Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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Reader’s response: True convergence must include a PC


November 26, 2009
By André Voshart

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The promise of linking manufacturing and IT systems together has been an ideal of automation professionals for decades, according to one reader, who sees the PC — along with an accessible Ethernet-based network — offering the best chance of true convergence.

This reader’s comment, included below, was in response to a recent feature article, “Ether-networking,” which looked at how Ethernet links the manufacturing environment with the enterprise level. Manufacturing AUTOMATION encourges you to comment on our coverage or provide us with your take on current technology and industry trends. You can contact the editor at editor@automationmag.com.

I read the article “Ether-networking,” written by Mike Hannah, with a great deal of interest.

The promise of “convergence” of the manufacturing and information technology systems has been an ideal of automation professionals for (I don’t think this is an exaggeration) decades. Certainly since the 80s with “shop floor to top floor” euphemisms, this has been the Holy Grail pursued by the competing interests of the guys that make stuff vs. the guys that sell stuff. These competing interests manifested in competing values, competing performance and competing platforms (to name a few) [that] have made the pursuit one of Herculean proportions, often leaving Control System and IT professionals with only their anger management class as common ground.

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So I was a bit disappointed that the article unfortunately did little to address the issue or to shed any light on a broadly based, workable solution. A solution available to all customers regardless of their choice of automation vendor.

Convergence of Control System and Business System happens when both sides can agree on this: “data is data.” That’s it. Bytes are bytes whether they come from a time and attendance system, production scheduling system or the next position target for a servo drive. The device that handles data very well, is accepted on “both sides,” is low in cost yet high in performance is, of course, the PC. The most general purpose, off-the-shelf, generic device we know. What makes a PC simultaneously a high-performance “machine controller” and/or a high-performance “data processor” is software alone. Along with a high bandwidth, deterministic, low cost and broadly accepted and accessible Ethernet-based network, such as EtherCAT, the PC offers the best chance of true convergence… and peace.
 
Joe Ottenhof
General Manager
Beckhoff Automation Canada Ltd.