Inside the box

Think Again: Think out of the box, we’re told, but for many engineering applications, thinking inside the box might be more scalable. Learn what six pieces of automation design wisdom can mean for you.

09/05/2012


Human-machine interface (HMI) - Control EngineeringHere are six things you should know about automation design, but may have forgotten along the way.

1. Scalability. If only you had a nickel for every time you’ve heard, “Think outside the box!” For some applications, this represents one of the core pieces of the PLC (many boxes) versus PC-based control (one box) debate. If you design with a PLC, then wind up needing more axes of control or additional control loops, you may need to buy more CPUs, communication cards, hardware, software, and integration time. A multi-core industrial PC (IPC) can be more scalable, adding control loops as needed.

2. Integrated control programming environment. Most programming software touts various easy-to-use features. Many programming packages offer capabilities to incorporate control, motion, human-machine interface and operator interface, I/O, communications, and other programming in one system. Libraries of pre-assembled code are very helpful, as are those that offer all IEC 61131-3 languages, since some are more useful than others for certain programming challenges. However, especially since we’re interested attracting younger engineers, software that also integrates C/C++, .NET, and simulation may be especially helpful.

3. Closed versus open. We did an article years ago on what openness means. There’s little consensus, but some suggest that IPCs are generally more open and supportable in the long run, compared to PLCs. More than 15 years ago, some predicted the demise of PLCs, and PLCs are going strong, evolving with the rest of us. Even so, it seems that electronics and software make an increasingly greater contribution to automation engineering creativity. Platforms that promote greater scalability, flexibility, and preservation of programming assets may have an edge by interesting and attracting the best and brightest of new engineering talent.

4. Application experience. Ensure that the application/sales engineers, distributors, or system integrators you’re working with have applied the hardware and software to implementations with elements similar to yours, with measurable results. No two applications are exactly alike, unless you’re printing money by applying a cookie-cutter design across multiple sites. Even across industries, there are many more similarities than you might think, especially with the right tool sets.

5. Usability. Engineers should be required to use the products they design. Security should be built in and set as the default. Elements that can wear out sooner or require maintenance should be easy to access and fix. Mission-critical components should offer diagnostics, alerts, and redundancy, as needed. Optimization, self-configuration, interoperability, and wizards should be more than marketing phrases. We need to design products to help get the world out the messes we’ve gotten ourselves into, using creative and elegant engineering, not complexities heaped on conundrums.

And if there’s redemption, the engineers who designed that car with the inaccessible final spark plug have chosen every slowest checkout line since then.

6. Convergence. Where it makes sense, consider products that combine functionality. Twenty years ago, did anyone consider that we’d have cool engineering applications, e-mail, texting, games, video, a camera, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, global maps, geopositioning, a music library, an encyclopedia, warehouses of storage space—and a wireless, mobile telephone—in one device? For us, it might mean greater connectivity of information, programming, and assets across design, simulation, testing, operations manufacturing, maintenance, enterprise, and the supply chain—bringing dollars and sense to control engineering. Get creative with your automation, controls, and instrumentation designs.

Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media- Share your automation design wisdom.

Interactive: The LinkedIn Group managed by Control Engineering has had an enduring discussion about availability of engineering talent. How do you think any of these six points could help? 

- Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, mhoske@cfemedia.com

Other articles of interest follow. 

- Brewing more with Industrial Ethernet

- Control programming software strategies for industrial systems 

- Control Engineering case study channel



No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
World-class maintenance: The three keys to success - Deploy people, process and technology; 2016 Lubrication Guide; Why hydraulic systems get hot
Your leaks start here: Take a disciplined approach with your hydraulic system; U.S. presence at Hannover Messe a rousing success
Hannover Messe 2016: Taking hold of the future - Partner Country status spotlights U.S. manufacturing; Honoring manufacturing excellence: The 2015 Product of the Year Winners
The digital oilfield: Utilizing Big Data can yield big savings; Virtualization a real solution; Tracking SIS performance
Getting to the bottom of subsea repairs: Older pipelines need more attention, and operators need a repair strategy; OTC preview; Offshore production difficult - and crucial
Digital oilfields: Integrated HMI/SCADA systems enable smarter data acquisition; Real-world impact of simulation; Electric actuator technology prospers in production fields
Improving flowmeter calibration; Selecting flowmeters for natural gas; Case study: Streamlining assembly systems using PC-based control; CLPM: Improving process efficiency, throughput
Putting COPS into context; Designing medium-voltage electrical systems; Planning and designing resilient, efficient data centers; The nine steps of designing generator fuel systems
Warehouse winter comfort: The HTHV solution; Cooling with natural gas; Plastics industry booming

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role that compressed air plays in manufacturing plants.
This article collection contains several articles on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and how it is transforming manufacturing.
This article collection contains several articles on strategic maintenance and understanding all the parts of your plant.
click me