Software Rocks at CDAX

Sept. 7, 2007
Technology drives some customer needs, while others push service. Software handles everyone’s needs, which is why software vendors rock.
By Jeremy Pollard, CET

One of the pleasures of AutomationXchange is the chance to visit with some of the vendors to get a briefing on products, opinions, and general attitudes in our automation world.

At the very least, it reminds me that the machine control world isn’t much different than it was five years ago in what customers look for. Equally, I come away with the idea that it’s not going to stay the same for much longer.

New technology and newer requirements drive some customers’ needs, while others are driven by stalwart customer service.
And software can handle everyone’s unique needs, which is why software vendors rock.

I visited with Wonderware, Software Toolbox and Eplan during AX. These three are diverse in offerings, but overlap in their target markets.

When Invensys purchased Wonderware, it was largely an HMI company. Not anymore. The vertical integration of the product and the technology go far beyond simple HMI.

Paul Shelton, western regional manager, showed me the Wonderware I know is still there, but has become very different, and its customers are demanding more from their factory floors.

We talked about a company that wanted to improve its analyses of the cost of production vs. product revenue. With Wonderware’s “connected” metrics, the plant found that a temperature setpoint was too high.  By reducing this setpoint, efficiency and yield improved.
  It was only because of the algorithmic approach that the Wonderware technology in this application that this ‘process point’ was even considered. A success story for the customer.  Normal HMI software would not have flushed this out.Software Toolbox provides various add-ons and plug-ins for software—Wonderware’s being one of many—and for full-blown, independent development of automation software solutions. They are heavily embedded with open connectivity.

With PLCs typically connected to an Ethernet network, the need for data from the floor is an ever-increasing requirement. A major issue with multiple stations requesting data from the same PLC—or the same driver—means network traffic is heavy and the PLC response time might be affected. John Weber, president of Software Toolbox, says, not surprisingly, “It’s the only tool you need to distribute your data.”

His company’s OPC DataHub creates an interface for OPC-enabled applications. You can have an OPC server that interfaces with the PLCs; the OPC DataHub that interfaces with the OPC server; and remote applications with no run-time costs that interface with the OPC DataHub. It’s a simple and inexpensive solution for the bandwidth problem that exists in every plant.

The E-CAD space has been around for a while and, in my opinion, most implementations that rode on top of AutoCAD had learning curves and costs that made them unusable for 80% of automation projects.

Eplan has a newly redesigned product called E8. Using standard commercial technologies such as ODBC and SQL, it created a huge relational-database-driven product that can integrate with anything. No longer requiring AutoCAD, the product is all Eplan.

Imagine having to put in your data only once, and then Wonderware can access the tag name information, while your browser can access data from an E8 database halfway around the world using the OPC DataHub.

Mark Taylor, executive vice president and general manager of Eplan’s U.S. operations and I also discussed company attitudes about technology change. It’s all about organizational culture, and sometimes culture will resist adoption of certain technology changes, moving away from AutoCAD being one of them.

As always I left AutomationXchange pumped about the direction of technology and software. On my return home, my bride took me to see a Queen tribute stage show called “We Will Rock You.” I think I already had been.

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