Baldor motion control language turns 21

Mint's inventor, Mark Crocker, explains origins

10/07/2009


Mark Crocker of Baldor UK invented the company
Mark Crocker, Baldor UK

In 1988, the Hubble space telescope was put into operation, the U.S. Air Force introduced the F-117A Nighthawk Stealth Fighter to the world, and a Compaq 286 laptop cost $5,400. That's also the year motor and motion control system vendor Baldor UK Ltd introduced its Mint motion control language. To mark the language's 21st birthday, Mint inventor Mark Crocker, who is now the European marketing director at Baldor UK, explains its origins.

Created by the UK start-up Optimised Control-now part of Baldor-to provide open programming for motion control hardware, the Mint language has proved to be enduring. Crocker borrowed from his student experience with Basic on home computers to create Mint's English-like commands, which were a revelation for a motion control community used to programming with mnemonic codes.

"With high level commands such as PRINT and SPEED, and otherā€˜advanced' features like user-defined variable names, motion control programming started to become accessible to just about any engineer or technician," Crocker said. "Today, thousands of machinery and automation OEMs and engineers worldwide use the language, which in its 21st year has reached version 5 and incorporates well over 100 man-years of coding."

Mint stands for "motion intelligence," and it uses high-level keywords to simplify the development of motion control and I/O control, networking and HMI tasks on automation equipment. These keywords often provide the kernel of application software for common motion control tasks such as registration, labeling, cutting, etc.

Since its introduction, Mint has gone through several major evolutions. Version 5 has added multi-tasking capability and other high-level modular programming features such as functions and procedures, data types and scoped variables. "It is these features that have kept Mint up to date with modern programming practices, helping to reduce development time, and make code more portable and easier to debug," said Crocker. "Our industry is evolving. We're starting to see more dedicated software engineers getting involved, and these individuals want to use the kind of tools they've trained with, like [Microsoft] Visual Basic."

A key change for Mint was the introduction of Microsoft Windows as both a development front end and machine interface. The introduction of ActiveX components, which share a common API with the Mint language itself, make it easy for engineers to interface to Baldor's motion controllers and programmable drives from any programming tool supporting ActiveX. This includes Microsoft Excel and VBA (Visual Basic for Applications).

Mint is now tightly integrated with Baldor's free Windows based developer's toolsuite, Mint WorkBench. The fully integrated development environment includes program debugging facilities such as breakpoints, single-step program execution, variable watch, and auto-completion of code, to help deal with the growing complexity of machine design. "A virtual motion controller facility also allows user code to be executed without connection to hardware, giving engineers the means to start developing and testing software before the hardware is ready," said Crocker. Although Mint started life as an interpreted language, the virtual machine concept is now used to speed execution and provides software portability across different Baldor control hardware platforms, he said.

"What gives me a lot of pleasure is that Mint is one of just two or three recognizable software brands in the motion control market", said Crocker. "I see it mentioned on engineers' resumes. I don't think that would have been the case if we had stuck with the first name we thought of, which was BIFMOC (BASIC Interpreter For MOtion Control)."

"Hardware integration is usually a small element of machine commissioning. It's software that accounts for most development time and there are big gains to be made by choosing the best development environment," added Crocker. "It's the softer side of motion control-simplicity and ease of programming, configuration and set-up-that we see making a big difference to machinery project efficiency, timescales and cost."

Baldor products will be exhibited at Pack Expo Booth S-5225. This packaging show is being held at the Las Vegas Convention Center Oct. 5-7, 2009.

Read other Control Engineering articles about Baldor products and technology.

- Edited by Renee Robbins, senior editor
Control Engineering News Desk
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