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Tech talk from IEEE to IAM
By: Dick Morley

Morley photo Best known as the father of the programmable controller, Dick Morley has more than 20 patents, including the parallel inference machine, hand-held terminal and magnetic thin film. With a background in physics from MIT, he is an author, consultant and engineer in the areas of computer design, artificial intelligence, automation and futurism. He works out of a barn in New Hampshire.

I recently was a speaker at a meeting of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) in Vancouver, B.C. (Vancouver and Boston are culturally compatible - not many "suits" in the audience, and they understood my jokes.) My presentation was two-fold, covering modeling and technical futures. Modeling (adaptive and predictive) was mostly covered by discussing the tiger beetle, an insect that scans an area, acquires its target prey and runs towards the "calculated" position of the prey, without real-time feedback. Then it stops and freezes to allow adaptive model updating. Sequential update and running allows the beetle to achieve the objective on slow-moving target dinners. Biologists argue that the beetle's limited vision capability can't keep up with the real-time action and needs data capture time.

Our factories are much like the tiger beetle. We only know where the demand/assets have been and try to model the future on the past. "Based upon previous data" is our motto. Predictive modeling can improve our control over events. We are adept at "dead reckoning" for ship navigation and weather forecasting, and need to do as well in our manufacturing processes.

The second topic covered in the Vancouver lectures was the future of control technology, focusing on the short term. If a company does not have access to professional software, it is doomed. Honest. Software is the WD- 40 of the systems integrator, and the Internet is the duct tape of future systems.

How do we know? Waves of systems technology are sweeping over us and some of these trend vectors are Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Advanced (Adaptive?) Planning and Scheduling (APS) and the World Wide Web (WWW).

The Web enables the infrastructure information matrix. This true revolution is changing the way we think and plan. Some 250 million people have access to the Internet. We have 93 per cent of connectivity via the open Internet, and only seven per cent of connectivity from our special links. This minor "Macintosh" market segment is shared by Modbus, Interbus, Profibus, DeviceNet, Lonworks, Seriplex and Asi. And yet we insist on having standards that meet on these vanishing species.

Some 940 space satellites are being put in low orbit in the next several years. Most are for beaming down "Gilligan's Island" but computer usage will occupy a significant portion of the new bandwidth. About 10 per cent of North American cities have multimeg CATV modem capability. We will have the "transparent factory," top to bottom, no matter what we techies think. Fashion wins over technology every time.

Whew! My gracious hosts decided we needed some rest, so we went to their home for Persian Tea and talk, which centered on "wild cards" for the year 2020. A wild card is a prediction that is not easily extrapolated from today's information, like mutative, rather than adaptive, evolution. My wild cards include:

The future will have a shortage of technical personnel for infrastructure support. Who will build the moon TV station, or make the drugs for healthcare?

POS ( point of sale and use ) manufacturing will become prevalent; we will manufacture and process near the point of consumption with distributed facilities. Warehouse final assemble using overnight delivery services, is being advertised today.

Computers will be 10,000 times faster, with huge memories. Of course, most of the computer resources will be needed to hold Windows 2020. Right now I estimate that there are about five microprocessors per person in our countries. In the year 2020, we will have ten thousand micros per person. This means everything will have a computer in it - litter boxes, coffee cups, toasters, watch straps.

The U.S. will still not go metric Closing words: the WWW will be everywhere, so get with it. The more we try to direct technology, the worse it gets. Remember, the marketplace always wins.

I went to Detroit for the SAE International Automotive Manufacturing (IAM) conference and show during the second week of May. I started talking early on the Tuesday morning and didn't stop till I returned to New Hampshire Thursday. (My assistant has to stop scheduling me as though I'm 25 years old.) While taking a break from the presentations on the third floor of Cobo, I walked to the rail and looked down upon the registration areaÖ nobody was there. Wow. Registrations are low this year. Must call the wife and tell her to get out of the market!

Anyway, one of the speakers touted the advantages of soft PLC (using Gates Tech) over hard real-time controls. What is "real time" anyway? One definition is that real-time systems are fast enough, robust and predictable. Utilizing the closed Windows environment for real time was tested by GM, which came about from pressures presented by OMAC.

For most of the softer applications, the OS extensions to PC OS are fine. I wanted to see some loading dependencies effects such as more than one interrupt, applications running, crash recovery, and video support. Most of my questions were answered. A PC can do hard real time if load dependencies are considered. Eventually, we will rebuild the PLC concept of a real-time appliance.

In fact, a PLC is a computer with special considerations for hard real time. Welcome home. Much like Nintendo, the general-purpose computer is a poor substitute for a toaster. The PLC vs PC discussion is about as interesting as a discussion between the merits of Underwood and Royal typewriters.

One evening in Detroit I attended a gig for Schneider Automation at the Rattlesnake Club. We covered new software and applications packages. I tried to particularly infect the listeners with a sensitivity towards the immense changes occurring in our industry - Java, Java, Java - and all that it implies.

Overall, the IAM show, per se, had few challenges to the intellect. A soft motion controller (Motionsoft) and fast Ethernet (Think and Do, Groupe Schneider) held my interest. Not much was said re the Chrysler/Daimler deal, other than to kid about a "four-pointed star." And end to the Big Three?

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