ISA 2001 making sense of the world
The exhibition in Houston was more like a tale of two shows.
Houston—This is more like a tale of two shows. First there was the ISA 2001 show exhibitors and attendees hoped would propel the industry away from the recessionary cloud hanging over the world of instrumentation, systems, and automation. New products and leading-edge technologies were ready for the world to see. But then came the 11 September attack that shocked and paralyzed the nation. After that, everything in Houston had to wait.
Before the terror began, the talk centered around sensors, wireless, Ethernet, networking, asset utilization, diversification, and the economy, to name a few.
Sensors in war and peace
Last year, ISA identified sensors technology as a strategic direction in which to move and introduced the Sensors Pavilion. ISA 2001’s sensors exhibition occupied 30% more space than last year.
Only days after the attack, The Wall Street Journal had this to say on the subject of sensors in the battlefield: “Tracking down terrorist camps and other unconventional fighting forces calls for a more fleet-footed and nimble military than America traditionally has fielded.
“To move in that direction, the Pentagon will need a wide range of new sensors and communications equipment to track and kill fleeting targets, ranging from terrorist cells to mobile missile launchers.
“We’re just terrible at finding and hitting things that move,” said Michael Vickers, a former Army Special Forces soldier, now employed at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
“The sensors include relatively cheap microelectronic devices that can be strewn by planes across the battlefield to pick up vibrations from cars or tanks [Intelligent sensor networks for plant floor or remote, hostile environments]. But they also include expensive, long-range unmanned planes that can hover stealthily over an area for hours. Such planes are just entering development.
“To quickly relay information from such sensors—or from soldiers dropped deep into enemy territory—to cannons or armed planes circling above, the military must also sink far more resources into secure communications.
“Examples range from radios that can change frequencies every few seconds, a relatively low-tech item, to high-tech, handheld computers linked to satellites that allow soldiers who spot targets to instantly relay the target’s coordinates to everyone in the area.”
There is some irony here. Tremendous technological innovation typically evolves under the duress of war. In fact, ISA came into existence shortly after World War II as an organization of instrument engineers who served the war effort, many of whom worked on the Manhattan Project that successfully developed the atomic bomb.
Purveyors of instrumentation, systems, and automation technologies will play a distinct role in the pending conflict with this new kind of enemy; as unseemly as it may appear, there are opportunities to be had.
Ubiquitous computing in view
Advanced sensing, processing data on tiny microprocessors, and transmitting the information by wireless networks received attention at ISA 2001. Keynote speaker Jeff Wacker, a futurist and chief technology officer at Ross Perot–founded Electronic Data Systems, made some fascinating predictions.
He forecast micromachined sensors coursing through our veins, sending valuable data about our health to doctors; brassieres with global positioning signaling capability; and customers who could walk into a store, pick up groceries, and walk out without standing in line . . . or being arrested for shoplifting. That’s right, the store knows who you are, what you bought, and the debit mechanism to use to collect their money.
“By the year 2010, 20% of all manufactured goods will come with a microchip for computing and/or sensing,” Wacker said.
How small these chips may get will be important. Moore’s law may be approaching the end of its run because the cost to keep pace using silicon is too great. Constructing a computer from molecular components is the next realm of exploration, said James Tour during his Emerging Technologies Conference plenary.
Tour is a professor of chemistry at Rice University’s Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology. He receives funding from many sources, private and public, for his work. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) provides the bulk of his funding. DARPA is the central research and development organization for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).
DARPA manages and directs selected basic and applied research and development projects may provide dramatic advances for traditional military roles.
Tour’s group has proved that single molecules can act as switching mechanisms. Switching and memory can scale to the single molecule level or about 1 million times smaller than the smallest transistor. Memory made from molecular switches would require little power and hold information for hours at a stretch. “I see the first commercial application happening in two or three years,” said Tour. “A flash card cost about $1.50 a year ago. Today it still costs $1.50. With silicon, it can’t get any cheaper. These less sophisticated areas are where we’ll start. We don’t want a frontal assault on silicon or the CMOS industry.”
Thus far, Tour and his associates have created molecular wires, alligator clips, logic gates, and one-square-molecule systems.
“Our goal is the digital system that we understand so that we can move this right along into industry. I’ve shown this work to Microsoft and Intel. They are both very interested—Intel for the microprocessor angle and Microsoft for the possibilities that relate to programming and software.”
Users, vendors, and preachers of many stripes sing the praises of wireless telemetry and its incursion into industry automation and production. We’re all aware wireless communication is exploding in consumer voice and data markets.
“But this isn’t John Q. Public with a cell phone we’re talking about here,” said John Stafford in his address to the Measurement, Control & Automation Association. Stafford’s talk to industry executives was on the explosion of wireless technologies and how they might apply to various applications. “We’re talking about a frightening array of protocols and hazardous environments.”
He sees cellular digital packet data, Aeris (Web to wireless remote control), paging, satellite, Bluetooth, IEEE 802.11, and global system for mobile communication as the technologies we need to know about now.
Charles Dusold’s plenary, “Transitioning to Wireless Telemetry,” discussed the various wireless methods available to industry for collecting measurements (see related story above). The methods are useful in new plants and retrofits alike. Dusold is the senior manager for the International Space Station communications and tracking systems, and he works for The Boeing Co.
Phil Danner of GE Cisco cited the value of wireless Ethernet in his plenary also. Wireless will ease dependence on proprietary hard-wired systems and promote open hybrid systems, he said.
Paul McInnish was working his company’s Cirronet Inc. booth at the exposition. On Tuesday morning, he said, “I was glad to get back to the room last night. They wore us out all day yesterday.”
Cirronet makes wireless networking equipment, and it introduced a networking system at the show, which the company said will enable long-range wireless Ethernet connections in harsh indoor/outdoor environments.
The dreaded Ethernet standard
At a press conference during the show, ControlNet International, the Fieldbus Foundation, the Open DeviceNet Vendor Association, and Profibus International agreed to support an OPC Foundation initiative: the data exchange (DX) standard for Ethernet.
The organization claimed it will develop a standard for exchanging data among Ethernet-based communication protocols. These organizations, together with their member companies, all have their own different flavors of Ethernet that are not interoperable.
The OPC DX standard will provide interoperable data exchange and server-to-server communications across Ethernet networks. It is an extension of the existing OLE for process control (OPC) data access specification.
The specification and sample code will be available in December 2001.
“I was interested in this development, though not necessarily for the reasons the OPC Foundation might presume,” said industrial communications expert Eric Byres. “First, this proposal is not DCOM-centric. It works with other protocols. Also, it’ll support complex data structures, whereas before one couldn’t build a complex variable, only scalars. It appears [Siemens will] be partnering, in effect, with Rockwell, Honeywell, and Fisher. I’m very encouraged by the possibilities,” Byres said.
OPC has shown much promise in the past as a tool for real and open connectivity. This development bears watching, despite similarity to past fieldbus scenarios that ended in mediocrity and disappointment.
As the world networks
As the world comes closer together and more accessible, sometimes tragically so, it’s important to understand that networking and communications make much of this culture spanning possible.
In the industrial world, networks have gotten so reliable and fast that one coming trend is remote application hosting, whereby facilities don’t even have the computing memory or business or control software on-site. Because of the network, it just seems like they are. Indeed, IBM believes that someday, computing will be a commodity just like electricity or water. It’ll pipe into your home or plant on demand over the network, and you’ll get a bill at the end of the month.
There is also the issue of utilizing the tools you already have.
“Companies don’t always use [technology] properly, said Craig Llewellyn, president of Performance Technologies at Emerson Process Management. “It’s all there, but there are many people who don’t change their business processes,” so they don’t totally utilize their technology.
Whether you are utilizing all your assets or not, users and exhibitors know the answer to surviving in this tough economy: diversification.
“We’ve got a mix of different things. The key to survival is diversification,” said Fred Molinari, president of Data Translation. He said the semiconductor business was going slow for his company.
Likewise, Clark McDonald, P.E., director of North American sales at Rebis, said oil and gas, power generation, and wastewater have been true growth areas for his company, but pulp and paper and shipbuilding have fallen dramatically.
Figures and Graphics
- A plethora of products
- Mars precision landing? Not until 2007.
- Oddly, disaster boosts ‘good’ wireless future
- Two companies win show product awards
Behind the Byline
Nicholas Sheble is a senior technical editor for InTech.