Aside from the fact that traffic at North American automation and control trade show events have dwindled significantly over the past decade, one other significant change with shows has also become evident: the end of major new product announcements at these events. Sure, a few companies still do this, but it’s nowhere near the level that used to occur at trade shows when the biggest releases of the year were often held for launch to coincide with major trade show exhibitions.
The common cause for both of these changes was, of course, the expanding influence of the Internet. However, the pendulum seems to be swinging back now, though at a slightly different angle. The new trend I saw emerging in several exhibits at the SPS/IPC/Drives show in Nuremberg, Germany a couple of weeks ago is for companies to pre-announce the release of products they are focusing on in the coming year.
B&R Automation was once such company to do this with their SPS/IPC/Drives exhibit this year. Numerous new products to be formally introduced were on display; but the ones that, in my opinion, seemed to get the highest billing were the company’s focus on the openSafety protocol and the scalability of their new drives and HMI products due to the incorporation of the Intel Atom and Intel Core2 Duo processors. (More can be read about openSafety here.)
Earlier this year, openSafety solutions for SERCOS III, Modbus TCP, EtherNet TCP/IP and Powerlink were released. At the SPS/IPC/Drives show, the addition of support for Profinet to the openSafety standard was announced. According to B&R, the addition of Profinet means that the openSafety protocol is now available for all major real-time Ethernet protocols, covering 91% of the industrial Ethernet market. The protocol, which has been certified by TÜV Rheinland and TÜV Süd, allows for communication cycles at the microsecond level and is, according to B&R, suitable for use in systems with safety requirements up to SIL 3.
Currently, I am waiting to hear more details surrounding applications by systems designers who have used or are planning to use openSafety with one of the supported protocols. B&R claims there are users who are doing this now. The ability to officially release some news about their experience would be significant for the open protocol, considering that openSafety has been developed independently from the fieldbus organizations it supports.
On the system scalability front, B&R announced the pending release of its Automation PC 810 and Panel PC 800, both of which will be scalable up to a new CPU board with an Intel Core2 Duo P8400 processor. The combination of the 2.26 GHz Core2 Duo processor and the GM45 chipset is said to enable the devices to handle extremely high data demands, including vision applications.
For OEMs and system integrators, this range of options allows for a scalable PC architecture. According to B&R, since the same device types can be used from the smallest machine up to the most complex system, the modular structure allows the final product to be individually tailored to the requirements of a given project. For example, B&R’s new Power Panel 500 is equipped with Intel Atom Z510 and Z520 processors and can be configured with up to 2 GB of main memory for more complex operations. The Power Panel 500 can also be configured with a gigabit Ethernet interface if needed.
Ultimately, B&R claims that the level of scalability now possible in its ACP and Power Panel lines means that these systems can now handle the range of applications once reserved for industrial PCs. And with the integration of control, visualization and drive technology in one device — enabled by the new processor technology – these systems can be more easily connected to various automation infrastructures for a variety of project applications.
Stay tuned for more information as these products are officially released into the market in 2011.