Control software opens up, prices come down

Senior Technical Editor Rich Merritt showcases the latest software offerings that are becoming more open to the web, networks and fieldbuses in this month's Product Roundup of control software products.

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 By Rich Merritt, Senior Technical Editor

As with most new products we’re seen over the past year or so, there are no revolutionary developments in control software. Instead, like every other vendor whose R&D funding has dried up, software suppliers have limited themselves to just making enhancements to existing products. Enhancements generally involve adding Web capability, more networking, and better compatibility with a wide variety of hardware from across industry. Software is getting more “open” every day.

Web capability typically means that the software product can be accessed from a web browser on a conventional PC, laptop or PDA. We think the Web trend is a direct result of the resistance we’ve seen from end users, OEMs and machine builders who are tired of having to pay $3,000–$5,000 for a “seat license” on their HMIs, operator panels, monitoring systems, and other software packages.

After all, once a single system with a web server is established, PCs using browsers can access the information over the Internet or a company intranet. An extra seat shouldn’t have to cost anything. This is especially true in the CAD industry, where user companies can lease the software, and are then charged by the functions they use, not by how many seats they have. We expect to see big-ticket software in our industry, such as ERP and supply-chain management, going this way in the future.

The true indicator of this trend will come when we publish our HMI roundup in a few months. Although we have a few client/server web-based software packages in this roundup, HMIs are extremely vulnerable to price pressures. HMI/SCADA vendors will be forced to adopt the Web model faster than any other kind of software producer.

In fact, we predict that web-based client/server software will be the dominant trend in control software across the board. Vendors who cling to per-seat pricing will get hammered by web-based vendors.

ARC agrees that control software is getting more open. “The future of industrial automation will be a blending of PC-based open architecture, embedded systems, web services, XML, next generation PLCs, communications standards like Industrial Ethernet, and software-based component technology,” says ARC. “It will not be based on a business model of mutually exclusive hardware and software.”

We’ll add “and cheaper” to ARC’s assessment, for two reasons: First, some of the upgrade packages we see are now free to owners of earlier versions, which is a major pricing policy turnaround. Historically, software vendors made a fortune by forcing their customers to pay for unnecessary upgrades just to keep their service agreements intact, and end users are starting to rebel. Users are getting tired of having to pay huge amounts of money to upgrade ERP, CRM, supply chain and similar software to get functionality they didn’t need. The anti-upgrade rebellion has already started on the IT side of the business, and we will soon benefit from the fallout. Maybe we already are.

Second, purchase prices are starting to tumble. We see several sub-$1,000 packages in this roundup, which means at least some software vendors have decided they can make money by selling thousands of systems for hundreds of dollars, instead of selling a few dozen systems for thousands of dollars. This is how consumer software is priced. It was just a matter of time before control software vendors learned the realities of Software Economics 101 and started pricing their software more realistically.



PRODUCT ROUND-UP:
Control Software
For more information about any of these products, click on the description of the product below to view a longer description and all contact information, including phone numbers, e-mail addresses, websites, and a photo where available.

 

Test & Control Software Works over Web
WEDAQ web-enabled real-time software provides simultaneous viewing and graphing of multiple data channels in real time, and lets users view test data via a standard web browser. Users select which channels to monitor, the sample rate, and software filters. The selection of data to be viewed at a remote location does not affect data acquisition and file creation at the test site. Test parameters can be adjusted from both local and remote locations.
Electro Standards Laboratories

Loop Tuning Software Goes Web
Enhancements to Intune version 5.0 process monitoring and loop tuning software include web-based reports that notify managers, engineers, or operators via e-mail, phone call, or alarm if process performance violates certain pre-set conditions. The software also monitors all loops without intruding on the process and automatically generates reports that identify poorly performing loops. End users can develop plant-specific key performance indicators to be used with the diagnostic tools.
ControlSoft 

Control Over the Web
Enhancements to Automation Studio software include the ability to monitor and control machines and systems from remote locations or the home office over any TCP/IP connection, including modems, intranet or the Internet. The remote display only needs to be started more than once on the remote PC. Clients are available for both Windows and Linux operating systems.
B&R Industrial Automation    

Networked DAQ Software
MAQS software lets any PC or laptop be set up as a client to control multiple digitizer channels via an Ethernet connection, simple crossover cable, or any networked environment over Ethernet. A remote control interface allows client-server control and monitoring of data acquisition systems from multiple locations simultaneously, and to access test systems located at dispersed sites. Users can manage complex experiments through a Window-based environment. Prices start at $1,990; a free demo is available.
Acqiris USA  

Orchestrated Control
The Orchestra integrated software platform combines embedded Linux with OSE, a hard real-time operating system, thus enabling telecom and datacom OEMs to deploy distributed fault-tolerant, high-availability software solutions across multiple processors. It also comes with embedded Linux development technology from Metrowerks. An evaluation kit is available for a one-time price of $5,000 that contains all the necessary software and hardware, including evaluation boards.
Enea Embedded Technology   

HART Configurator
The FDCM Field Device Configuration Manager manages all smart devices based on the HART protocol, and simplifies typical tasks associated with smart instruments, such as configuration, diagnostics and maintenance. It is fully compliant with the HART open communications protocol and supports all universal, common practice and device-specific commands described in a vendor’s HART DD file, so it can configure and support all device-specific parameters and methods for any HART device.
Honeywell  

Plotting Software
Analyze-Plus can collect data by importing text via DDE, from DCSes, or by A/D conversion from the company’s CVF2 data logger. It can plot individual or overlaid plots with multiple y-axis labels including statistics, zooming, and Fourier analysis with frequency and period scales, auto-correlation and cross-correlation. It has an equation processor with 50 functions, such as filtering, averaging, convolution, trigonometry, derivative, log and manipulation of frequency spectrum.
Innovention Industries      

PLC Programming Software
Enhancements to V 2.0 of Telemecanique Unity Pro programming, debugging and operating software for Modicon PLCs include reduced file sizes for faster processing, hot-standby capabilities, interactive operator screen to streamline maintenance, full-function simulator to enable application bench testing and user-defined function blocks to simplify programming. User-definable Ethernet protocols allow direct connection to RFID tag stations, bar code readers and competitive PLCs.
Schneider Electric 

Batch is Under Control
I/A Series batch software allows process engineers to create recipes and simulate their execution against a model of the process before writing one line of control code. Users model their process on display screens from icons and pull-down menus. They then configure recipes by specifying unit and phase data interactively. All recipes are represented graphically in IEC 61131-3 based sequential function charts. The software runs under UNIX or Windows XP.
Foxboro/Invensys    

Programming Software Uses Old Code
RSLogix 5000 V.13 programming software allows for the reuse of previously written code and documentation. The Ladder Diagram (LD) Partial Import/Export capability allows users to create libraries of code that can be reused from project to project. Specific rungs of code can be exported from a project using XML tag formatting and stored in an external file. Later, this code can be imported back into the same project or applied to new projects.
Rockwell Automation      

DAQ and Control Software
Inet-iwplus data acquisition software program for Windows 95/98/NT/2000/XP enables a user to digitize, plot, control, analyze, and save to disk A/D, D/A, and digital I/O data from the company’s instruNet DAQ hardware. It allows a user to define an instrument front panel with buttons, pop-up menus, edit fields, dynamic text, text editor regions and waveform graphs. Price: $199.
Omega Engineering  

Programming Software
The 759-333 IO-PRO CAA software for the company’s programmable fieldbus controllers and  industrial PCs is compliant with the IEC 61131-3 open programming standard and the CoDeSys Automation Alliance. It includes editors for programming in sequential function chart, instruction list, function block diagram, structured text, ladder diagram and continuous-function chart languages. Price: $600.
Wago  

Secure Network Software
NetOp provides secure, cross-platform, remote support and access for network administrators and remote sites. RSA SecurID authentication sets up access privileges through the NetOp security server by verifying identity against an RSA ACE/Server using user name, password and a SecurID security token. It works with all Windows operating systems from 98 to the Windows 2003 Server, plus Linux, Sun Solaris, Mac OS X, CE 4.x, DOS and OS/2 systems. Price is $189. Free demo is available.
CrossTec 

OPC Server Software
Ctcopc Windows OPC server provides real-time client access to automation controllers and software applications.  Conforming to both version 1.0 and 2.0 OPC-DA standards, it provides users with a non-proprietary, widely supported, bi-directional interface among industrial controllers and third-party applications. By using OPC technology, users can avoid using custom, single-vendor application programming interfaces (APIs) and drivers that are traditionally required for exchanging data between factory-floor devices and the enterprise.
Control Technology   

Universal PLC Programmer
Proficy Logic Developer PC allows programmers to develop IEC 61131 control logic for many open I/O and PLC systems, including GE Fanuc Genius and Series 90-30, PROFIBUS, Allen-Bradley, DeviceNet, Interbus-S, Modicon, and Honeywell SDS, using Ladder Logic, Sequential Function Chart, or Instruction List languages. It runs under Windows NT or 2000, and is available with an RTX hard real-time kernel.
GE Fanuc Automation         

Soft PLC Sees Networks
Enhancements to TwinCAT software include programs for sequence and motion control and an I/O configurator for networks, such as DeviceNet, Profibus and Ethernet. It automatically scans and recognizes network scanners, network nodes and terminal and signal channels, and simplifies address assignment. Other enhancements include an event logger, configuration backup, debugging and automatic configuration. It runs on Windows NT 4.0, 2000, XP, Embedded NT 4.0 Embedded XP, and CE .NET.
Beckhoff Automation   

Communications Drivers
CommManager.net provides a library of drivers for major industrial brands and protocols such as A-B, Modbus, GE, and Automation Direct. Users can license one or more drivers for an application. Drivers can be added without affecting existing code or requiring special handling. Drivers are self-contained; no third party driver purchase is required. 30-day free demos are available.
Automated Solutions 

Software Enhancements
Enhancements to Industrial IT System 800xA include an extensive software library of pre-defined and user-defined control elements. These functions provide the power to design complex control strategies to fit any control application including continuous, sequential, batch, and advanced control. 
ABB      

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