A video game platform as your next process controller?
While some say current HMIs look like video games, is it practical to run a process unit using an obsolete Xbox as a controller? One supplier says it’s possible and even economical. Get your gaming thumbs back in shape.
That obsolete Xbox in the basement may have a new future as a DCS. While that may sound farfetched, one engineer has turned a 10-year-old game console into a process controller and is running a small batch chemical manufacturing unit using traditional gaming controllers. This project is another from industrial hacker Carl Landwiener who created a system several years ago that allowed field instruments to communicate wirelessly using old cellular phones.
“The original Xbox was essentially a Windows machine since it was produced by Microsoft,” Landwiener explains. “There’s really a lot of sophisticated processing power in there, so all it requires is a little reprogramming and a way to connect the I/O. They really aren’t all that hard to find as electronic junk, so they represent one of the great hardware bargains.”
Given that many people who are now in their 20s or 30s cut their video gaming teeth on just such a platform, picking up a traditional “controller S,” (see photo) will seem very familiar and maybe even a bit nostalgic. Landwiener’s first installation uses the first generation version of Halo as its main platform, although it’s difficult to see that in the graphics. The controller functions are much the same, so operators will find that changing valve positions will be much like defending against an enemy attack.
An interesting approach, to be sure, but even Landwiener admits it has its limitations. “At the moment, this system can only handle 48 tags, so it needs to be a pretty small process. There’s also a lot of manual code writing that has to happen to finish off the HMIs. It took me a while to get the control valves to stop looking like ‘grunts,’ but that’s pretty well under control now. There are some situations where shooting at a valve can open it when you really want it to close, so users really need to pay attention. That really adds some action that should keep operators engaged.”
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Annual Salary Survey
After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.
The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.