Presenting … The Best Products of 1999

Many useful and innovative new products burst into industrial automation, instrumentation, and control in 1999. From all products in print and online coverage during 1999, Editors of Control Engineering and Control Engineering Online chose 40 to honor with Editors' Choice Awards, in this 13th annual process.

By Mark T. Hoske, Antonia E. McBride, and Control Engineering Staff March 1, 2000

Many useful and innovative new products burst into industrial automation, instrumentation, and control in 1999. From all products in print and online coverage during 1999, Editors of Control Engineering and Control Engineering Online chose 40 to honor with Editors’ Choice Awards, in this 13th annual process.

Technologies and products win based on technological advancement, impact on the market, and service across more than 60 industries—from sensors to systems, discrete, batch, process, and hybrid applications. As vendors become more aware of users’ needs, many products cut across multiple application areas; nine product categories, reflecting wider functionality, match the nine product channels, or topic areas, of Control Engineering and Control Engineering Online:

  • Software and information integration;

  • PC-based control;

  • Machine control and discrete sensors;

  • Motors, drives, and motion control;

  • Human-machine interface;

  • Networks and communications;

  • Process and advanced control;

  • Instrumentation and process sensors;

  • Control components.

Control Engineering editors will present the awards the evening before the National Industrial Automation Show at National Manufacturing Week, in Chicago, March 13-16.

Bundled hardware and Windows CE software

Saline, Mich.— OpenHMI from Xycom Automation is a line of Microsoft Windows CE-based workstations for manufacturing and process control systems, with flash drives for protection against vibration, moisture, shock. This line of human-machine interface (HMI) factory-floor visualization products for manufacturing and process control systems is built on open, PC-based computing technology, offering the flexibility to combine different software for development and runtime. Users can add audio and visual machine setup, as well as troubleshooting and maintenance diagnostics. Xycom Automation

Rugged, flat-panel construction

Fremont, Calif.— Shark displays and computers from Dolch Computer Systems features rugged construction and finned aluminum extrusion frames around the flat-panel display. This provides strength, support, and increases surface area for better system cooling. Clips in extrusion determine sealing pressure; number of clips used determines if it’s NEMA 12/IP65 or NEMA 4/IP66. Dolch Computer Systems

Hand-held HMI for machine status

Charlottesville, Va.— Cimplicity PocketView from GE Fanuc Automation is an HMI client on a Microsoft Windows CE device. It allows remote viewing of machine status. This is the first Cimplicity product to use its new Thin Client technology on the Windows CE for display of process visualization graphics. Suited for mobile plant maintenance personnel, quality technicians, and data entry staff, it is able to display Cimplicity graphics, enter process information, and change setpoints without returning to a stationary terminal. GE Fanuc Automation

Small, complete, photoelectric sensing system

Minneapolis, Minn.— PICO-AMP from Banner Engineering is a miniature, remote photoelectric sensing system consisting of a modulated amplifier that clips to a 35-mm DIN rail, and ultra-small diffuse or opposed-mode remote sensors that fit and function in tight locations. The amplifier includes a four-position switch to select variable modulation frequencies. Banner Engineering

Fast, digital oscilloscopes

Beaverton, Ore.— TDS3000 Oscilloscopes from Tektronix Inc. use leading edge technology to analyze and display very fast analog and digital signals. These digital phosphor oscilloscopes offer advanced displays. Part of a six-model family, these units include up to 500 MHz bandwidth, four-channel operation, and a five giga sample per second (Gs/sec) sample rate. As more and more signals become digital and faster, tools to diagnose those signals must stay at least one step ahead. Tektronix

Fast processing, Ethernet PLC

Schaumburg, Ill.— CS1 Series Programmable Controller from Omron Electronics Inc. packs a lot of performance and Ethernet into a “mid-sized” PLC, using standards-based technologies to provide openness. Processing time of 0.04 microsec per basic instruction represents the fastest execution speed in the industry, the company said in March 1999. It has program memory of up to 250K, 448K words of data memory, up to 5,120 I/O points, and FlashRAM storage of up to 30Mbytes. Nine CS1 CPU processors fit small or large applications. Ethernet and other network capabilities allow the PLC system to generate messages and activities. Omron Electronics

Intel Pentium III CPU for VME

Huntsville, Ala.— The 800 MHz Pentium III VMEbus Single-Board Computer (VMIVME-7697) from VMIC incorporates the recent Intel Pentium III processor with MMX to the VMEbus platform, offering processor speeds up to 800 MHz. It has real-time OS features such as 96 MB flash, battery-backed SRAM, three 32-bit timers, and a software-programmable watchdog timer, which make this Pentium III ideal for high-performance, embedded applications. For Windows NT and RTX applications, the VMIVME-7697 provides a high-performance S3 Trio3D AGP graphics adapter with 4 MB of SGRAM. The fast/wide SCSI-2 and 10/100 Mbit Ethernet channel complete this embedded CPU offering. VMIC

$99 PLC has valued features

Cumming, Ga.— DL05 Micro PLC from, when released, was billed as the least expensive micro PLC available with features typically found in more costly micro PLCs. DL05, part of the DirectLogic family, was the first $99 PLC in its class. According to the company, DL05 is still one of the only micros in its class to offer a removable connector, for more user flexibility. It also reduces downtime by allowing faster installation and replacement. Dimensions are 5 x 3 x 3.5 in., and the unit is surface or DIN-rail mountable.

Troubleshoot PLCs from a handheld device

Milwaukee, Wis .—RSPocketLogix from Rockwell Software is a Microsoft Windows CE-based software that, when running on a Handheld Personal Computer (HPC), delivers a compact, portable, easy-to-use tool for factory-floor maintenance and troubleshooting. Designed for Allen-Bradley SLC 500 programmable controllers, RSPocketLogix uses open CE technologies and a familiar look and feel to give users a flexible, robust software program that can be tailored to a specific control application. Rockwell Software

Digital machine vision camera processes images quickly

Minneapolis, Minn.— DSL6000 from PPT Vision is a digital camera specially designed for machine vision. The camera provides 10-bit image information said to produce superior inspection processing algorithms, compared to other systems. It can acquire more than 70 full-resolution, 640 x 480-pixel images per second for 256-gray levels. A 10-bit A/D converter performs internal image capture and digitization, eliminating the usual noise and pixel jitter caused by electronic interference. PPT Vision

Drive embeds motion control, I/O, communications

Fort Smith, Ark.— MintDrive from Baldor Electric Company embeds a Baldor Mint motion controller card in the amplifier to eliminate the need for a separate controller or PLC. It also incorporates I/O capabilities and communication interface. MintDrive uses Baldor’s Mint motion control programming language to simplify programming. MintDrive works best with Baldor’s BSM series of brushless servo motors or Baldor linear motors. Baldor Electric

Drive extendspower range

Vaasa, Finland— Vacon CXR Drive from Vaasa Control delivers an unusually wide power range. Available in the power range 2.2 to 1,500 kW, the converters are equipped with an active input bridge, which has the capability to feed energy back to the grid, without interfering with the normal operations. CXR (CX Regenerative) drive was developed with an active input bridge to improve performance. In so doing, the company claims to be the first converter supplier to offer a complete series of regenerative converters over this wide power range. Vaasa Control

Sophisticated motion profiles,1-, 2-, 4- axes

Lexington, Mass.— MC2100 Series: Navigator Brushed Servo Motion Processor from Performance Motion Devices Inc. is a brushed servo motion processor for 1-, 2-, and 4-axis configurations, providing servo control with sophisticated motion profiles. It consists of a 132-pin processor and a 100-pin logic device and offers users ability to off-load resource intensive motion control functions from the host processor. The instruction set supports more than 130 commands. It has a preprogrammed PID filter with feedforward velocity and acceleration and a 32-bit position error system. MC2800 Series (also in the Navigator family) controls brushless as well as brushed servo motors in one chipset. Performance Motion Devices

Low-voltage, 24 V dc, motor control

Milwaukee, Wis.— Intelligent Technologies Soft Starter from Cutler-Hammer Group advances technology as the first of a new motor control product line that focuses entirely on low control voltage (24 V dc). The solid-state reduced-voltage family is called “the industry’s first 24 V dc-controlled, fully integrated soft starter”—meaning that a bypass contactor and overload relays are built into the unit. The six-bridge SCR design does not need to use isolation contactors. It has four frame sizes and 15 models, 10-1,000 A max. Physical sizes are said to be 30-80% smaller than competitors’ units and can replace existing across-the-line starters. Cutler-Hammer Group

Magnetic field changes fluid viscosity

Cary, N.C. —Rheonetic motion control from Lord Corp., Materials

Division, delivers a unique solution to motion control using “smart (magnetorheological) fluid” technology. A magnetic field changes fluid viscosity, opening a wide variety of motion applications.

Closed-loop feedback from a position sensor makes possible the accurate, robust motion control. See the Online Extra for more about applications. Lord Corp.,Materials Div .

Built-in feedback eliminates missed steps

Torrance, Calif .—AlphaStep from Oriental Motor USA is a motor and drive system with built-in feedback to eliminate “missed steps,” a major drawback of standard step systems. The two-phase, hybrid, geared step motor and driver package uses a built-in feedback device that constantly monitors the motor shaft to detect and correct for loss of synchronism. The system switches to closed-loop control when position deviation becomes Oriental Motor USA

Scalable, web-enabled, HMI, control, SCADA

Foxborough, Mass.— Genesis32 Automation Suite from Iconics is touted as the industry’s first and only, fully scalable suite of web-enabled HMI, control, and SCADA applications, for Microsoft Windows DNA for Manufacturing. Native 32-bit architecture, fifth-generation HMI, SCADA and control applications are available as a fully integrated suite or separate component modules. Iconics says, while virtually all HMI/SCADA software provides OPC, Genesis32 is unique because it eliminates additional databases or translation wrappers, due to its “OPC-To-The-Core” ground-up design. Iconics

Connectivity with multiclient/server capabilities

Austin, Tex.— Lookout 4.0 from National

Instruments extends the easy-to-use object-based development approach pioneered with Lookout to seamlessly connect computers distributed across standard TCP/IP networks. With the browse-and-click method of server/client selection, users can easily connect multiple servers and clients in a networked configuration to publish data, set alarms, and monitor events. It has OPC server and client capabilities and seamless connectivity with other National Instruments’ software. Because Lookout is event driven, objects execute only when an event occurs, increasing performance for high I/O count applications. National Instruments

Automation software employs latest tools

Norwood, Mass.— FIX version 7.0 HMI/SCADA Automation Software from Intellution makes extensive use of OPC, SQL, and Windows 98 and NT. It incorporates OPC server, SQL server support, synchronized redundancy, and Windows NT security. FIX V7.0 provides process visualization, data collection and control, distributed client/server architecture, an intuitive interface, real-time monitoring, SQL/ODBC relational database reporting, and other features. Intellution

Supports Windows CE devices

Ann Arbor, Mich.— Think & Do Release 5 from Think & Do Software provides PC-based control with transparent scalability spanning Windows NT and CE platforms, using flowchart programming. Easy-to-use features reduce typical customer development time by 50%, compared to traditional solutions. Hardware independent logic allows reuse in other programs, with many drivers. Subsequent releases offer additional advancements, including support for Windows CE devices, more I/O devices, and OPC 2.0 server; Think & Do Live! is available now; version 6.0 is expected this summer. Think & Do Software

Adaptive model predicts, steers control

Pittsburgh, Pa.— Quickstudy Adaptive Controller from Adaptive Resources provides a rich set of functions for development, testing, and use of adaptive control algorithms. This PC-based software provides users an easy-to-use suite of solutions for analyzing and optimizing process performance. This adaptive model-based controller predicts where the process is heading and determines the control efforts required to steer it in the right direction. With a graphical programming tool, users draw their control strategies in block diagram format. Adaptive control among the available function blocks. Adaptive Resources

Scalable control system can include historian

Austin, Tex.— DeltaV System from Fisher-Rosemount Systems includes significant size and capability enhancements to the DeltaV scalable control system. Version 3.2 includes fuzzy logic, autotuner, integrated batch historian, and new OPC interface. The built-for-batch data historian, also a stand-alone product, provides users an easy, rich set of tools to analyze process and event data, compare batch data, and assemble comprehensive batch reports from different batch lots. Fisher-Rosemount Systems

Monitor, update models, optimize in real-time

Houston, Tex. —Aspen RT-OPT from Aspen Technology Inc. is real-time optimization software that monitors plant behavior then updates its process models accordingly. This feature accounts for any changes in the relationships among the process variables that may have occurred over time as a result of fouling, equipment wear, etc. With a more accurate, up-to-date process model, RT-OPT can safely push the plant to operate very close to its constraints. A less accurate model would require a more conservative operating point with a wider safety margin. Aspen Technology

Software allows services via Internet

Thousand Oaks, Calif.— Loop Scout from Honeywell @sset.MAX is a control-loop assessment solution that provides noninvasive, systematic, cost-effective identification of control loop problems. Users download an MS-Excel spreadsheet, populate it with process data, return it to Honeywell, and receive a report of process performance with recommendations for improvement. Customers apply Loop Scout only as needed, without unnecessary hardware, software, or wiring expenses. Loop Scout pinpoints the most critical regulatory control problems and allows control engineers to prioritize efforts and allocate resources from a process perspective. Maintenance is done on an informed as-needed basis driven by process performance. Honeywell @sset.MAX

Internet-based control system

Spring House, Pa.— Procidia Internet Control System from Moore Process Automation Solutions (by press time, expected to be a subsidiary of Siemens Energy and Automation) is billed as world’s first and only Internet Control System. It uses the web from specifications through maintenance, simplifying operation, reducing costs, and increasing information flow in unit and area control applications. Procidia provides simple, modular construction; software engineering to auto-recognize a plant’s existing system; PC-based HMI software; global communications ability; and a seamless flow of information. It includes a hybrid controller for continuous and discrete processes; intelligent, auto-configurable online modules; IEC 61131-3-compliant software; function block and ladder logic languages; and rugged operator workstation with pre-installed monitoring and configuration software. Moore Process Automation Solutions

Understand why loops do what they do

Hubertus, Wis.— Process Control Doctor from ExperTune Inc. includes enhancements to provide an intuitive process. Loop-analysis capability helps users understand why a loop is performing the way it is. The robustness plot shows the closed-loop system’s relative stability by plotting the process deadtime vs. the process gain. PID tuning wizards allow ExperTune software to easily tune and analyze PID loops in many PLCs and controllers. The simple three-step tuning process is: start Expertune software, specify loop number or register, and click on “auto-tune.” ExperTune

Batch software ‘opens’ with Microsoft tools

Phoenix, Ariz .—OpenBatch 4.0 from Sequencia Corp. adds Microsoft technologies, such as OLE for Process Control (OPC) communications and ActiveX controls. It also supports NAMUR NE33 standards (the ISA S88 precursor), for component-based thin client and custom interfaces between HMI and batch servers.

OPC support allows information sharing with other OPC-compliant devices, which can increase reliability and tag count and improve performance. ActiveX extends ability to deliver a component-based thin client and permits customized interfaces between human-machine interfaces and batch servers, for display of batch control and recipe logic residing in other systems. Sequencia

General-purpose Coriolis flowmeter

Boulder, Colo.— R-Series flowmeter from Micro Motion Inc. is a low-price Coriolis meter, targeting general-purpose applications with Coriolis advantages of greater accuracy and no moving parts. This low-price, general-purpose Coriolis flowmeter brings Coriolis accuracy to the “masses,” with accuracy to within 0.5% of flow rate. Corolis meters are versatile, have no moving parts, long life, easy mechanical installation, and greater accuracy, compared to many other flowmeter technologies. Micro Motion

Analog inputs for Ethernet I/O subsystem

Clifton Park, N.Y.— EtherTrak ET-8INS from Sixnet provides high accuracy (16-bit resolution) of analog inputs onto an Ethernet plant-floor I/O subsystem. It brings the speed and convenience of Ethernet networking to instrumentation analog inputs, such as thermocouples, millivolts, volts, and current inputs. The module has true differential inputs to minimize electrical noise and ground loops. An included Microsoft Windows utility allows plug-and-play configuration and software calibrations. Sixnet

Balance multiple loops with conflicting objectives

Foxboro, Mass.— Connoisseur from The Foxboro Company is a multivariable model-based predictive control that can balance multiple control loops with conflicting objectives. A process mathematical model provides the conditions of the problem by specifying how each process variable depends on all the others. Once the optimal setpoints have been determined, Connoisseur can automatically download them to a distributed control system (DCS) or a stand-alone loop controller for implementation. The Foxboro Company

SQL database brings info in quickly

Irvine, Calif.— IndustrialSQL Server from Wonderware is said to be the world’s highest performance, lowest cost real-time relational database for the factory. It has compression algorithms to deal with the large and quickly changing amounts of data. InSQL moves data to Microsoft SQL Server, a relational database, for analysis in MS Excel or a custom report. This information is also available to business applications driving diagnostic information up to a higher, business level. This construction cures previous challenges associated with moving information quickly into Microsoft’s SQL Server. InSQL uses OLE DB technologies. Wonderware

Build, relate, transfer, store information visually

Seattle, Wa .—Visio Technical 5.0 from Visio, a division of Microsoft, offers graphical ways to present complex information with flexible, highly intelligent graphics capabilities. It also builds an underlying database useful for implementation and management of the graphic elements. The software provides stencils and predrawn SmartShapes symbols so users can quickly express ideas, manipulate data, and connect functions. To save precious development time, SmartShapes are configured with behavioral characteristics contained in a spreadsheet behind each symbol. This allows symbols to resize designs without distorting, place text properly, and know when to display/hide segments. Visio

Framework integrates applications

Redmond, Wa.— Windows DNA for Manufacturing from Microsoft Corp., is a system-wide architectural framework for building and deploying distributed applications based on the Windows DNA 2000 platform. This framework allows manufacturing companies to share information internally within their organizations, as well as their suppliers and customers across the Internet. Windows DNA-M is designed to promote application interoperability, ultimately offering manufacturing firms a common approach to gathering and sharing information, and executing against events generated by B2B E-Commerce systems. Microsoft

Historian makes info available globally

Rochester, N.Y.— Enterprise Historian from ABBAutomation makes use of standards from Microsoft, OPC, and the Internet to collect, store, and make globally available data from multiple systems, processes, and plants, with a distributed client/server architecture. Process and production information can be accessed over a company’s intranet and saved in HTML or PDF formats. It collects and consolidates data from disparate systems and permit users to display real-time and historical data using personal computers and X-terminals. Dual storage, automatic recovery, and designed-in security mechanisms safeguard data access and integrity. ABB Automation

Integrate configuration under PLC, PC, Win CE

Alpharetta, Ga.— Simatic Step 7, V 5.0 from Siemens Energy & Automation Industrial Software Business Unit, is a software suite of integrated tools to configure, manage, and maintain a plant-wide automation system. It’s the first common engineering and configuration environment for dedicated hardware (PLCs), PC-based, or Windows CE control solutions, the company says. It complies with IEC 1131-3. Siemens Energy & Automation

Optimize the production chain

Austin, Tex.— Pavilion Technologies’ Economic Insights (formerly Production Chain Optimization version 5.0) uses production constraints and easily integrates to enterprise resource planning and supply-chain applications, with OPC and SQL server compatibility. It extends several prediction, control, and optimization applications and includes a knowledge guided neural network-modeling algorithm previously available only to Pavilion’s development engineers. The gain-constrained training algorithm permits users to add process information to neural network data modeling tools, which develop a neural network solution capable of accurately extrapolating when confronted with data outside the original training data region. Pavilion Technologies

Ethernet controller fits IEEE 1451

Everett, Wa.— BFOOT-11501 Embedded Ethernet Controller from Agilent Technologies (a wholly owned subsidiary of Hewlett-Packard Co.) is a complete Ethernet Controller and Web server solution for manufacturers of smart sensors and actuators, or for manufacturers of products with embedded control, who need a way to rapidly create smart Ethernet-ready devices. Existing devices with a serial interface can use this “WebPlug” to connect to the Internet with either a “pass-through” gateway or by mapping the serial protocol to the IEEE 1451.2 standard. Agilent Technologies

Quick connection system

Harrisburg, Pa.— Quickon from Phoenix Contact provides a quick tool-less connection with IP67 rating (dust tight, protected against temporary water immersion), by hand-tightening the nut. This round-cable connection system is quick and requires no tools. It’s designed for applications in which round cables with a small number of wires must be connected efficiently and quickly. The connection can be loosened and reused several times. Insulation displacement technology works in a variety of applications. Phoenix Contact

Connection system, web server bring IP67 to Ethernet

Northbrook, Ill.— The Woodhead Connectivity IP67 Industrial Ethernet Connector and IP67 Ethernet Discrete Input/Output Multi-port Interconnection System with an embedded web server extends Ethernet from the control room to the industrial plant-floor. This system enables OEMs to communicate with their products over Ethernet and to establish a plant-floor Internet/intranet server with TCP/IP communication for efficient equipment maintenance and monitoring. Applications include process and discrete industries where the vibration prohibits a commercial RJ-45 connection. The Woodhead connector, available separately, eliminates contact abrasion from vibration. The design permits OEMs to manufacture products compatible with legacy and industrial Ethernet cable components. Woodhead Connectivity

FiberWire brings fiber quality for cost of copper

Minneapolis, Minn.— FiberWire from Lucent Technologies Specialty Fiber Technologies brings fiber-quality transmission medium to all industrial networks for the cost of copper. Connections are much more economical than fiber; can be tied in a knot, and are as strong as steel. FiberWire eliminates electromagnetic interference and has greater information carrying capabilities than copper wire or plastic fiber for connecting intelligent plant-floor devices. It works with Profibus, Fieldbus Foundation, SERCOS, Interbus, ControlNet, and other networks. The 200 micron glass core with polymer coating can withstand -40 to 85 °C, and terminates in under a minute (terminations cost about $1, compared to about $10 for traditional fiber optics), without need for epoxies or polishing. . Lucent Technologies