Users expect DAQ to also include analysis and control

First-generation data acquisition (DAQ) simply meant acquiring data, often using chart recorders and data loggers.One of the earliest industrial uses of personal computers (PCs) was to replace panel-boards of circular and strip chart recorders with PC-based DAQ hardware and software. However, most early DAQ software only provided the "back office" functionality of acquiring and archiving ...

By Dave Harrold, Senior Editor February 1, 2002
Trends in Data Acqusition
  • Off-the-shelf

  • Increased capabilities

  • USB

  • Remote I/O locations

  • 16-bit resolution

First-generation data acquisition (DAQ) simply meant acquiring data, often using chart recorders and data loggers.

One of the earliest industrial uses of personal computers (PCs) was to replace panel-boards of circular and strip chart recorders with PC-based DAQ hardware and software. However, most early DAQ software only provided the ‘back office’ functionality of acquiring and archiving data and left data analysis to someone else.

When DAQ software technology expanded to include tools for data analysis, many DAQ applications were marketed as data historians.

Based on responses from 266 Control Engineering subscribers, expectations for current DAQ products not only include a need for robust analysis tools, but also capabilities such as control and simulation (90%), proportional, integral, derivative control (PID, 80%), statistical process control/statistical quality control (SPC/SQC, 72%), and fuzzy logic control (49%).

If that’s not sufficient to make DAQ suppliers sit up and take notice, consider these same end-users also want data to be in an SQL database (81%) with connectivity using ODBC (70%) and OPC (OLE for process control, 62%).

Spending money to get what they want isn’t really a problem for survey responders with 233 users spending $48,423 million for DAQ hardware in the past 12 months-an average of $207,841 per user.

Of course DAQ hardware is pretty much useless without the software and 223 users spent another $31.14 million for DAQ software in the past 12 months-an average of $139,625 per user. (See Past 12 month spending for DAQ hardware and software diagram.)

Make or buy?

It’s apparent from survey responses, end-users paint the DAQ landscape with a much broader brush than traditional DAQ categorization. That broader perspective reflects in DAQ capability expectations as noted above, but also in the sources from which survey responders say they most often purchase DAQ hardware and software.

For example, survey results indicate Rockwell Automation (Milwaukee, Wis.) dominates the DAQ hardware and software market with 57% and 47%, respectively.

National Instruments (Austin, Tex.) is the second most-mentioned supplier of DAQ hardware (27%), but surprisingly, the number-two position for DAQ software purchases goes to Microsoft’s (Redmond, Wa.) Visual Basic (VB) software.

Out of the box, VB isn’t a DAQ solution. To make VB into a DAQ solution requires a sizable software development effort, so it might be concluded a significant number of survey responses came from OEMs (resellers), but that’s not the case. Seventy-six percent of qualified survey responses came from people who specify, recommend, and/or buy DAQ products for in-plant use. Only 12% of responses came from OEMs with another 12% coming from those who specify, recommend, and/or buy for both OEM and in-plant use.

DAQ trends

As expected, users prefer an external rack/module form factor (40%), followed closely by PCI bus cards (36%).

A second form factor tier includes ISA bus cards (9%), PCMCI bus cards (7%), and Universal Serial Bus (USB, 7%).

According to spokespersons at Data Translation (Marlboro, Mass.) and National Instruments, one trend worth watching is an increased use of USB to connect sensors to ‘live’ desktop DAQ systems.

USB is reported to be on 90-95% of personal computer motherboards sold in the past five years. With a 40X ‘promised’ performance improvement in the release of USB 2.0, its acceptance for desktop applications, such as mimicking traditional test instruments (i.e., multimeters, oscilloscopes, and data analyzers), almost ensures an increasing number of DAQ applications will utilize USB technology in the future.

Using results from previous Control Engineering DAQ studies, two additional noteworthy trends are DAQ application types and customized versus off-the-shelf hardware purchases.

In the area of DAQ application types, in 1999, DAQ solutions were being applied mostly in continuous, batch, and testing and diagnostic applications. By 2001 that trend turned around with SCADA and batch/continuous garnering the lion’s share. (See ‘Where DAQ solutions are used’ diagram.)

From 1994 through 1999, the split of customized versus off-the-shelf hardware remained about 50:50. By 2001, off-the-shelf hardware was used three times as often as customized hardware, and survey responders expect that ratio to continue through 2003.

DAQ hardware and software has certainly changed over the past 20 years. And if survey results indicate what’s to come, DAQ and control product offerings will all but morph onto a single platform.

DAQ products

For more information on data acquisition hardware and software products, circle the following numbers, or visit For a wider listing of manufacturers, go to Control Engineering Buyer’s Guide at buyersguide .

Critical application monitoring

Milwaukee, Wis. -Entek Entrx data acquisition system from Rockwell Automation provides predictive maintenance tools to ensure a high level of availability from high-speed or application-critical machinery, such as steam and gas turbines, centrifugal compressors, boiler feed pumps, and electric motors. Entrx consists of software, a personal computer workstation or laptop running Microsoft Windows NT or 2000, and Agilent VXI data acquisition instrumentation. Entrx’s use of Ethernet technology allows monitoring machinery from anywhere in the world, including critical equipment aboard ships at sea using standard communication networks and browser software. Rockwell Automation

Advanced audio and vibration analysis

Austin, Tex.- When combined, National Instruments NI 4472 for PCI and LabView 6i software provide high-precision audio and vibration measurement and analysis capabilities. Engineers interested in examining sound, vibration, and dynamic signals generated by rotating and reciprocating machinery can use the eight-channel NI 4472 with 24-bit A/D conversion and LabView’s Order Analysis Toolset (OAT). Built on the patent-pending Gabor Order Tracking algorithm, OAT examines a signal based on its time-varying frequency content. This technique enables either automated or interactive order analysis of signals gathered from speed-varying machinery. National Instruments

DAQ solution integrates control

Charlottesville, Va.- GE Fanuc’s Machine Edition of Cimplicity provides an open, integrated development environment for machine-level control programming, monitoring, data acquisition, and troubleshooting. Employing an object-oriented, ActiveX shell, Machine Edition provides a common user interface for hosting multiple software applications, including the sharing of data for control, machine-level graphics, and/or motion. An optional system-management tool provides a central server repository of project information, including version and access control. GE Fanuc

WinCC supports Step 7 configuration

Alpharetta, Ga.- Simatic WinCC version 5.0 software from Siemens features integrated web-browser functionality, multi-client and multi-server architecture, and a Step 7 configuration tag browser, said to increase system performance and productivity. WinCC uses Microsoft Internet Explorer, or Netscape Navigator, to permit users to monitor and operate a plant across the Internet or intranet. Siemens

iFix leverages terminal services

Foxborough, Mass.- Intellution’s iFix uses a thin-client version of Microsoft Windows 2000 Terminal Server functionality to make application data, scripts, and alarm and security features accessible from remote locations. To maximize responsiveness, all execution of commands is performed on the server-only mouse, and keyboard events are sent from the client to the server and only graphic calls are sent from the server to the client. iFix also includes regional language conversion tools for converting iFix screens, alarms, error messages, and other text-sensitive visual images. Using the toolkit, screen text is accessible via a text file that can be translated, edited, and appended without opening programs and/or creating or modifying code. iFix also features enhanced security to help users meet FDA 21CFR Part 11 ‘Electronic Records and Signatures’ regulatory compliance. Intellution

Enhanced LookoutDirect

Cumming, Ga.-’s LookoutDirect version 4.5 includes distributed network viewing and alarm acknowledgement, archival and retrieval of data, and browse-and-select techniques for connecting multiple LookoutDirect nodes. New features include loader, monitor, radio buttons, sequencer, waveform, sample, sample text, historical and real-time trending, event logging, and recipes.

Paperless recorder connects to fieldbus

Newnan, Ga.- Yokogawa’s DX Series DAQStation’s can send and receive analog data to/from FOUNDATION fieldbus instruments and host devices. Fieldbus data are treated the same as hard-wired data and can be trended, used as a calculation variable, and/or automatically archived on a network server and/or viewed remotely via a web browser. DAQStation’s panel-mount design and NEMA 4 bezel permits installation in many environments. DAQStation provides eight fieldbus input channels, can be linked to SCADA/HMI software via an OPC server, and supports sending e-mail messages based on predefined event conditions. Yokogawa

Drag-and-drop test measurement development

Marlboro, Mass.- Data Translation’s DT Measure Foundry provides the ease of drag-and-drop to arrange instrument-test functions on a personal-computer screen. Functions automatically activate when the function’s hardware measurement source is identified, thereby eliminating the need for programming or wiring. Operating on a Microsoft Windows platform, DT Measure Foundry avoids measurement latencies using a patent-pending, high-speed uninterrupted data transfer solution. Integration with DT Vision Foundry permits DT Measure Foundry to present vision and sensor data on the same user interface. OEM developers can use Distribution Wizard to create and disseminate run-time applications. Data Translation