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Wider advantages of Web-based control are transparent

01 February, 2002

Wider advantages of Web-based control are transparent

Schneider Electric is widening the scope of its "Transparent Factory" Web-based control technology to encompass entire enterprises, from building controls and utility services, to retail activities. By embedding Web servers in almost any equipment from switchgear and building controls, to PLCs and drives, and linking them all via Ethernet, Schneider says it can offer an easy-to-install, low-cost technology for monitoring and controlling entire businesses.

The enlarged initiative, which Schneider is calling Transparent Ready (TR), makes extensive use of open standards such as the TCP/IP protocol and Microsoft software. The company contends that by using familiar, easy-to-use products, TR will cut the costs of design, training, integration, and maintenance.

Nigel Knapp, Schneider`s marketing manager for network products, argues that, having demonstrated that Transparent Factory concept does work in industrial applications, such as Jaguar`s X400 plant, the technology is now ready to be opened up for other uses. "We can prove the simplicity of installation and use," he says.

The TR concept has already been proven (in its Transparent Factory guise) is a variety of settings including:

• an electricity substation in London, which is being controlled and monitored remotely;
• a new generation of superstores being built by Woolworths, where the technology is being used to control the electrical, heating and lighting systems; and
• in a china clay works in Devon, which is being supervised and monitored from an office more than 50km away.

Schneider is now offering Web servers in a wide range of products including PLCs, I/O, drives, UPSs (uninterruptible power supplies), HMIs, industrial PCs and medium and low-voltage switchgear. Using Ethernet and Internet technologies, these components can all be interlinked, allowing process and status information to be viewed, or reprogrammed, from anywhere in the network.

"No competitor can offer this scope," says Peter Reeve, Schneider`s automation business manager, "and certainly not using open standard tools".

Stuart Williams, a business solutions engineer with Schneider, contends that earlier technologies that were claimed to offer shopfloor-to-topfloor integration were not as seamless as their suppliers asserted. Often, he suggests, the PLCs used proprietary protocols and acted as a block to communications.

He says that adoption of a technology based on open systems removes these blockages and frees the customer to buy "best-in-class" products. This, in turn, should increase competition. The Web-based technology also removes the need for traditional Scada systems, according to Williams.

He dismisses objections that Web-based systems are not fast, robust, resilient or secure enough for automation applications. He argues that, if necessary, you can install extra bandwidth, use "industrial strength" network hubs, incorporate different levels of redundancy, and apply as much security as required.

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