Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A brief history of Intelligent Embedded Systems

A few decades ago, each machine or process was controlled locally and individually, creating what was called “islands of automation”. Human-Machine Interfaces (HMIs) – formerly known as Man-Machine Interfaces (MMIs) – had a purely operational focus, and no ability to communicate with one another, or share information to a broader system.
Industrial Automation evolved tremendously over the past decades and HMI systems were substantially transformed in scope, functionality and form. In addition to continuous incremental enhancements, some major trends and new technologies (mostly pushed by IT) modified paradigms and created waves of innovation that eventually re-shaped the original Industrial Automation industry.
One of the early waves was the popularization of networks, which created another wave which accelerated the process of connecting the “islands of automation” and, in many cases, the replacement of proprietary networks (physical layer) by emerging standards such as Ethernet.
Another wave, seen more than one decade ago, was the advent and popularization of personal computers (PCs) running Microsoft operating systems (initially DOS, and later, Windows. Defining advantages such as flexibility, easiness of configuration, and lower cost promoted a rapidly adopted virtual extinction of proprietary HMI/SCADA platforms, such as VAX systems, being replaced by PC-based HMI/SCADA software for “high end” applications. InduSoft’s early families of products were created for this scenario.
Years later, Windows Embedded CE (also known as “Windows CE”) emerged as a strong standard platform for embedded systems, especially in Industrial Automation. Eventually, a substantial portion of proprietary systems used for HMI in the “low end” (small systems) were replaced by devices running Windows CE. InduSoft was a pioneer in these embedded systems, offering complete HMI software for Windows CE with a small footprint, available for local HMI panels. This offered end users the power of choice for hardware platforms, and allowed them to deploy the same application on devices from different manufacturers. Wonderware InTouch for CE introduced the concept of providing a single development environment for applications that could be deployed on devices running any Windows operating system, from Windows CE, to Windows XP Embedded, and so on.
Now it is possible to connect these intelligent embedded systems to larger SCADA systems, thanks to the strength of the Invensys software portfolio and Wonderware InTouch Machine Edition, which makes it possible to integrate intelligent embedded HMIs to SCADA solutions, which can then share information with ERP and MES, or business intelligence and OEE dashboards capable of providing real-time machine performance information to enable agile business decisions.