Software Still a Control ‘Hit’

Data acquisition software is hardly a "new kid on the block." The commercial use of software-configured control systems dates back to the 1970s, when the first large-scale proprietary control systems debuted. As the control industry has evolved, so have software-based systems.With the evolution of the personal computer and the networks on which they "reside," software developers are produ...

By Staff September 1, 1998

Data acquisition software is hardly a “new kid on the block.” The commercial use of software-configured control systems dates back to the 1970s, when the first large-scale proprietary control systems debuted. As the control industry has evolved, so have software-based systems.

With the evolution of the personal computer and the networks on which they “reside,” software developers are producing products adaptable to just about any type of control situation. In fact, original research by Control Engineering (Des Plaines, Ill.) found that respondents use data acquisition and control (DAC) software across a gamut applications. The ability of software to be adapted to a broad base of applications, speaks volumes for the ability of software developers to produce systems that are adaptable, scalable, and easy to use.

In the traditional blues tune, “House of the Risin’ Sun,” the lyrics state, “I got one foot on the platform, I got one foot on the train, I’m going back to New Orleans to wear that ball and chain. In choosing a platform for PC-based software, users seem to have both feet planted firmly in the personal computer. Nearly 41% of those responding use PC-based systems. Other types of control system platforms were not neglected, however. DAC software found itself at home, though not equally, on PLC, DCS, and hybrid systems. However, even with the pervasiveness of the PC, control engineers are far from considering it a ball and chain.

How about an operating system!

Choice of an operating system fell to Microsoft products. Most respondents used either Windows 3.1, 95, or NT. DOS and Unix systems were the only other operating systems mentioned in the survey results. However, the number of DOS-based operating systems in use exceeded Microsoft 3.1, indicating in a surprising number of cases, that older technology is “staying alive.”

Networked and standalone DAC systems are used by relatively the same percentage of respondents (44% vs. 42%). Almost three-fourths of users answering the question have an Ethernet network. Proprietary systems, Internet-, and intranet-based networks made up the remainder.

What’s on the shopping list?

Control engineers have an extensive list of features they want in DAC software. The most requested was Transmission Control Protocol/ Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) compatibility. This combination transport layer protocol and network layer protocol is commonly used for communications within networks and across the Internet.

The rest of the list reads like alphabet soup. DDE (dynamic data exchange), OLE (object linking and embedding), ODBC (open database connectivity), and OPC (OLE for Process Control) all help make configuration seamless and less complicated. ActiveX, a Microsoft product, and Java, a cross-platform programming language developed by Sun Microsystems, are unique but share object-technology capability. Both systems offer potential users greater ease of setup in today’s complex control applications.

Control engineers’ “wish list” also indicates ease of use is very much an issue. In fact, survey results rank this characteristic number one. It was followed very closely by a software supplier’s ability to provide technical support. Other desirable items include the user’s ability to customize, such as directly tailoring screens, network and data base configuration, terminology, report generation, product availability; and, finally, product cost.

As PCs continue to expand into new areas of industrial control, the need for appropriate DAC software will also expand. Additionally, evolution of the elusive “open” control system will do much to standardize and simplify software offerings in the future. It is a safe bet that DAC software developers will be able to keep their offerings on the PC control “Hit Parade.”

Wide ranging data acquisition

Irvine, Calif.— Integrated application modules in FactorySuite 2000 development toolkit make use of a high performance, open communication layer called SuiteLink. SuiteLink is a TCP/IP-based protocol that supports the four basic data types: float (32-bit), integer (32-bit), discrete, and string. Each data type is accompanied by a time stamp and quality information. SuiteLink is used throughout all components of FactorySuite 2000 on the Windows NT (4.0 or higher) operating system. Since all FactorySuite modules are both clients and servers, distributed peer-to-peer communication capability is inherent in the product. Wonderware Corp.

What a performance!

Wickliffe, O.— Performer Series of Plant Management Application and Platform Products includes a broad range of products encompassing network communications platforms, network management and security applications, and plant and information management applications. Among the series offerings is Infoplus.21 for plant data management from Aspen Technology Inc. Infoplus.21 is an integrated information system that handles process information and process data from various applications. It provides for plant-wide acquisition, integration, storage, and management of process data. Elsag Bailey Process Automation

New version delivers more power

Austin, Tex.— BridgeView 2.0 is an upgraded version of a graphical programming software for measurement, automation, and process control applications. The software combines technologies, including the developer’s G language of LabView together with an event-driven data engine said to provide power for flexible automation development. Additionally, because BridgeView integrates with users’ machine vision and motion control software, it can be used for numerous applications including process control, pilot plant, remote monitoring, and HMI/SCADA. This version, an ActiveX container, includes multithreading and OPC client capability. It also provides the user with distributed computing tools. National Instruments

Solve acquisition problems quickly

Stamford, Conn.— Easy-to-use DASYLab software helps users solve complex data acquisition and control scenarios easily and quickly by working with a flowchart on the screen. Module icons are placed on the screen and connected with wires in a schematic diagram, which represents data through the system. Each icon represents an input, operation, or output function. Key features include an intuitive interface with context-sensitive help, high acquisition and processing speed, support for data acquisition devices, and graphical display of acquired data. Real-time rates of up to 800 kHz and on-line display of up to 75 kHz can be achieved. Actual rates depend on the DAC board and hardware used. Omega Engineering

Expand and simplify

Charlottesville, Va.— Cimplicityr HMI offers mission-critical monitoring and control from standalone single-node HMIs to enterprise-wide SCADA systems. The latest 3.2 version introduces new features including the Cimplicity Pager option which allows users to receive alarm information on alphanumeric pagers. It can be connected to in-house paging systems, as well as systems with national or global coverage. Also available is Object Explorer which speeds screen construction by providing a library of over 2,000 industrial symbols. Users can select, drag, and drop any of these objects into screens under construction. GE Fanuc Automation

Millennium ready

Phoenix, Ariz.— PlantScape is a control system designed to address hybrid control needs. Its software provides integrated continuous, batch, and discrete/ machine control as well as SCADA, standalone HMI, integrated security and building control, safety management, and field control. PlantScape is Y2K compliant. Leveraging the power and performance of Microsoft Windows NT and commercially available hardware platforms, the system can be integrated in a wide variety of networks, including ControlNet, Ethernet, SDS, and fieldbus. It also integrates with plant-wide and enterprise systems, such as Uniformance and SAP’s R/3. Honeywell IAC

Versatile control

Milwaukee, Wis.— RSView32 Active Display System is an industrial client/server application software package that allows users to securely control and monitor plant-floor applications from local and remote locations. Users can interact with, change, and view automation system data using either the RSView32 Active Display Station or a web browser. Based on Microsoft ActiveX and Distributed Component Object Model technologies, its client server capabilities are said to increase overall plant performance by allowing users to manage multiple clients from one location and share application tags, graphics, alarms, and trends among Rockwell Software or third-party applications. Rockwell Automation

Single-stop shopping for DAC

Victor, N.Y.— According to its developer, Citect Version 5.1 handles all the needs of an entire enterprise in one integrated system. A single software package delivers all features eliminating multisourcing and fragmented data management. The PC-based SCADA system features an OPC server, dynamic resizing capability, added programming functions and drivers, drivers accreditation, high-speed data trending, and improved graphics. Ci Technologies

Multiserver architecture

Alpharetta, Ga.— Simatic WinCC version 4.0 is a 32-bit integrated HMI software that is completely integrated with Microsoft Windows 95 and NT 4.0. The software incorporates multiserver architecture and process control functions for most PLC-controlled systems. The multiserver system allows a database to be shared from every node, effectively giving each node server status. The package also features OLE 2.0 and OCX technologies. Object Linking and Embedding allows users to integrate applications, such as Microsoft Excel or Word, with the graphic pictures. OCX (OLE Custom eXtension) technology allows more control and customization of objects. Siemens Energy & Automation

‘Plug-and-solve’ architecture

Norwood, Mass.— FIX Dynamics is an industrial automation system based on component-based architecture. This framework is said to provide “airtight” integration among its developer’s applications, user-developed solutions, and third-party components. The software is designed using Windows NT, OLE, ActiveX, Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications, OPC, and more. Its “plug-and-solve” feature allows FIX Dynamics SCADA package, along with other Intellution or third-party applications, to be adapted to FIX Dynamics. Intellution

Multiuser functionality

Richardson, Tex.— FactoryLink ECS 6.5 is built exclusively on Microsoft platforms and Distributed Internet Architect (Windows DNA). Included is WebClient, which plugs directly into the software to bring true multiuser functionality to automation applications. It allows users to have full, independent control of the process from both in-plant and remote locations. Other features include high-speed drivers with direct interfaces to the built-in, real-time database. These drivers support software’s high performance SCADA capabilities. USDATA

Seamless integration

Spring House, Pa.— ProcessSuite is the software automation tool for the developer’s APACS+ process automation system. It provides a complete set of seamlessly integrated tools for system configuration, monitoring, and data management. Specifically, tools include control strategy configuration software (ProcessSuite 4-mation Configuration), an operator interface (ProcessSuite Vision), an open historian (ProcessSuite Historian), an Internet enabling tool (ProcessSuite Web), a control simulator (ProcessSuite Control Simulator), and an option batch manager (ProcessSuite Batch). Moore Process Automation Solutions

Getting from CD to PC

Foxboro, Mass.— I/A Series SoftPack gives its user all the power and functionality of the I/A Series system. The software comes on a CD that runs on any prequalified Windows NT PC. According to its developer, this is the first time any vendor has offered a full-function, fully proven, and fully scalable industrial automation solution at a PC software solution price. SoftPack is scalable from 16 to 40,000 I/O points and can HMI/SCADA applications. Intended for plantwide automation applications, it features built-in networking capability that allows users to integrate different plant areas into a single system. The Foxboro Co.