SPS/IPC/Drives 2005: An embedded control viewpoint

By Control Engineering Staff December 8, 2005

Embedded (and PC-based) controls are growing in industrial automation as evidenced at the recent SPS/IPC/Drives Exhibition and Conference in Nuremberg, Germany (Nov. 22-24). This notable show covering the gamut of electric automation again set new growth numbers. Exhibiting companies numbering 1,160 and display space of 73,000 sq m—each rising slightly more than 12% over 2004—were known prior to opening day (see Daily News for Nov. 22, 2005).

The 34,600 attendees (just announced) show an 8.7% increase over last year and serve to complement the above positive statistics. Highlights from Beck IPC, Euros Embedded Systems, GE Fanuc, Kontron, Phoenix Contact, STMicroelectronics, and Wind River follow, along with links to company Web sites for more information. Beck IPC , a member of the Festo Group, showed its IPC@CHIP product line, a complete system on a single chip, which is the vehicle for the company’s new strategy to develop and distribute “Convenience Platforms” for the embedded market. It’s intended to maximize benefits to customers whose expertise resides in their core products—such as mechatronics—rather than in embedded platforms. IPC@CHIP SC123 and SC143 are new members of the family that extend the product’s range.

New ball-grid array (BGA) design of SC123/SC143 suits users with larger unit volume requirements in all aspects of industrial control and communication and applies to major machine builders with in-house R&D departments for electronics, says Beck IPC. New hardware/software features reflect the industrial focus of SC123/SC143: Its two CAN interfaces come as standard along with two 100-Mb Ethernet interfaces that enable use of industrial Ethernet protocols as well as standard Internet protocols. Modbus TCP and Ethernet/IP are also provided; Profinet and EtherCAT will be available in 2006.

A small package IPC, Talon 8400 is easy to install with choice of DIN rail, panel, or tabletop mounting.

Among numerous offerings, GE Fanuc highlighted embedded technology via its Embedded Systems division. Latest products include a range of novel Reflective Memory products that allow local data sharing for each node of a high speed, real-time network; various VME and CompactPCI single-board computers (SBCs), and corrosion-resistant Wolverine flat-panel industrial computer (IPC) designed for harsh industrial automation environments.

A specific introduction was Talon 8400, a small IPC with low-power demand Intel Celeron M processor housed in aluminum, offering an operating temperature range of 5 to 40 °C (-20 to 50° C, optional). Talon 8400 features three PC/104- Plus expansion sites for application flexibility, fanless operation, electronic shutdown (with an over-temperature LED) in case of system overheating, 256 MB of SDRAM, 20 GB hard drive, and many I/O options—including two fast Ethernet ports, four USB 2.0 ports, an SVGA connector, one IEEE 1284 port, and four individually isolated RS-232/485 ports. It also supports wireless connectivity via two open PCMCIA slots.

On a related matter, GE Fanuc Embedded Systems is reportedly doubling its European sales and support group, seeking new sales channels throughout Europe, Middle East and Africa, to address the growing embedded market. Target industries include automation, defense, and life sciences.

Prototypes of new speedMOPS variants will be available soon, with start of mass production planned for Q106.

Kontron , a leading manufacturer of PC/104 CPU boards, introduced three speed MOPS single-board computers (SBCs) for use with the wide range of PC/104 expansion modules on the market. To optimize cooling of these high-performance CPUs, the processor is located on the outside of the PC/104 form factor “sandwich” footprint. Intel Pentium M Class processors power the three new speed MOPS for PC/104-compliant expansion modules; variations are:

speed MOPS CPU boards fit into low-cost standard 3.5 in. housings. They guarantee OEMs and end- users optimally cooled high performance (> Intel Pentium 4) for PC/104 expansion modules and long-term validity of the PC/104 I/O specification including ISA bus, says the company. Kontron also is negotiating for an extension of the PC/104 spec for PC/104 CPU boards because speed MOPS has a slightly larger form factor that benefits only high-performance PC/104 designs.

These CPU boards have special advantages. They’re compatible with current PC/104 ISA extension boards—unlike 3.5- and 5.25-in. PICMG, ePCI, PCI-X, ISA, and PISA SBC cards that support the newest high-performance processors but don’t have PC/104 ISA extension sockets. Also, cables used with (prior) MOPS PC/104 boards are fully compatible with speed MOPS modules.

Among other Kontron products on exhibit were ThinkIO-P modular, rack-mount flat PC—a passively cooled unit that fits into control enclosures—and a new starter kit for miniature computer developers, named X-board&GP8>. The latter is based on a business-card-sized Computer-on-Module and features an Xscale-based Intel 80219 processor.

Steeplechase VLC Version 7.0 flow-chart programming software complements both S-Max and ILC 350 controllers.

Phoenix Contact showed two of its newer embedded controllers, S-Max 50xx VLC and ILC 350 VLC, which reportedly combine secure PLC control functions with PC-based performance, capacity, and connectivity not previously available. S-Max further combines PLC functions and a TFT touchscreen operator panel (6, 12, and 15-in. sizes) in one compact unit—allowing easy programming and user-friendly display of color graphics and machine information, says the company.

For applications in need of local I/O expansion, “blind-node” (without a display) ILC 350 VLC offers direct connection to the company’s modular Inline I/O system. The controller’s integrated Ethernet port supports multiple protocols, such as Modbus TCP. “The master capability allows for the easy design of Ethernet-based I/O solutions,” according to Phoenix Contact. Steeplechase VLC software offers sub-millisecond logic scans and intuitive flow chart programming to accelerates design, installation, and system launch.

SPEAr Head targets digital engines for printers, scanners, and other embedded control applications. The device also supports various operating systems, such as Linux, Nucleus, and VxWorks.

STMicroelectronics announced the release of SPEAr Head—a new member of the company’s SPEAr (Structured Processor Enhanced Architecture) family of configurable System-on-Chip (SoC) ICs.

The SoC device integrates an advanced ARM926EJ-S core running at 266 MHz, a full set of intellectual property (IP) blocks, and a configurable logic block that reportedly provides unmatched flexibility for implementing highly complex systems. “The new device… [allows] extremely fast customization of critical functions in a fraction of the time and cost required by a full-custom design approach,” says STMicro.

Other elements of the new device include 32 KB instruction cache; 16 KB data cache; 8 KB data-TCM (tightly coupled memory) and 8 KB instruction-TCM; three USB 2.0 ports; an Ethernet 10/100 MAC; a 16-channel 8-bit A/D converter; an I²C interface; three UARTs; SDRAM memory interfaces at 133 MHz supporting DDR and SDR; SPI interface supporting serial flash/ROM; and 200-kgate (ASIC equivalent) of configurable logic connected to fourbanks of 4 KB SRAM, each. A real-time clock, watchdog, and four general-purpose timers complete the SoC structure.

SPEAr Head is sampling now, with pricing in the $12 range, in volume quantities. Full development boards are slated for shipping in December 2005. A special dual-mode development environment is available for users to take either an ASIC-like approach to design their custom logic or to use an external FPGA, verify the solution, then map it into configurable logic, according to STMicroelectronics. Embedded‘briefs’ Euros Embedded Systems GmbH featured its embedded software, real-time operating system (RTOS), and development tools, plus peripheral component driver products. Wind River , with European headquarters near Munich, Germany, was an exhibitor at this show for the first time in three years. Its presence at SPS/IPC/Drives is in line with its intention of “going more industrial than in the past.” The company is a developer of single-board computers, debugging tools, run-time platforms, and software development systems.

Frank J. Bartos, executive editor, Control Engineering fbartos@reedbusiness.com