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Articles from 2004 In September

Software Manages Paint Shops

Software Manages Paint Shops

Automaker Renault utilizes a single software interface for remote paintshop management and monitoring in all factories worldwide.

Faced with a control system that limited connectivity and application development, automaker Renault has completed a global overhaul of its paintshop supervisory monitoring. Implementing a new client/server architecture, Renault is utilizing one software package in all factories for remote paintshop management and monitoring worldwide.

For years, Renault had been studying new architectures and moving toward a PLC/PC monitoring system solution. After examining options, the team chose GE Fanuc's CIMPLICITY(R) software ( to achieve its long-term goal of a single tool throughout the world, especially as Nissan (an alliance partner of Renault) has chosen the software, too.

"Within our factories, we make the distinction between production tracking and what comes under production monitoring," explains Didier Culie, project manager at Renault's Technocentre. "Tracking by a real-time display of production line status indicators is provided by software developed in-house. In the paint process workshop, there is a need for logging and monitoring various equipment process data such as the temperature and pressure in the tanks."

Three Renault factories are equipped with the system, including a plant in Spain where there is a configuration of 25 monitoring stations, 70 PLCs, and 30,000 I/O points. Moving to one system has provided immediate improvements since each factory had developed its own object database. And to harmonize applications worldwide, the Technocentre team developed a symbol object database for all Renault factories with an automatic translation utility for French, English, Spanish and German.

One of the greatest benefits is the remote support facility. "Thanks to the COM/DCOM capability, we can directly access the application, or be a client to the remote server, or even simply view the factory mimic diagrams on our workstations at the Technocentre," says Luc Filizzola, an engineer at the Technocentre. "Supporting the operators is much easier than it was previously."

"The PLC/monitoring architecture has the great advantage of not being tied to a single manufacturer," says Culie. "Using an OPC server between the PLCs and the monitoring system enables us to separate the two levels to attain greater independence from our suppliers, since we can change software or hardware without jeopardizing the overall architecture of the system."

Breaking from the Past

For a decade, localized control systems (DCS) linked to PLCs provided monitoring functions. The systems were under-utilized and only 10 percent of the functions were needed to fulfill Renault's requirements. But the system also had a more serious shortcoming: an inability to adapt to new developments.

"The world of the DCS was very isolated," says Filizzola. "Internal connectivity to factory applications via a computer network was so poor that we found it hard to develop applications. As a direct consequence, we were unable to improve the responsiveness of the assembly."

Maintenance or backup operations required a visit, and developments entailed very high maintenance expenses. Filizzola says that "in terms of ease of development, external connectivity and overall operating cost, the PLC/DCS architecture had reached a dead end."

Along with a tool that would provide external connectivity and the ability to operate on various operating systems, Renault-specific IT constraints were fundamental to the selection process and the monitoring system would need to operate in client/server mode. At Renault factories, PCs have unique specifications to avoid proliferation of incompatible hardware and software. So when a user wants to access the monitoring software, it must have been set up on the factory or the workshop application server.

For monitoring applications, this approach requires a distinction between executable programs and monitoring mimic diagrams. For a monitoring unit, the registration procedure for a user is typically based on the identification of the hard drive from which the application runs. In Renault's case, the client PC can be any factory machine, so GE Fanuc modified the software to suit this requirement.

The new system provides a way to log and monitor paintshop process data such as temperature and pressure in the tanks.

Handle This RAT Carefully -- Ram Air Turbines, that is

Handle This RAT Carefully -- Ram Air Turbines, that is

Life saver: A Hamilton Sundstrand ram air turbine (RAT), designed for the Airbus 380, gets ready for testing at the Rockford, IL wind tunnel. A new positioning system, featuring vertical, ball-bushing slides on either side of the mounting fixture, allows operators to easily move the heavy unit into the center of the air stream.

Ram Air Turbines (RATs) deliver emergency power to aircraft, allowing
pilots to manipulate flight surfaces for safe landings. Stowed in the wing or fuselage and deployed in the event that an airplane loses normal power, these devices have saved hundreds of lives. Yet how do you make sure that the RAT itself is reliable?

The answer, of course, is careful wind-tunnel testing, which RAT manufacturer Hamilton Sundstrand (, a division of United Technologies, has performed for many years in Rockford, IL. But doing wind-tunnel testing on the RAT targeted for the giant new Airbus 380 posed bigger challenges than every before.

"The A380 RAT weighs approximately 400 lbs. and has a diameter of nearly 5 feet," notes Steve Penticoff, the engineer in charge of the wind tunnel facility. "Previously, the biggest ram air turbine we produced weighed less than half that, with blades reaching only 40 inches."

Safety worries

As a result, the new jumbo-sized RATs posed safety challenges for wind tunnel operators, who typically can physically lift smaller RATs onto fixed-position mounting structures in the wind tunnel. In addition, under the previous wind tunnel setup, the larger A380 RAT would have to be placed so far back in the test section that existing structures in the wind tunnel would interfere with the turbine.

To solve these problems, Hamilton Sundstrand turned to Thomson Danaher (, which provided a "near turnkey solution" for a new positioning system, says Penticoff. The key components:

* Two ball-bushing slide systems mounted vertically on either side of the RAT's mounting fixture.
* A two-axis controller already programmed with supporting software.
* Two servo motors, three gearboxes, and cabling for the installation.

"The fact that we could go to one supplier and get all these components in a single system kept me from having to reengineer existing solutions," says Penticoff. "And it only required minimal software tweaking."

Making adjustments

Each side of the positioning system features a Thomson 2DB slide system, driven by an acme screw, plus a second slave carriage not tied to the screw. The designers chose acme screws over ball screws to eliminate back drive.

In addition, the engineers mounted a spherical bearing pillow block to each carriage to remove any bending moments on the carriage. Since only the two upper carriages are attached to the drive screws, the design allows the lower carriages to move independently. A drive system using a splitter gearbox with a common motor guarantees that the two sides of the system stay synchronized.

Hamilton Sundstrand engineers designed the aluminum mounting system that connects both to the RAT and to the positioning system. Comet Fabrication, also located in Rockford, used an NC plasma machining center to manufacture the mounting structure from AutoCAD drawings supplied by Hamilton Sundstrand. Wind tunnel electrical engineer Richard Fisher handled the wiring for the power supplies and safety systems.

Penticoff says that the best feature of the design is its ergonomics. Wind tunnel operators simply lower the positioning system to shipping-level, where they connect the RAT to the mounting fixture. They then rotate the unit to its proper angle and raise it to its operating position approximately 11 feet in the air. During testing, operators subject the RAT to wind speeds similar to conditions encountered during landing-the most critical period for ram air turbine operation.

Emergencies only: Ram air turbines, stowed in an airplane's wing or fuselage, are deployed when planes lose power from lack of fuel.

A distinguished record

"We've developed procedures to meet our goal of 100% reliability for those rare events when the RAT is required," says Penticoff, who adds that RATs manufactured by Hamilton Sundstrand have helped save the lives of more than 1,200 airplane passengers.

For Thomson Danaher, the Hamilton Sundstrand application represents demonstrates its increasing ability to combine products from its growing number of companies. "Our challenge was the pieces together-Thomson slide assemblies, Micron gearboxes, and servo controller and motors from the former Industrial Devices operation," says Chris Hermsen, a key account manager for Thomson Danaher in Roscoe, IL. "Hopefully, this experience will lead to similar industrial applications where you need to hoist heavy loads up and down, and side to side."

Waxy Widgets

Waxy Widgets

Good Vibrations: Melissa Hines has found that wax increases a resonator's length of vibration time.

Present Position: Associate Professor of Chemistry, Cornell University.

Degrees: B.S. in chemistry, MIT; Ph.D. in chemistry, Stanford University

Why are you applying wax to nanoscale resonators? We have found that, surprisingly, by putting one molecular layer of wax on the silicon resonator, the resonator vibrates for a longer amount of time. We are trying to increase the length of vibration time, which increases energy output. Vibration stops because of energy loss so we're trying to control energy loss. We use infrared absorption to measure molecular vibrations.

What type of wax do you use? We are trying different kinds of waxes on the surface of the resonators to see which kind gives a better performance. We have discovered that if we make the hairs of wax with one molecule of carbon instead of 12 molecules, there is a higher surface density of tightly packed molecules. For every silicon atom on the surface of a resonator we'd like to attach one molecule of wax.

How could your research be applied to design engineering projects? There are two applications. First is using this technology in frequency standards as in cell phones and watches. Ideally, we'd like to have the ability to make an entire cell phone on one silicon chip, which would decrease the cost of the cell phone. Right now, cell phones have many ceramic, quartz, and silicon chips. Second, there is a larger possibility for use in sensors and detectors. Resonators make very good sensors. Wax could be placed on the surface of a sensor to detect the presence of something in the atmosphere, for instance. The sensor could record how many molecules of a specific material had landed on it by the number of times the resonator vibrated back and forth and by the type of vibrations.

Contact Melissa Hines at [email protected]. To read more about wax coating nanoscale technologies, go to

The Gadget Freak Files, Case #79

The Gadget Freak Files, Case #79

Automobile Hidden Door Unlock Button

This modification to an automobile is the addition of a hidden unlock button to the automobile. The button is usually recessed in a hole in the underside of the drivers side mirror. The purpose of the button is to prevent the driver from accidentally leaving his keys in the car and not being able to retrieve them. Note that this modification could allow easy access to the contents of the vehicle if the button is discovered. An alternative is to secure a key under the frame of the vehicle, but that would allow the vehicle to be stolen and the hidden key is often easily seen by the auto service personnel.

Most vehicles have either of two types of door lock motors. One type has two power inputs and a ground, and power is applied to one power lead to unlock the doors, and the other power lead locks the doors. A momentary closed push button is wired in parallel to the door unlock switch. Usually the power is in the center, and the motor lock/unlock are on either side of the center power. The momentary closed push button switch is installed in the bottom of the mirror housing, the two wires are then routed through into the door, and spliced into the push button door unlock switch using crimp splice connectors. Chrysler products use this type of door unlock system.

However, some vehicles, including Ford, use a bi-directional lock/unlock motor. The lock/unlock switch applies power in one direction to lock the doors, and applies power in the other direction to unlock the doors. Therefore, a simple parallel momentary switch will not work. When the door unlock button is pressed, it applies power to one of the leads, but it also shorts other power lead to ground. To simulate this power switch, the momentary switch applies power to the unlock power lead, but also supplies power to a normally open single pole single throw (spst) relay. The normally open circuit in the relay is wired to the other power lead, and to ground. When the momentary switch is pushed, it energizes the relay and make the return ground path. Note that pushing the hidden unlock button while pushing the interior lock button will short the system and blow a fuse. The relay is spliced into the door unlock switch wiring using wiring splice connectors, and then black taped into the wiring harness.

A quick review of any automobiles wiring diagram would indicate which type of door lock motor is used.

Two Power Lead Motor & Bi-Directional Motor schematic drawing

Car Manual documentation

File Under Really Impractical Inventions

File Under Really Impractical Inventions

A hardware engineer jamming on stage isn't exactly what you'd expect at a technical conference. So that may be why Gustavo Castro's rendition of "Smoke on the Water" nearly brought down the house at Tuesday's keynote address at NIWeek 2004. Plus, he's good. Castro, who played a major role in adding new features to NI's PXI-4070 FlexDMM, a 6.50-digit high-speed digitizer for PXI, combined his engineering and musical skills to showcase the 4070's new inductance and capacitance measurement capabilities ( Essentially, he created a guitar tuner (albeit a pricy one!), exploiting the digitizer mode of flex DMM by measuring the inductance of the guitar pickup and capacitance of the cable and pre-amp, digitizing the output waveform, and tuning the guitar using LabVIEW. And by the way, you can hear Gustavo and his rock band, The Happy Fun Ball, get down on Friday nights on Sixth Street in Austin, TX.

Weeklong Testing

Weeklong Testing

Among other events at Test Week 2004, held Oct. 24-29 in Charlotte, NC, will be the International Test Conference, which covers such topics as the design verification, test, diagnosis, failure analysis, and process and design improvement of devices, boards, and systems. The conference includes paper sessions, tutorials, panel sessions, lecture series, case studies, and commercial exhibits and presentations. Dr. Bernd Koenemann, a Fellow at Cadence Design Systems, will give the keynote address on "Test in the Era of 'What You See is NOT What You Get'". For more info, go to

Prize Design

Prize Design

While it's too late to send in a hardware entry for the $10,000 prize of Cornelius Van Drebbel's Mad Design Contest, you still have time to submit an entry for the e-paper design for the $2,000 first-place prize. The contest, co-sponsored by NEC Electronics America and EDN magazine, features designs using NEC Electronics' 8-bit microcontrollers. Entries are being accepted through Jan. 5, 2005. Go to for more info.

Speedy Silence

Speedy Silence

A new laser diode driver from National Semiconductor is being touted as the "industry's fastest, lowest noise laser diode driver for optical disk drives." The LMH6533 features 0.5 nsec switching rates with 16x write and 8x rewrite speeds. It also reportedly achieves noise levels of 0.5 nA/(square root of Hz). To learn more, go to

NI T-shirts are badge of honor

NI T-shirts are badge of honor

Barely 5 min into his opening keynote speech at NIWeek, Tim Dehne paused to ask how many attendees had all 10 of the T-shirts given away at past conferences. A few hands went up. Dehne, NI's senior vice president of R&D, even found one attendee who was wearing the first one, which gives the top-10 reasons for attending NIWeek. Though rumors of the T-shirts going up for auction on eBay abound, they have in reality become collectors' items that are truly priceless-since no one seems to have heard of anyone actually paying for a vintage shirt. "It's more a badge of honor that you've been here for years," says Kyle Voosen, vision product manager at NI. In addition to T-shirts, this year's attendees also got small badges with a blank space for proud wearers to enter the version of LabView that they started with. Co-founder Jeff Kodosky bested everyone, putting Version 0.0 on his badge. Go to to view the full collection (almost) of NIWeek T-shirts.