzine. I still check it out, and a recent one had a column entitled ‘Dinosaur Manifesto.’ James Bredijk takes a look at the current state of the art in programming and declares, ‘I have learned that we as a programming community don’t need better languages, and we don’t need better tools. We need better programmers.’

Check out the column. Like him, I was a ‘language junkie’ for years. Starting with RPG and Cobol, then Basic and assembly on a little Timex Sinclair, graduating to a Radio Shack TRS-80. Remember those? That was all before 1980! Along the way, I read everything I could find and studied ways to create concise, readable, structured code. I then saw automation programmers write reams of ladder then do a flow chart to make the customer happy. Then we couldn’t troubleshoot the darn thing and lost our shirts (almost literally).

What have you seen? Have you seen recent computer science graduates struggle to figure out how a compiler works so that the C++ code does what was expected? How about handling the ubiquitous ladder code? Do you think we need some ‘back to the basics’ on good programming practice? Where did you learn to write good code?

Let me know at .

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Business leadership

For those who like to explore a wide variety of ideas, check out Knowledge@Emory. This is a web site and e-newsletter from Emory University, . The latest one contains an article under Leadership and Change category titled, ‘Business Experts Agree: The Role of Business is the Same — To Win.’

Now, I’m often skeptical when ‘business experts’ agree on anything, but there is some common sense here for all of us, and especially business leaders, to follow. Business school dean, Thomas Robertson, says, ‘The role of business is to create economic welfare — for shareholders who receive a return on investment, for employees who receive remuneration, and for the community which benefits from investment and payroll. The tragedies of September 11 do not alter the role of business in society.’ Amen.

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Cool Products

  • Applied Data Systems , at , now provides StrongARM-based single-board computers based on the new Microsoft Windows CE .Net platform for mobile computing products.

  • VMIC , at , has introduced VMIVME-7751, an embedded VMEbus Pentium III FC-PGA/PGA2 socket processor based single board computer with 133 MHz system bus and processor speeds up to 1.26 GHz. It also ha VMICPCI-7756, a CompactPCI Pentium III FC-PGA 370 socket processor based single board computer also with 133 MHz system bus and processor speeds up to 1.26 GHz.

  • The Omron solid-state 3-phase industrial relay series G3PB, at , features a heat sink to enable longer service life plus a higher voltage rating than previous models.

  • NetSilicon , at , features 32-but networked microprocessor, Net+Arm, TCP/IP, real-time operating system, networking software, plus utilities such as onboard SNMP, XML, Active Directory and LDAP.

  • Rockwell Automation , at , has added five products to its FlexEx I/O family, an intrinsically safe distributed I/O system. These include Bus Isolator Pair, two power supplies, and an eight-point analog input module.

  • Z-World , at , released BL2100 Smartcat single-board computer with Ethernet connectivity and keypad/display options. This is a low-cost solution in a small form factor, 4.14 x 3.41 in.

  • Metrowerks , at , OEM Licensing Program makes it possible to license CodeWarrior technologies including the open-architecture, IDE, debuggers, compilers, and code analysis tools for use with such platforms as Palm OS, Windows, Java, Mac OS, and more.

  • CyberResearch , at , PowerDAS analog output boards offer Waveform generation, waveform update, and conventional software update modes of operation.

  • MEN Micro , at , has a new PC-MIP mezzanine card with a 48-bit TTL I/O interface that can be added to a single-board computer or PC-MIP carrier card.

  • Micro Industries , at , released mNLX810E, a mini-NLX CPU board featuring the new Communications I/O Controller Hub (C-ICH) from Intel. C-ICH includes two serial ports and two Ethernet controllers combined with 810E Graphics and Memory Controller Hub.

  • ADLink , at , has added two new 3U chassis, a 10-slot CompactPCI/PXI and a CompactPCI with 13 slots and 3 hot-swappable power supplies.

  • Acces I/O , at , released a 12-channel analog I/O board for PC/104 that includes 8 input and 4 output channels with software supporting ADC, DAC, counter, and digital functions and sample source code in C and Pascal.

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Control Engineering News

  • Is your company involved in FDA’s 21 CFR Part 11 Electronic Records and Signatures regulation? Please take a survey at ; results will appear in an April 2002 Control Engineering article.

  • Register for a free Control Engineering -moderated webcast: ‘FOUNDATION Fieldbus: An Open, Integrated Architecture for Information Integration.’ See details at /webcast/archives/fieldbus.htm

  • Control Engineering Online includes eight topical e-mailed newsletters, Daily News, Control Engineering Europe , and searches of the site, Control Engineering Buyer’s Guide, and Automation Integrator Guide Online; go to .

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