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Low-cost Web controller `will open up new markets`
Published:  01 June, 2004

Low-cost Web controller `will open up new markets`

Hitachi has developed a low-cost controller with a built-in Web server, which allows installations to monitored and controlled remotely via the Internet. The palm-sized EH-WD10DR Web controller (below) can also send up to 16 different alarm emails and text messages to up to eight designated mobile phones.

Although similar functions have been available before, Hitachi claims that the new controller, which costs around £550, is smaller and cheaper than anything else on the market and will open up new applications for the technology.

"Factory automation technology periodically undergoes a step change, usually when a technology reaches a price point such that it comes universally available," says Stuart Harvey, managing director of Silverteam, Hitachi`s UK drives and automation supplier.

"The uptake of Web control of production machinery and industrial systems has, to date, been restricted to special cases where the costs could be justified," Harvey adds. The new controller, he contends, "breaks down this barrier, so that Web control becomes a possibility for many new fields of applications".

Harvey expects the new controller to find many uses away from the industrial market. It could, for example, monitor vending machines and report when they needed refilling or maintenance. It could be used for security, activating cameras and raising alarms when an intruder was detected. And it could report if a PC is removed from a network.

Other possible applications include managing energy and other services in commercial buildings, monitoring shop tills, and controlling smart houses.

"Every day, we think of new uses," Harvey says. To exploit these ideas, he is planning to form relationships with specialist partners in non-industrial sectors.

The Web controller has Ethernet and RS-232 connections and can act as a gateway to a network, as well as linking to devices such as PLCs and HMIs. It automatically matches its communication speed to that of the attached device.

The controller has six inputs and four outputs. Other versions are in the pipeline, including one with 13 digital inputs and 10 digital outputs, and two analogue inputs and one analogue output, which is due at the end of the year. This will be expandable using 28 1/O modules, to more than 130 I/O.

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