The death of SCADA?

by MARIA HARDING B.ENG (HONS), EDITOR

The news that Hopkinton, MA-based Control Technology Corporation has been awarded US Patent No. 5,805,442 for its new machine controllers with integrated webserver capability might not seem to mean a whole lot on the outset. Sure, it’s technology that has many benefits, allowing, amongst other things, a user to view and program a controller remotely over the Web. But the real scoop here, surely, is that the system, called `control.com’, uses a standard Web browser instead of costly custom software or gateway systems. And standard Web browsers, as anyone knows, can be obtained for nothing at all. Many SCADA systems will have difficulty in competing with that.

ControlTechnology’s control.com makes machine activity `transparent’; `so users have the ability to look inside a machine while it’s operating,’ says Kevin Halloran, Director of Engineering at Control Technology. Machine-control information can even be presented as moving animation or graphic displays in user-generated ActiveX and Java applets. The data is continuously retrieved so that a remote computer can dynamically display current data. What’s more, documentation and manuals for the machine, and even for the controller itself, may also be stored as Web pages in the controller.

Controllers employing the technology contain a communications module to connect to the Internet, thus becoming a continuously active Internet node. These controllers provide integrated control of servo and stepping motor motion, analog and digital I/O. Security and data encryption features in the communications module prevent any inappropriate data interchange from taking place between the controller and an unauthorised computer.

A complete product line of Web-enabled controllers will be introduced through the year 2000. The first wave of products will bring Web connectivity to current Control Technology controllers, providing an upgrade path for most existing installations.