Control software gets sophisticated

In this Product Roundup of control software in the process automation industry, Senior Tech Editor Rich Merritt finds that small software companies are taking the lead in pushing technology to end users.

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By Rich Merritt, Senior Technical Editor

IN THE 30 years I’ve been in this business, I’ve always marveled at how small software companies manage to stay two or three steps ahead of the traditional, old-line process control vendors. The process control vendors make all the money, of course, but the small software companies take the risks, set the pace, and force the old-liners to change their business models.

In the 1960s, minicomputer-based supervisory controls changed the face of analog control. In the 70s, microprocessor-based controls brought about the DCS age. In the 80s, PC-based software revolutionized HMI technology. In the 90s, WinTel architecture forced all the “Big Boys” to accept open architectures. And now, in the 21st Century, Internet and web servers have taken over. For this whole time, more than four decades, it has been the little software companies, like Iconics, Intellution, InduSoft and a host of others that blazed new trails, proved it could be done, and put forth products that threatened the old-liners.

Some of those little software companies are long gone. They’ve either been gobbled up by larger firms, or died the death of companies that operate on the bleeding edge of technology, where they either make it or go down in flames. While some are gone, others have emerged to take their places, which is the way of life in the process control game.

For the past few years, the software vendors have been lying low, limiting themselves (as we reported last year) to adding an enhancement here and there, just to show they were still alive. But now, with the economy recovering, the vendors have poked their heads up, looked around, and decided to come out swinging. Still, the roundup that follows contains software demonstrating that the little companies haven’t lost their edge.

Some vendors have noted the huge market niche available for asset management software, and released products in that space. Such software is available from the big companies for millions of dollars, but, as you can see below, software vendors’ products are much less expensive. One package listed in the roundup sells for $29.95. When more asset management software becomes available, those million-dollar packages will start coming down in price.

Other software vendors attack market niches where they see a gaping hole that isn’t served by the Big Boys. So you’ll see software packages aimed at specific hardware, and software that interfaces to lots of different hardware. Other vendors are way out there on the bleeding edge once again, offering software that works with and over the Web.

 


Product Round-up:

Web Server Security Blanket
CT webHMI provides secure, real-time access to plant floor data from any Internet connection worldwide. The bi-directional interface lets remote users adjust switches and dials, enter data, change recipe settings, and fully interact with the project from the remote browser interface. Embedded security features allow different levels of security, so only users with the proper clearance can "see" or interact with a given object. Control Technology; 508/497-0335; www.ctc-control.com.

Free Upgrade Integrates Access
All users of the ActiveFactory plant data management system can download the latest version of Incuity HDA  historical data access software free of charge. It integrates with IndustrialSQL Server, and can access data from other popular plant historians such as OSIsoft’s PI System, General Electric’s Proficy Historian, Rockwell Software’s RSBizware Historian, and any other OPC HDA-compatible historian. DataWorks; 949/465-0390, ext. 206; www.incuity.com.

Low-cost Enterprise Software
Release 4.0 of the MyEclipse Enterprise Workbench can be used for developing software applications and systems for J2EE and other environments. Enhancements include the MyUML modeling suite, MyJSF (Java Server Faces) Developer for Java, Specialized Oracle Database Connector Hibernate 3.0, Jakarta Tapestry and Spring IDE support. Genuitec; 888/267-4176, x704; www.genuitec.com.

SCADA for Power Users
ClearSCADA software for the electric power industry gathers, processes, and relays information in real-time, while providing system visualization, data acquisition and supervisory control. The SCADA platform integrates seamlessly with the company’s controllers, and is based on open interface and protocol standards for use with third-party hardware. Control Microsystems; 403/268-7852; www.controlmicrosystems.com.

Module Immune to Security Threats
The xCoupler Enterprise Transaction Module snaps into the backplane of Allen-Bradley ControlLogix PLCs to provide secure and simple two-tier data communications between various plant floor devices connected to ControlLogix. The module’s operating system is virtually immune to security problems and virus attacks. Plant-floor devices can’t affect the module’s operation and its operation can’t plant-floor devices. Online Development; 800/625-8678; www.oldi.com.

Web Pages for PLCS
DataNet OPC sends live data from industrial devices to a Web page, with no HTML programming required. Data is available for viewing, printing or archiving on any computer, anywhere the Internet or company intranet is accessible. For plants that use multiple PLC brands, it provides a unified approach to data display and logging. The software is compatible with any industrial device that runs on an OPC 1.0 or OPC 2.0 compliant server. AutomationDirect; 678/455-1864; www.automationdirect.com.

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