On-screen Selection Tools Help Specify Products

Control-product selection software is assisting automation users and system integrators in specifying the best of a myriad possible solutions for applications. These tools—on 3.5-in. disks, CD-ROMs, or websites—permit vendors to help end-users, consulting engineers, and system integrators figure out what they need.

By Mark T. Hoske, Control Engineering May 1, 1998


Software for control

Process control & instrumentation

Motors & motion control

Process control valves

Sidebars: Features of Valve-Sizing Software

Control-product selection software is assisting automation users and system integrators in specifying the best of a myriad possible solutions for applications. These tools—on 3.5-in. disks, CD-ROMs, or websites—permit vendors to help end-users, consulting engineers, and system integrators figure out what they need.

Sources include product manufacturers (usually single-vendor), distributors or system integrators (selected or multiple vendors), and independent third parties.

These specification tools may represent the stepping stone between the stack of product catalogs still widely in use and fully Internet-based product specification. Internet-based services can have more up-to-date information, but disk- or CD-based software, often downloaded to a hard-drive, can be faster than present modem-based network communications.

Advantages over print-based options start with onscreen searching capabilities, usually faster for finding things than all but the most dog-eared catalogs. Beyond speed, computer-based specifiers help users narrow the selection process, offering icon-based and/or menu-driven help and knowledge that users may not have, or may have forgotten. On-screen narrowing of parameters and calculations help optimize products for the intended application.

Many users seek help with “what-if scenarios” early in the process, or start from certain components and work backwards to determine a range of profiles or possibilities. Uses include new projects and retrofits.

Selection software functionality varies. Many require downloading to a hard drive, rather than operating from CDs—easier now that CD-ROM drives read at 24x. Most use Microsoft Windows, some MS DOS, or even Apple Macintosh. Many vendor-based packages decline to provide product prices because of varied and changing pricing, although at least one, from Rittal (Springfield, O.), provides current prices and order placement through a seamless website/e-mail link built into the CD (with proper hardware, of course).

Version upgrades from vendors are fairly common to update product-related information, often included with the package. Vendors’ sales and distributors often take the software to applications on laptops, and sometime they use it over the phone to guide calling customers through a problem in a consistent way.

Discussion below focuses on valve and motor/motion-related specification tools, but product specification software touches almost all product categories; see the sampling of “Specification tools” below, or ask your favorite vendors if, or when, they will have specification software available.

Motors, motion control

Himanshu Shah, Cleveland Machine Control (Cleveland, O.) sales and marketing manager based in Pittsburgh, Pa., says MotionMaster “users can select and identify drive mechanisms from a number of options in graphical form, connecting different elements by dragging and dropping. You can put in dimensions and properties, and it calculates intertia, automatically giving the parameters of the move required for torque, speed, and duty cycles.” The software incorporates extensive application-based knowledge, adds Mr. Shah. “We’ve had positive feedback that this is way ahead of other marketplace options.”

Jerry D. Peerbolte, vp marketing, Baldor Electric (Fort Smith, Ark.), says that in addition to the Baldor electronic catalog—which has specification performance data for over 4,000 motors and drives—Baldor offers Matched Performance Selection Software, “for sizing motors and drives for motion control applications and defining load profiles. Icons help describe the application, then the selection tool assists in making a proper choice based on speed and torque requirements.” Baldor also has motor energy management software called Save-Plus.

Winsize from Indramat (Hoffman Estates, Ill.) was initially designed for customers with unusual applications, but since the June 1996 introduction it has broadened to with work more applications—machine tools, converting, material handling, printing, and packaging—and with more technology and complex linkages. Richard J. Huss, vp for marketing, says almost all customers run their new machinery through Winsize. Although the software goes so far as to provides part numbers and pricing, users still seek human verification, he says.

No fudge factors

Bruce Herman, servo product marketing engineer at Mitsubishi Electric Automation (MEA, Vernon Hills, Ill.), helped write an earlier version of MSize2 motor and motion-control sizing software. He says in motion applications, “collecting the right information is the most difficult. Software prompts you to get the right information.” MSize2 graphics show different machines and configurations; also, menu choices help users collect and enter the required data. “If there’s no Mitsubishi product that fits the parameters, it suggests changes that might make it work. But if it’s too large an application, for example, the software says that. There are no fudge factors in a computer program.”

Designer of MoogSize from Moog Inc. North American Drives Operations (East Aurora, N.Y.) is Aidan Browne, software design engineer. “MoogSize walks you through, but the user needs to have some knowledge of technical terms…how fast a specific axis is going, intertia, gear ratios…that sort of thing. It does about 90% of the work,” says Mr. Browne, who is now assigned to Moog Ltd. in Cork, Ireland. Future versions will work in Microsoft Windows NT and allow more complex configurations.

Motioneering from Kollmorgen Motion Technologies Group (Radford, Va.), was developed by Rick Armstrong, now the company’s training manager. Mr. Armstrong says, “The software prompts the user for a variety of information, but again you have to have some technical knowledge. I had a call from a designer of human centrifuges for NASA. These machines have enormous inertias, thousands of times what you would expect in the usual application. The software worked.”

Motioneering allows database construction, data export, and searches. While an extensive help file assists users, and a red “X” appears if critical data aren’t supplied, “you still need a qualified engineer in the loop to give the results a sanity check,” Mr. Armstrong says. “But it does a lot of the tedious work.” More than 10,000 copies are in circulation, with a German version released in April.

Sizing up valves

Considerable expertise is also required for valve sizing, and software helps in that area also. Firstvue from Fisher Controls International (Marshalltown, Ia.), says Mike Tewes, senior project leader, includes ISA sizing and Fisher’s own valves sizing for valves, noise prediction, actuators, and C v (flow coefficient). It also connects to the catalog. Mr. Tewes says perhaps half of all orders touch Firstvue; it feeds into software used by the sales force.

Next-generation DeZurik (Sartell, Minn.) valve sizing package will incorporate the best of DeZurik’s Alpha-I software and software acquired with the purchase of Honeywell’s globe valve business, says Jean Surma, DeZurik marketing communications manager. Among additional features, valves sizes increase up to 72-in. and concurrent flow parameters extend to 10 (up from four now). The new sizing software will be available by October, she says. DeZurik also features valve material selection software for more than 100 applications.

Bray Valve & Controls (Houston, Tex.) has a variety of specification software BrayAct for valve actuators, BrayMat for valve material selection, and BraySize, says John Giordano, national sales manager. “BraySize, out for nearly five years, was, as far as I know, the first Windows-based sizing program for butterfly valves. It’s self prompting and thorough. Assuming someone has all the information on hand, using this software might take 10 or 15 minutes. I can’t remember the last time someone did it manually. It just doesn’t make any sense to do these calculation manually anymore.”

Masoneilan Solutions, says Stephen M. Wing, marketing manager, Dresser Valve and Control Division, Masoneilan North American operations (Avon, Mass.), is beta testing its software to be released later this year. Future capabilities include tying the software transparently into Masoneilan manufacturing order entry system, to connect the purchasing process to the plant floor, says Mr. Wing.

OCV Control Valves (Tulsa, Okla.) offers ValveMaster Automatic Control Valve Sizing and Selection Program. Charles Whisenhunt, sales manager, says using this software is a matter of ease. “Everyone knows how to use a screwdriver, but it’s more convenient to use an electric screwdriver.” More than 1,000 copies of the 3.5 year-old Microsoft Excel-based software are out there. A future version will work independent of Excel.

“ValveMaster walks users through the same steps as when people call in on telephone,” says Mr. Whisenhunt. It’s consistent and “takes less time to do than to talk about.”

On the independent side, Instrumentation Software (Waretown, N.J.) offers CVspec Generic Control Valve Sizing Software that produces an ISA-type page, with up to four tag numbers per page, suitable for purchasing or record-keeping. Hank Osborne, president, says his software “competes with big valve vendors trying to give similar software away. People who use it like it.

This software sold better initially, when vendors all geared their software only to their valves. They’ve gotten a little more universal,” so there’s slightly less demand for his DOS-based software, now listing for $129. It has lots of online help and includes aero- and hydrodynamic noise calculations, says Mr. Osborne. He also offers OrSpec software for sizing orifice plates, flow nozzles, and venturi tubes.

A user’s views

Steve Lange, VECO Engineering Div. of VECO Corp. (Bellingham, Wa.), says he likes software-based specification tools for the search capabilities, but cautions that more up-to-date information sometimes appears in printed materials. As principal engineer in VECO’s engineering department, Mr. Lange has experience with multiple valve-sizing packages. He says some software is “down-right user unfriendly.” Easier-to-use packages have a similar look and feel to mainstream Microsoft Windows-based software and its conventions.

In the end, product specification software aims to improve how products meet customer applications. One vendor noted, “I don’t know if customers do or don’t buy our products because of the sizing software, but it does save their time and make life easier.”

Features of Valve-Sizing Software

Be vendor/part number-specific;

Yield a generic specification;

Calculate and print without going to a spec sheet;

Calculate angle of opening, cavitation, choked flow, liquid pressure recovery, pressure drop ratio, water hammer;

Calculate C v , flow, or differential values;

Calculate noise emissions;

Calculate two-phase flow, real-gas, pulp-stock sizing;

Customize the printout;

Display SI and ANSI units;

Define scope of related work or activities;

File spec sheets for future use or modification;

With fluid viscosity, print regime for laminar or transitional flow;

Include product data sheets;

Include dimensional drawings;

Include maintenance information;

Incorporate application-specific suggestions;

Operate in multiple languages;

Provide media/materials-related information;


Require Microsoft DOS or Windows or Apple Macintosh, and certain available memory;

Use artificial intelligence to simulate ways in which humans think;

Use ISA equations, inputs, and outputs;

Use menu-driven tables.

Vary in price from free to several hundred dollars.

Source: Control Engineering from multiple sources.