Industrial Automation-A 2007 Perspective

E-mail Ray Peacock

Trying to understand the evolution of industrial automation is a chicken-or-egg conundrum. Do needs and demands shape the technology, or does technology shape the demands? Whatever the answer, change is undeniable—and fascinating. The breadth and complexity of this dynamism is too great to capture in this one short essay, but I would like to look at two things that are going to have a significant and immediate impact. Then I'll turn to some major events in the world of thermal technology.

Projections for 2007
The biggest "soft" change that is taking place, and is likely to expand in 2007, is our means of locating and accessing technical data, be it vendor listings, technology articles, applications notes, design manuals, or service support. It's all moving to the Web, gaining momentum as time passes. Companies, big and small, are appearing in droves in this new forum, and the leaders are evident, with their deep, rich Web sites loaded with key information. To get an idea of just how useful such resources are, check the Emerson Process Web site.

An aspect of this change is that trade publications are also migrating to the Web. While some people may complain that online magazines clog their email inbox and are slow to load, even with high-speed cable connections, the shift seems irreversible. Even technology publications that depend on ads for a living are moving there. Working in the new medium, they can offering present and potential advertisers advantages unique to the Web, developed and refined by companies such as Google and Yahoo.

Sensors' move to a Web-only presence is a clear sign that this shift is permanent in the sensing and control industry, especially the publishing side. Other magazines appear to be going the same way, but all are not necessarily in a user-friendly format, with free, searchable technology-story databases and other valuable resources. is a unique Web resource on that basis alone.

The implications for seekers of technical information in the sensor and measurement world seem equally clear: It's all going to be on the Web sooner or later. The secret to efficient location of technology information is the use of Web sites, user-friendly e-newsletters, and RSS news feeds. If those terms are new to the average reader, consult the info pages on Sensors' Web site; they have a wealth of details on what and how.

More Sensor Middleware
I'd like to follow up on last month's newsletter story "Bridging the Gap Between the Physical World and IT Systems." In that essay, I covered several cutting-edge products that fall into this new software category, but I overlooked Augusta Systems. This company also occupies the sensors middleware/gateway space, but with a twist. While most sensor systems are vendor or protocol specific, Augusta Systems' SensorBridge software platform, introduced only last July, helps organizations create open, scalable systems, or networks, that are sensor and protocol agnostic. That means that an enterprise can rapidly add sensors or devices of different types from different vendors—such as a ZigBee wireless environmental sensor, an RFID tag, or a security camera—into a converged system.

SensorBridge is available through annual developer licenses and implementation run-time licenses, which can be purchased on the Web. Developer licenses are available for enterprises, groups of developers, or single developers. Additionally, to assist enterprises and developers obtain information on the power and capabilities of SensorBridge, a 30 day limited evaluation version of the software is available. Augusta Systems has also indicated privately that a set of hardware options incorporating SensorBridge will be soon available

Learning Opportunities
The three Winter-Spring infrared (IR) applications and training conferences are well into their annual dance, with the last of the big four, InfraMation, scheduled for Fall in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, IR/Info took place January 14-17 in Orlando. Featuring technology papers, short courses, and an expo with IR camera and other vendors, the conference's principle interests were nondestructive-testing and maintenance technologies in a wide range of applications, from electric-power generation and distribution to rotating machinery fault-finding and commercial building inspection.

Thermal Solutions picked up the following week (January 22) in Sarasota with a similar venue—training, tech papers, focused short courses, and vendor expo—all related to IR thermography and its uses in maintenance, R&D, quality assurance, and nondestructive testing, but mostly aimed at larger organizations and large manufacturers, such as the automotive and chemical producers.

The big international conference ThermoSense will be held in Orlando April 9-13. It is but one of five separate IR conferences in the huge SPIE Defense & Security Symposium that is accompanied by one of the world's largest infrared and optics vendor expositions. ThermoSense is the best-known industrial and R&D IR applications conference, having been presented annually for the past 29 years.

The DSS Symposium is accompanied by a long list of high-tech education courses covering almost all aspects of IR and photonics. If you are at all involved with IR, Orlando in the second week of April is the place to catch up on the state of the art.

ThermoSense's printed proceedings are a unique technology resource for both IR imaging and noncontact temperature measurement in industry, commerce, and science. The proceedings can be purchased online from the SPIE bookstore and are available by annual volumes in most engineering libraries.