Exhibitors “serve” up new technology at ISA 2004

Senior Technical Editor Rich Merritt reports that the future of process control will be based on Microsoft software, server technology, remote service centers, wireless technology, and the Internet.

Rich Merritt, Senior Technical Editor


ased on what was showcased at last month&rsquos ISA show in Houston, suppliers are starting to offer software products that use web and server technology to cut costs dramatically and provide the possibility to move high-level software out of process plants and discrete manufacturing factories.

Foxboro, Wonderware and SimSci-Esscor, all divisions of Invensys, announced new software for process control, alarm management, online monitoring, HMI and loop analysis that run at the plant on local servers, but also could be hosted at remote Invensys service centers.

The remote servers use the Internet or a secure intranet to obtain real-time process data. At present, Invensys uses the remote capability to help customers diagnose troublesome loops or solve operational problems.

Similar technologies were displayed by second-tier control companies. MCL Control USA (www.mclcontrol.com) using InduSoft WebStudio for the HMI in its compressor controls, demonstrated how an operator can monitor and tweak compressor parameters using a PDA. Also, an engineer can monitor the system over the Internet from home, using a standard browser.

Iconics (www.iconics.com) announced BridgeWorX and PortalWorx V8 web-enabled software, both of which make it easy for users to capture, display and process data from a variety of sources, including OPC, SQL and Oracle data bases, plant historians and SAP.

Jon Weber, president of Software Toolbox (www.softwaretoolbox.com) said he has been selling software for web-based HMI systems for five years, but it has been only recently that new OPC and Microsoft software allows HMI screens to be updated one variable at a time, instead of requiring a full screen refresh. To demonstrate OPC connectivity and web capabilities, Software Toolbox showed a single OPC server talking to eight different PLCs using cellular Ethernet, 802.11b Wireless Ethernet, and wired Ethernet. Of the eight PLCs, only two were in the booth&ndashthe remaining six were back at Software Toolbox&rsquos headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., connecting over the Internet using a cellular modem. 

To further industry acceptance of OPC, the OPC Foundation announced its new OPC Certification program. The OPC Foundation is providing a process whereby vendors can verify the correct operation of their products through a series of tests. 

Microsoft said all this easy connectivity is possible thanks to its .NET architecture, which allows everything from embedded computers to mainframes to communicate over wireless, Internet and intranet-based networks. 

As for security, Microsoft wants people to know hope is on the horizon. Don Richardson, Microsoft&rsquos director of industry solutions, said that Windows XP was the first Microsoft operating system designed to work with the Internet. &ldquoEverything that came before XP was designed to work with local area networks,&rdquo says Richardson. &ldquoWe dealt with security problems by issuing patches and fixes. XP, however, is designed for the Internet.&rdquo 

It is clear from this year&rsquos show that the future of process control will be based on Microsoft software, server technology, remote service centers, wireless technology, and the Internet.