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Control software gets sophisticated

Dec. 21, 2005
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.

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.

Predicting Performance Problems
Intune version 5.0 process monitoring and loop tuning software monitors all plant/process loops without intruding on the process, and automatically generates reports that identify poorly performing loops. It can generate web-based reports that notify managers, engineers, or operators via e-mail or alarm if process performance violates certain pre-set conditions. This allows end users to develop plant-specific key performance indicators. ControlSoft; 440/443-3900; www.controlsoftinc.com.

Real-time Data via OPC
Web-enabled ECEMS version 3.1 environmental data management system provides real-time data historian integration through an OPC interface. The enterprise-level software assists process industries in sustaining regulatory compliance under Title V permits including MACT, VOC, HRVOC, NOx, Flex Air and Site Cap applications. ECEMS includes monitoring, recordkeeping, calculations, and reporting functions. Mustang Automation and Control; 713/215-8000; www.mustangeng.com.

Jack-of-all Development Tools
Automation Studio provides seamless integration of controllers, drives, visualization, communication and software using one development tool. It works with everything from a small controller to distributed axis drives, fieldbus and Ethernet. Projects developed with the software can be controlled remotely over any TCP/IP connection. B&R Industrial Automation; 770/410-3206; www.br-automation.com.

Pocket PC Wirelessly Diagnoses Drives
Pocket DriveExplorer software lets users of Allen-Bradley PowerFlex AC drives and legacy SCANport-enabled drives wirelessly program, troubleshoot, and monitor drives from a handheld PC. Users can access drives through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi networks, saving the time and effort needed to carry and connect communication cables. Rockwell Automation; 800/223-5354, x1844; www.rockwellautomation.com.

Firmware Offers Advice
Enhancements to Qlarity Foundry and Qlarity firmware include an AutoHelp function that aids programmers by dynamically displaying textual help and making suggestions. Other enhancements include object inheritance, AutoDoc, workspace resizing, multi-object editing, error stepping and parenthesis matching, Win32 command line compiler, workspace locking, new APIs and new objects. QSI; 801/466-8770; www.qlarity.com.

More HMI Features, Less Cost
Enhancements to InTouch 9.5 HMI software include intelligent alarm techniques, dynamic operator guidance, runtime language switching, virtually unlimited scalability, and (gasp!) lower prices too. Customer applications using previous versions of the software reportedly can be easily migrated to this latest version. Wonderware; 949/459-9696, ext. 244; www.wonderware.com.

Steady-state, Dynamic Simulation
UniSim Design Suite R350 provides steady-state and dynamic simulation, design, performance monitoring, optimization and business planning for the oil and gas production, gas processing, petroleum refining and chemical industries. It allows process manufacturers to design, test, and train employees on new processes offline before they are implemented. Honeywell; 602/313-4054; www.honeywell.com.

Monitor Prognosticates Problems
Version 4.0 of AMS Suite Equipment Performance Monitor enables users to predict future performance of mechanical and process equipment. The software’s Predictive Analyst analyzes current performance of equipment as compared with the original design, and then predicts how equipment will be operating in future months. The tool determines when degraded performance will occur, enabling users to plan maintenance activities well in advance. Emerson Process Management; 512/832-3089; www.emersonprocess.com.

Process Simulation for Crude, Dude
Enhancements to PRO/II process simulation software allows users to integrate Haverly System's H/CAMS crude assay information into simulations to help further improve yields and profitability. The simulation program performs mass and energy balances for a range of chemical processes, from oil and gas separation to reactive distillation. SimSci-Esscor; 508/549-6240; www.invensys.com.

Web Portal Produces Process Data
Enhancements to Proficy Real-Time Information Portal v2.5 include a web-based system that integrates on-line and process-based systems with plant-wide connectivity, analysis and visualization components. The application offers a common web client and reporting environment for a fully integrated solution that reportedly maximizes the value of the user’s software applications, as well as data and content from other automation solution suppliers and legacy business systems. GE Fanuc Automation; 800/433-2682; www.gefanuc.com.

LIMS Software for ADME/TOX
Enhancements to Galileo LIMS version 3.1 include added functions for in vitro ADME/Tox discovery laboratories. Improvements include automatic results flagging; rapid study entry to accelerate the entry of concentration or raw data from analytical instruments into the LIMS; added “IC50 shift” experiment to elucidate enzyme inactivation; and support for PAMPA permeability studies. Thermo Electron; 44 1606 837787; www.thermo.com.

PLC Programming Tools has Instructions
Version 4.6 of the Windows-based WindLDR ladder-logic programming tool includes macro instructions and dialog instruction boxes for PID, pulse and analog settings. The programming tool works with the company’s PLCs. A free demo version is available. IDEC; 800/262-idec; www.idec.com/software.

Free Configuration Recipes
Watview Configurator allows users to setup and monitor the company’s controllers. It includes a recipe template builder and recipe editor, can backup and transfer settings between multiple controllers, and store a virtually unlimited number of profiles on a PC. The software can be downloaded free of charge. Watlow; 314/878-4600; www.watlow.com.

Prioritze Your Alarms
AAASuite alarm management system optimizes and enhances process alarms issued by control systems. It provides operators with timely notification of necessary alarms only, which prevents alarm flooding and enables safe, stable, cost-effective plant operations. The system automatically detects typical nuisance alarms, and notifies operators about alarm causes and required corrective measures. Yokogawa; 800/258-2552; www.us.yokogawa.com.

Switching Firmware Builds Networks
Enhanced firmware for the company’s 500 series Industrial Ethernet switches automatically discovers other units and registers their interconnected ports as IGMP router ports via a dynamic real-time algorithm. Other enhancements include multiple router support, dynamic router discovery, and master/slave redundancy for query detection. All this reportedly will reduce or eliminate the CLI (command line interface) switch configuration requirements for most Ethernet control networks. N-TRON; 251/342.2164; www.n-tron.com.

Simplification = Acceleration
CX-Integrator simplifies programming, accelerates startup, simplifies maintenance, and gives users a graphically-displayed portal through which they can access all network information and devices. Configurations within the system are simplified with drag-and-drop setting of parameters. Users can launch programming tools by clicking on the appropriate icon. Function blocks and Smart Active Parts simplify controller programming. Omron Electronics; 866/88o-mron; www.omron.com.

C/C++ Interpreter Scripts Across Platforms
Ch C/C++ interpreter for cross-platform scripting, 2-D/3-D plotting, numerical computing, shell programming and embedded scripting runs in Windows, Solaris, Linux x86, HP-UX, FreeBSD, Mac OS X, QNX and Linux PPC operating systems. Supported platforms include PowerPC, iSeries, pSeries, OpenPower, JS20 Power based Blades and zSeries from IBM as well as computers from Apple. More info at controlglobal.com. SoftIntegration; 530/297-7398; www.softintegration.com.
FTIR Software Refines CLS Algorithm
AutoQuant Pro incorporates a refined implementation of the advanced multivariate CLS algorithm developed by NASA scientists at the Kennedy Space Center to achieve faster computational speed and improved performance of industrial FTIR spectrometer systems. Logically organized displays and menus help an analyst perform tasks like setting instrument parameters or building accurate analytical methods for quantifying components of complex mixtures. Midac; 714/546-4322; www.midac.com.

Simpler Turbine Flowmeter Programming
VisualLink flowmeter programming software works on turbine flowmeters employing the company’s LinearLink and LinearLink temperature-compensated interface. The software simplifies flowmeter programming and eliminates the need for manual calibration data entry. The software also makes it easy to arrange units of measure and header information when programming a flow measurement system. Flow Technology; 602/437-1315; www.ftimeters.com.
Software Combines Functions for Better Production
Pavilion8 integrated software suite combines modeling, control, monitoring, analysis, visualization, and integration functions to increase production, reduce variable costs and ensure regulatory compliance. A Web services interface enables seamless integration with data warehouses, historians, ERP applications and distributed control systems from many suppliers. Pavilion Technologies; 847/816-6770; www.pavtech.com.

Two Real-time Operating Systems on Same Processor
VxWin 3.1 combines the latest versions of Wind River VxWorks and Microsoft Windows XP on the same processor with support for multiprocessor systems and Wind River’s Workbench and Diab compiler suite. VxWorks and Windows XP each execute in separated and protected memory areas. No modifications are made to either operating system. Evaluation software is available as a free download. KUKA Controls; 714/832-4100; www.kuka-controls.com.

Control Software

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