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Article - July 2003
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Automation Control Systems for the Future (and the past)

 

 

Robert Holmström
Export Sales
Botech AB

 

A future SCADA system will embrace the use of XML code and free software. The focus will be on producing the most cost efficient "Black Box" for the customer's specific installation and to produce the best XML based HMI.

 

 

The thinking on how to make the automation control system prepared for the future and still function with the existing control devices is a very interesting exercise and has been done by many people. Many relate to the convergence within the field bus protocols and the Internet to look for an answer. However, it seems like the answer is already given. Given to us by the markets embracing of new (and sometimes old) technology.

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Let's assume that the customer is making a LCC (Life Cycle Cost) analysis, or something equal for the operation of the automation system he/she is going to invest in. If you take a SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) system as an example you will make sure that the technology investment can survive for maybe 5 years but the information system itself has to last for much longer. So, the big question is, which technology to choose to minimize costs during the intended lifetime of the information system? Which are the main issues to focus on?

One of the issues should be how you can migrate the data and programs from this platform to the next in order to not lose your investment. Our Nationals Archives that deal with our heritage and how to conserve the information for future generations has been working on this for many years. A common idea is to use XML as a universal standard as this standard (or a similar) is the one most likely to survive. This means that programs to be used with XML or maybe written in XML could probably be used and migrated for a very long period of time.

The next issue is the so-called free software. The definition of what it is I leave to others (like the report from Swedish Agency for Public Management, http://www.statskontoret.se/pdf/200308eng.pdf ). Does anyone think that free software will disappear? No, I didn't think so. They are here to stay and a likely scenario is that more and more organizations will turn to them and their offspring. Today many use Linux and MySQL. You could also consider a web browser as "free" client software and why not also consider the Internet as free (the marginal cost is low).

Now, how will this fit into a future SCADA system? The thinking exercise has taken Botech AB to a "Black Box"; a complete and distributed SCADA system on a Linux platform. On the controller side it communicates with most serial field bus protocols and on the other with TCP/IP. The client is a web browser and hence the HMI is made for XML. Logged data can be reached by a SQL (MySQL) database server for further processing. For the customer this is the real freedom of choice, the real open automation control system. It is not even interesting what's in the box as only the performance is important. And the price of course! The competition will be on producing the most cost efficient "Black Box" for the customer's specific installation and to produce the best XML based HMI. The "Black Box" can of course also be used as an OEM product pre-installed in the customers equipment.

Botech AB has taken the lead in this race and intends to stay there. To learn more about the Greyhound framework for Linux contact Botech at info@botech.se  or visit the homepage, www.botech.se.


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