Opto 22: automation hardware, software needs to get simpler

By Control Engineering Staff March 1, 2007

Temecula, CA — ‘Products that serve the automation industry are confusing to understand, complex to use and expensive to buy,” says Benson Hougland, vice president of Opto 22 , ‘but they don’t have to be.’ The occasion was the launch of a redesigned and simplified suite of Opto 22 hardware and software that is easier to understand, simpler to select and configure, and less expensive to install. The more than 20 revamped products include project, simulation and connectivity software; I/O processors, modules and racks; and the Snap Motion Control Subsystem. The result, says Benson, simplifies .’the [creative] process for people who want to act on their ideas.’

Even before the black armbands that employees wore to proclaim the demise of PLCs more than 18 years ago, Opto 22 had positioned itself as different. It was well known for its industrial PCs or programmable automation controllers (PACs) before the industry knew what to call them. Its first products (in 1974) were solid-state relays, and now most SSRs and I/O modules are guaranteed for life. Hardware is tested twice, customer service is free, and they’re now expanding their training offerings with things like video training via the Web.

Opto 22 PAC Display software for creating Microsoft Windows-based HMI and SCADA projects, part of the PAC Project Software Suite, is said to be comprehensive and easy to use. PAC Project basic version is free.

But the crux of the product launch is simplification. Why? ‘Technicians, and maintenance and operations personnel are becoming fewer in number,’ says Hougland, ‘and their jobs now encompass more than just learning, specifying, and implementing automation hardware and software.” Simplifying these tasks, he says, lowers the barrier to entry for more people who want to innovate and improve business using automation, data acquisition, and monitoring products and services. ‘Engineers are creative. They love a good challenge, a tough problem, and finding the solution for it,’ he says.

Even for a company known for innovation, simplification required significant self-examination and redesign, such as moving to just four racks for Opto 22’s Snap PAC line, down from 15. It also meant re-emphasizing other attributes, like free training, customer support, and expanded online tutoring.

Specific products include the following:

PAC Project Software Suite from Opto 22 is a new automation software suite designed for use with Opto 22’s Snap PAC programmable automation controllers, brains, and I/O (the Snap PAC System). It includes all control programming, human machine interface (HMI) development, and OPC connectivity tools needed to design, develop, and maintain sophisticated industrial control, monitoring, and data acquisition applications. According to the company, the software is “far less costly and more user-friendly than traditional automation software development tools.” PAC Project Basic suite includes PAC Control software for developing control strategies that run on Snap PAC controllers; PAC Display for creating Microsoft Windows-based HMI and SCADA projects; and several useful utilities for configuring and maintaining the Snap PAC System. The PAC Project Professional version adds OptoOPCServer and OptoDataLink for enterprise and database connectivity. The PAC Project basic version is free.

Two Snap PAC ‘brains’ — new and higher performance Snap I/O processors — from Opto 22 feature dual, switched 10/100 Mbps Ethernet interfaces that support designing I/O networks in a multi-drop configuration, and consolidate capabilities from seven previously offered brains, with new features. The new brains have a built-in switch and can be daisy-chained on Ethernet cabling, reducing the need for external, standalone Ethernet switches and minimizing lengthy cable runs associated with traditional star-configuration Ethernet networks. These processors can offload many time-critical tasks from the host controller or PC, such as counting, latching, thermocouple linearization, PID loop control, event messaging, scaling, engineering unit conversion, ramping, and time-proportional outputs. They have simultaneous protocol support for Modbus/TCP, OptoMMP, FTP, TCP/IP, UDP/IP, SMTP, SNMP, and others and each can address a mix of up to 512 points of analog, digital, serial, and special-purpose I/O on one rack.

Five new Snap I/O modules : Snap-AIMA-32 thirty-two channel current input module; the Snap-AIV-32 thirty-two channel voltage input module; and the Snap-IAC-16, Snap-IAC-A-16 and Snap-IDC-16 isolated sixteen-channel digital input modules. The increased density of each of these new modules—up to eight times more than standard four-channel Snap modules—can reduce system per-point costs up to 400%, and significantly reduce required panel space. They connect to and communicate with sensors, actuators, instrumentation, and equipment in industrial applications involving digital on/off control or the monitoring and acquisition of analog temperature, humidity, pressure, flow, and other types of data.

Four new Snap PAC racks share a standard consolidated mounting rack architecture to create I/O units that combine rack-mounted Snap PAC R-Series programmable automation controllers (PACs) or Snap PAC brains, and Snap I/O. Users now can mix analog, digital, serial, and special-purpose modules in any position. The racks simplify the number of racks from 15 to four.

OptoDataLink , an enterprise connectivity software application and part of the PAC Project Professional software suite, allows Snap PAC System users to create a bi-directional data transfer link between PACs and enterprise databases, using standard methods and file types, without recreating tag names. Users can consolidate and publish data from Snap PAC controllers and brains to Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft Access, and MySQL, among others. Previously, users could deploy OptoOPCServer to consolidate and publish control systems data only to OPC-aware clients. Unlike some competing data link products, no HMI needs to be configured or running to use this software, Opto 22 says, reducing time, expense, maintenance, and costs.

Opto 22 Snap Motion Control Subsystem combines a SNAP Motion host communication module in a Snap I/O form factor, a Snap Motion breakout board, and the OptoMotion command library.

Snap PAC Sim , a new software application, simulates a Snap PAC controller on a PC without an external hardware controller. Snap PAC Sim can be used to develop control strategies and HMI projects, then run the strategies and projects in simulation mode, without purchasing PACs or I/O modules. It is available as a free download from Opto 22’s website, and will be bundled with various Snap PAC System software demos. (The Opto 22 Website also has allowed visitors to download, evaluate, and use Snap PAC system software for free, as an introduction to Opto 22’s flowchart-based programming environment.)

Snap Motion Control Subsystem offers a cohesive development platform for applications that require motion control along with analog, digital, and serial control. It combines motion control with process control, sequential logic, string and data handling, math, and networking, allowing use of one hardware and programming environment, for all industrial control, motion, data acquisition, and monitoring. It provides a set of integrated, easy-to-use tools that simplify application development where multi-axis stepper motor control is combined with traditional analog, digital, and serial-based automation and control.

Control Engineering March and April print editions will have more information on these products.

—Control Engineering Daily News DeskEdited by Mark T. Hoske, editor in chief, MHoske@cfemedia.com