Recorders Make Strides in Versatility

High tech paradigms in the automation control industry today usually center around software, PC-based control, and fieldbus technology. Yet to underappreciate how important to the industry a recorder is would be a costly mistake. These instruments are documentary proof of regulatory compliance for such agencies as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EP...

By Staff April 1, 1999
Trends in Recorders
  • Paper vs. paperless

  • Multichannel

  • Strip chart vs.circular chart

  • Data management

High tech paradigms in the automation control industry today usually center around software, PC-based control, and fieldbus technology. Yet to underappreciate how important to the industry a recorder is would be a costly mistake. These instruments are documentary proof of regulatory compliance for such agencies as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). More important perhaps is they make sure the process they’re monitoring is operating within parameters, thereby ensuring product quality.

With a random sampling of 1,500 of its readers, Control Engineering set out to discover trends in recorder usage and purchasing. A total of 312 individuals responded to the survey, resulting in a 20.8% response rate. Of those that responded, 89% (280) recommend, buy, or specify recorders. It’s on these upon which the balance of responses are based.

Returning to the inkwell

According to the survey’s respondents, returning to the well is a safe bet; at least the inkwell is. Ink recorders are still the most used in the industry today. A bit of a surprising result is strip-chart style ink recorders have surpassed circular-chart type in popularity, where once the circular type were the dominant paper-style recorder used. Thermal-style recorders are the second most popular, while paperless, despite providing seemingly superior features such as cost savings of consumable materials (pens and paper), is third-most popular (see bar chart, below).

Jim Pinto, chairman for Action Instruments (San Diego, Calif.) sees two main reasons for paperless recorders’ inability to attract a wide following so far , the first being cost. “The infrastructure in the typical process plant would have to be significantly changed to accommodate new mechanisms of reporting,” he says. “The investment and installation may be too much for some to spend. A $5,000 recorder is often more attractive than a $25,000 investment for a recorder, installation and rewiring, and retraining of staff.”

The other reason users have been slow to warm up to paperless recorders, according to Mr. Pinto, is the possibility of data manipulation. Most paperless recorders have a feature that exports data into a spreadsheet, but that also makes the data susceptible to tampering; a serious consideration when having to report to regulatory commissions for compliance. Mr. Pinto says now users can migrate to paperless because “networked encryption techniques have advanced significantly—for example, banking, finance, and stock-market transactions have higher security requirements.” He says users can even e-mail data with confidence.

Paul Shultz, general manager for TrendView Recorders (formerly Penny & Giles, Austin, Tex.) says because of misconceptions regarding data tampering, a myth has spread across the industry that federal regulatory agencies refuse to accept anything other than paper records. “Agencies are absolutely getting away from paper records and now will even accept e-signatures. The search-and-find capabilities of paperless are much easier for agency inspectors because they don’t have to go through dozens of feet of chart paper to find specific records.”

Mr. Shultz says his company’s TrendManager Pro software for presenting data is an effective solution for data manipulation worries. When data from TrendView’s CirciTrend recorder is imported into TrendManager Pro, it is completely encrypted and cannot be tampered with.

What’s being measured, and how

It was not so long ago when a recorder was necessary to print each channel of data. One of the recorder industry’s technological improvements has been the development of multichannel recorders, and their acceptance by the industry has grown. The allure of using multichannel recorders is they significantly reduce paper usage and reduce control panel space. So when asked what preference they had, 50% of the respondents chose multichannel recorders. Forty-eight percent say they have no preference, the type of recorder depends upon the application, and the remaining 2% prefer a recorder with a plug-in signal conditioner. Of the respondents who prefer the multichannel recorders, 73% prefer their recorders to have four channels or more.

The four main process variables were well represented when the survey queried what respondents measure with their recorders. Nearly 9 of 10 respondents (89%) say they use recorders to measure temperature. Over half say they use recorders to measure pressure (68%) and flow (55%). Recording level measurement came in at 40%, while relative humidity came in at 26%. Two variables not directly related to the process industry, electricity (36%) and specific events (34%) also collected over a third of the votes (see graph).

As one might expect with temperature being the most frequently measured process variable, thermocouples and RTDs figured prominently when the survey sought to determine the kinds of signals respondents used to measure process variables. Nearly three quarters of the respondents (73%) measure signals from thermocouples and 59% measure signals from RTDs. The list was topped by the 4-20 mA signal, which appeared in 81% of the responses (results exceed 100% due to multiple responses).

Recorder applications

Almost half (45%) of the surveys respondents use recorders for continuous applications. Twenty percent use them for continuous and batch processing equally while 15% use them strictly for batch processing. Discrete products, utility services, and other miscellaneous applications all had 7% of votes.

Topping the list of industry segments where respondents work is raw materials processing, with over half of the responses, 52.1%. Other fabricated metal and miscellaneous manufacturers, and machinery and equipment for manufacturing and service industries were second and third, with 12.1% and 10.4% respectively.

Market outlook

Nearly 38% of the respondents expect their companies’ purchases of paper-type recorders to stay the same over the next 12 months. Six percent project company purchases to increase by an average of 15%, while 22% expect a decrease in their companies’ paper-type recorder purchases by an average of 50%. The remaining 34% weren’t certain or did not answer.

For paperless recorders, the future is less certain. Though the percentage of respondents expecting their companies’ purchases to increase exceeds those that responded for paper-type recorders (22% compared to 6%), 58% either were uncertain about their companies’ purchases or had no answer. Nineteen percent expect purchases to remain the same, while 2% expect their companies’ purchases of paperless recorders to decrease.

Recorder products

For more information on recorders, visit info .

Multipoint strip-chart recorder

Phoenix, Ariz.— The DPR 180 multipoint digital strip chart recorder monitors up to 24 analog and 36 digital inputs. It is said to provide clear and fully documented charts at any speed. The large display and fluorescent chart illumination provide clear viewing of displayed data. Charts are fully documented with trace color assignment, alarm in red, tagging, zoning, zooming, and trend or tabular printouts. The longer length chart (115 ft/35 m) helps reduce the maintenance costs of replacing charts. The chart cassette can use either fan-fold or roll charts. Over 30 math functions are available to enhance data acquisition and recording needs. It’s modular design reduces spare parts inventory, simplifies maintenance, and increases the recorder’s ruggedness and reliability. A galvanized steel case and chassis, IP54 front protection, and full conformity with CE directives makes the DPR 180 well-suited for use in harsh environments. Honeywell IAC

Circular recorder with added inputs

Loves Park, Ill.— The KCR-10: circular controller recorder integrates two removable loops of control into the recorder, allowing it to act as a temperature controller and an over/under temperature safety and a chart recorder. Despite these functions, the KCR doesn’t need special paper because of its new printhead technology. Users can monitor and record up to six inputs, compared to four on typical 10: recorders. The six inputs can accept thermocouple, mV, RTD, resistance, mA, V dc, and contact closures. Optional features include up to 18 relay outputs for process alarming via process high, process low, deviation, and band alarms. Other features include transducer power supply, analog retransmission, mathematical calculations, totalizers, timers, and door lock. For applications where connectivity is required, RS-485 Modbus communications can be ordered. The KCR can also be equipped with NEMA 4X protection for washdown or dust environments. Barber-Colman

Series for easy integration

Spring House, Pa.— Series 36 recorders from Moore Process Automation Solutions offer a paperless model that features a VGA color display and easy touchscreen access, and three paper-type recorders offering circular, continuous trace, and multipoint modes of operation. The series is designed for seamless integration into users’ existing control architectures. All offer PCMCIA card data storage and employ a Modbus RTU link to communicate with higher-level systems. Front-panel access is said to facilitate easier setup, and when used with Moore’s VAS software, users can organize data for presentation and analysis. A variety of options permit extensive integrating and counting capabilities, and give users the ability to execute complex application-specific functions. Moore Process Automation Solutions

Paperless circular chart recorder

Austin, Tex.— CirciTrend paperless circular chart recorder uses a color 10.4 in. LCD screen, displaying color-coded trend lines, scales, and digital panel meters for easy identification of process data. Chart duration can be viewed from one hour to one month, and data is continuously updated so a full chart is always visible. Two 1/16 DIN size controllers can be mounted into the IP65 CirciTrend enclosure. Multiple recorders can be networked to a PC, which provide a printout in daily, weekly, or monthly formats. Options include a bar-code reader; two to eight analog inputs; alarms; event marking; totalization; and Modbus communication. CirciTrend provides a unique merge of Microsoft Windows-based application software and advanced panel recording instrumentation. TrendView

ASIC provides input stability

Newtown, Pa.— The 4100G is a high-specification graphic recorder capable of plotting up to 12 input signals, math channels, or totalizer values. The display consists of a 5.5 in. TFT color LCD overlaid with a touch-screen membrane and sealed to IP65. The recorder is configurable from the touchscreen, using a simple menu system with text prompts. Use of the very latest in Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) and Surface Mount technologies give input circuits high accuracy and stability. Inputs are fully universal accepting inputs from thermocouples, resistance thermometers, potentiometers, and contact closures. Channel values and instrument configurations can be easily stored on the integral 1.44 Mb floppy disk, or on PCMCIA memory cards. The communication option also uses the Modbus RTU protocol to ensure compatibility with standard SCADA software and other types of industrial equipment such as PLCs. Up to 16 relay outputs can be fitted, driven by any internal recorder event such as channel alarm and totalizer overflow. Relays are available as changeover, as common/normally closed, or as common/normally open. Eurotherm Chessell

Temperature recorder

Everett, Wa.— Hydra Series II 2620T and 2635T Recording Thermometer Systems consist of a high-accuracy probe and the Hydra Series II recorder which are calibrated together as a system for precise temperature measurement. Hydra logger software is included for instrument configuration and file management. Features include dc accuracy to 0.01%; single-point accuracy of 0.015 °C; easy configuration from memory card, front panel, or from software; and support for nine types of thermocouples. The 2620T model can be used as a bench-style monitor or be connected to a computer, with optional software, to capture real-time data and trac measurement trends. The 2635T model can be operated as a stand-alone unit that records measurements over a long period of time and writes them to an internal, removable PCMCIA card. Both units are capable of calibrating up to 18 thermocouples at once. Fluke

Paperless saves on consumables

Newnan, Ga.— VR200 videographic paperless recorders come in three models that measuring two, four, or six channels, enabling them to be used for a variety of applications. Measurement data is stored continuously in the built-in memory and can be saved by simply inserting a standard 3.5 in. floppy disk. Nearly one month of data can be saved on disk at sampling intervals of 60 sec. The VR200 offers a wide angle of view from both sides and provides display functions such as variable-width trend trace lines and trip lines. Users can make various settings using an interactive programming dialog. Yokogawa Corp. of America

Compact paper-style recorder

Stamford, Conn.— RD1800 Series 100 mm paper-style recorders are available with one-, two-, three-, or four-pen continuous trace or six-channel dot printing. Universal inputs are completely scalable and can be programmed for thermocouples, RTDs, or voltage. A large, bright digital display; bar graph display; and printout of chart settings allow for quick interpretation of data. Interactive setup dialogue allows for easy front-panel programming. Units operate on 100 to 240 V ac or are optional with 24 V dc operation. The units are compact, with 220 mm (8.7 in.) behind-the-panel depth, and have removable terminal blocks for ease of wiring. Available options include four-alarm contacts and remote control, RS-422A communications, and a portable unit with handle and power cord. A CE-approved version is available to conform to European standards of EMI interference. Omega Engineering