Industrial automation is shifting to a new model—Programmable Automation Control—which offers ruggedization, ease of use, and programmability. National Instruments is making a major thrust into this new market, coming up with new hardware and easier-to-use software.
"PAC has the ruggedness of PLCs (programmable logic controllers) and the software capabilities of PCs," says James Truchard, CEO of the company headquartered in Austin, TX. He credits the Arc Advisory Group with coining the term PAC.
PACs also have multifunction capabilities, such as logic, motion control, and many others, and they also employ as many industry standards as possible. NI's LabView software is "a superset of PAC," supporting a range of hardware targets, adds Truchard.
NI is making its LabView software easier to use, aiming to help novices do tasks that now require a fair amount of expertise with LabView. That move is partially driven by the new focus on control, Truchard adds.
NI is also unveiling new hardware designed for control applications. "The M Series and CompactRIO push virtual instruments into the control space," says Brian Betts, group manager for data acquisition.
CompactRIO is an embedded control and acquisition platform built around reconfigurable I/O (RIO) technology. It lets design engineers define their own custom measurement hardware circuitry using reconfigurable FPGA chips and LabView graphical development tools.
CompactRIO comes in two small form factor configurations, an embedded system and an R Series expansion system. The embedded system features a real-time embedded processor, four- or eight-slot reconfigurable chassis containing a user-programmable FPGA and 10 industrial I/O modules. Each I/O module includes built-in field wiring connectivity, signal conditioning, conversion circuitry, and an optional isolation barrier. By integrating the connector junction box into the modules, it reduces the space requirements and cost of field-wiring.
The CompactRIO R Series expansion system provides high-performance signal conditioning and industrial expansion I/O for PCI or PXI/CompactPCI R Series FPGA devices. Engineers can install an R Series FPGA device on any desktop or industrial computer running Windows or LabView Real-Time OS.
While CompactRIO is designed specifically for control applications, the M Series is aimed at testing applications, but has enough horsepower to also perform limited control functions. "The M Series is not designed for control, but it can do both control and test for $375," Betts says.
The M Series data acquisition line lowers the cost per I/O channel by more than 30 percent. It also reduces overall system costs by minimizing setup time. The 20 devices address high-accuracy applications, leveraging the power of customized silicon.
"The NI-STC 2 consolidates several discrete chips into a single ASIC for more performance in a smaller space," says Tim Dehne, NI's senior VP of R&D. Each M Series device employs the NI-STC 2 ASIC for synchronization and timing control.