From the core to the cutting edge
As difficult as 2009 was economically on a global basis, it’s been fascinating to watch how businesses and professionals are adapting to the structural changes that are reshaping the economic world in which we all live. Nowhere has this been more evolutionary than in engineering.
I prefer the term “evolutionary” over “revolutionary” because the changes that have occurred in engineering and manufacturing over the past year or two, while dramatic in many instances, have all been built on the development of existing technologies for new uses. In this issue alone, there are two great examples of this: the harsh duty cabling article and survey results (on page IM1—if this is not in your print edition, go to www.controleng.com to view it in the February 2009 online issue) and the Sustainable Engineering Report article (on page 53).
The harsh duty cabling and connectors feature is the result of a joint survey conducted by Control Engineering and Molex Inc. to find out how, as more and more end users move control out of the cabinet and into operations areas, equipment reliability and data communications are ensured in production environments that are potentially harmful to control equipment. Though the topic of cabling and connectors may not be as intriguing as the latest networking or PLC-to-enterprise system data sharing capabilities, cabling and connectors remain core to ensuring that the more captivating potential of engineering technologies can actually take place.
According to the survey results, the second most frequent cause of equipment downtime (after equipment failure) was cabling and connector issues. The clear message delivered here is that the importance of selecting suitable cabling and connectors is a critical factor to production uptime—a core engineering concern yesterday, today, and for the foreseeable future.
Another example of core technologies available today that are being deployed in cutting edge engineering applications can be seen in the use of programmable automation controllers (PACs) from Opto 22 to integrate controls from five different automation providers across five separate operations units at Sotavento’s virtual power plant in Spain.
Employing a mix of analog and digital I/O connections, PACs were used to connect the electrolyzers, motor generator units, and other plant equipment and to communicate with this equipment directly or via interface with other SCADA systems. These connections were critical to the plant’s efforts to produce hydrogen as an energy source from non-fossil fuel sources. Few applications get more cutting edge than this, yet at the heart of this project’s far-reaching possibilities are automation technologies that have been available for years.
The seeds of tomorrow’s potential are often within our grasp today. It’s up to us to do something with them.