1 February 2002
System Checks Faraway Machines' Health
By Jim Strothman
Eaton, Iconics testing wireless plant-monitoring linkup to multiple remote factories
Imagine you're an engineer charged with overseeing operations at several plants in multiple, far-flung geographic locations. Your job is to monitor meters, relays, and other devices, which can alert you the moment a machine fails or develops other problems.
Now, imagine being able to monitor all the equipment at those far-flung plants by simply watching a handheld readout device in the comfort of your office.
Using its own Pittsburgh-based manufacturing facility as a test bed, Cutler-Hammer has partnered with Windows-based industrial automation software supplier Iconics to enable plant operations and maintenance engineers to do just thatwithout wires.
"I'm sitting here in my office looking at my Compaq pocket PC [a wireless, handheld portable device], which is hooked up to a Cabletron wireless antenna," said David Gianamore, Cutler-Hammer product manager for PowerNet power management software.
"My Compaq is communicating via IEEE 802.3 [a wireless standard] to a server where Iconics' software is resident," Gianamore said. "The Iconics software is talking to power management software made by Cutler-Hammer, which is tied into meters and relays measuring air-conditioning, compresser loads, small motors, and so on. The information goes over Ethernet wirelessly to my handheld portable, which has [Iconics'] Pocket Genesis software installed. I can see loads on all our [plant floor] devices," he said.
Iconics' line of Windows-based software is based on the OLE for process control (OPC) industry standard. Its Genesys32 Enterprise Edition works for Windows 95, 98, NT, Millennium, and 2000, while Pocket Genesys targets the Pocket PC and Windows CE.
At last September's ISA EXPO 2001 in Houston, Iconics unveiled Microsoft Pocket PC support for its entire suite of Pocket Genesis products, including alarm and database support. The Iconics applications include Pocket GraphWorX, which performs advanced human-machine interface functions; Pocket AlarmWorX, which provides traditional alarming and acknowledge capabilities; and Pocket TrendWorX, which replays real-time and historical data in trend chart display formats.
Coupling the same wireless technology with the Internet, Gianamore said he could just as easily monitor plant equipment in Denver or anywhere else the Web reaches around the world.
"I have alarm set points, and I can change the set points remotely," Gianamore said. "All are password protected through PowerNet."
Prior to marketing the PowerNet/Iconics combination, Cutler-Hammer, an Eaton company, has been pilot testing it at its Pittsburgh manufacturing plant, as well as at two other Eaton research facilities. Besides its PowerNet power management software, Cutler-Hammer makes protective relays, meters, and other electrical power monitoring hardware.
Cutler-Hammer is the only company using the product right now, Gianamore said, but other customers are showing interest. "The big challenge is having the wireless hub put in. I use Cabletron, but there are other sources, such as Lucent. It's not that expensive," he said.
Most of the big automobile makers have invested in wireless hubs, so the marketing executive views them as initial prospects for Web-based and/or closed loop, PC-based plant floor monitoring systems. IC