Reader Feedback: Automation Engineering and PC-Based Controls

Manufacturing Returns to North America, and Industrially Hardened PCs Are On the Market

Manufacturing’s Pendulum

I read your Embedded Intelligence column [“Lead the Horses to Water,” Mar09, p33]. While I couldn’t agree more with your analysis—in fact I’ve done two speeches to seventh graders this year about automation engineering—I noted your comment about manufacturing returning to North America “as it will for many reasons.” I also feel that way. The pendulum simply has swung so far in the opposite direction that it must eventually swing back. I also think we’ve seen that a highly service-based economy—i.e., you cut my hair, and I’ll mow your lawn; he’ll sell us both insurance, and she’ll sell us all mortgages—will eventually take some serious hits. Another is the foolish willingness to teach the rest of the world how to do things that many of us here worked hard to figure out in the first place. My business is booming, which makes me think the pendulum is on the way back already.

Steve Gunnerson, President,
Nautilus Systems

No L Shape in PC

In your PC-based controls article [“Controls Choice Still Evolving,” May09, p17] many respondents appeared to think that a PC couldn’t be designed for industrial applications. Perhaps they didn’t know that industrially hardened PCs have been on the market for several years. 

Labels such as PC or PLC or PAC often lead engineers to a wrong perception based on past experience. Engineers today must look past labels toward the innovative products using COTS technology.  Many of them, like our IPC family are very small and can run from solid-state memory.  There are also DIN-rail-mounted embedded PCs that look just like a traditional PLC to the casual observer. These embedded PCs feature local I/O and solid-state memory but use high-performance Intel processors and Windows CE as the operating system, which is a real-time OS. Some quoted in the article seemed to think that only PLCs can be small, so what would you call our new CX8000? The L-shaped module is actually a small PC-based controller attached to local I/O. It uses a 32-bit ARM processor and Windows CE. It delivers real-time functionality and DIN-rail mounting with embedded connectivity. Be careful of labels and look deeper into the product specs and always use the best-suited one for the application.

Graham Harris, President,
Beckhoff Automation,