Maintenance, Test & Measurement, Calibration

Measurement and control in extreme environments

February 2004 Maintenance, Test & Measurement, Calibration

The Compact FieldPoint measurement and control system from National Instruments opens the doorways to a variety of demanding measurement and control applications that require rugged, industrially rated hardware and full-featured programming. The Compact FieldPoint system may be one of the first in a new generation of industrial control products that trace their technological origins to two different family trees - the PC and the PLC. Compact FieldPoint uses technology that has origins in personal computer (PC) applications, yet it also pulls from traditional industrial technology with its origins rooted in programmable logic controllers (PLCs). Core PC technologies have been reformulated for the more extreme demands of industrial applications. For example, the Ethernet port replaced standard PC components such as the keyboard, mouse and display driver. Software development is done on a networked host computer running Windows. The host computer provides the graphical development environment, keyboard, and mouse and modern programming amenities. The Compact FieldPoint Ethernet port serves as a high-speed link for downloading application code, performing run-time debugging and probing, and provides a graphical user interface (GUI) on networked PCs via an embedded web server.


The Compact FieldPoint controllers run a non-Windows, low overhead, realtime operating system (RTOS) on an x86 Intel-based processor. The operating system does not have the complexity of a standard operating system (OS). This means it can operate more efficiently and with fewer resources. Embedded applications run quickly and efficiently on an architecture with a low-power processor, and the controllers draw only 4,5 W. Because the OS is streamlined, it does not suffer from the instabilities inherent in a complex OS. These systems are used in critical control applications where the highest level of reliability and determinism is required.


Embedded applications are developed using LabVIEW - an industry-standard graphical development environment with a 15+ year history that provides all the tools necessary to create the most advanced and full-featured measurement, data logging, signal processing, and control systems. Designed for tight integration between hardware and software, LabVIEW makes it easy to construct simple or complex applications using an extensive palette of functions and tools.

Connecting to sensors and actuators

Compact FieldPoint directly connects to sensors and actuators through analog and discrete I/O modules. The I/O modules filter, calibrate, and scale, raw sensor signals to engineering units, as well as performing self-diagnostics to look for problems such as an open thermocouple. Compact FieldPoint controllers automatically publish measurements over an Ethernet network. Using a wide variety of I/O modules, virtually any sensor type can be connected to Compact FieldPoint, such as thermocouples, RTDs, strain gauges, 4-20 mA sensors, and a variety of digital signals from 5 to 30 V d.c. and 0 to 240 V a.c.


To address embedded control or measurement applications that involve small spaces, such as inside of machinery or on vehicles, Compact FieldPoint measures just 127 x 254 x 127 mm, and incorporates a solid metal backplane for standalone mechanical ruggedness and stability. The intelligent controller interface and modular I/O modules attach to the sturdy four or eight-slot backplane using metal screw fasteners that allow the system to withstand high vibration applications.


In the demanding applications for which Compact FieldPoint was designed, mechanical robustness is essential but is just one part of the equation. In addition to being operationally rated for 50 g of shock and 5 g of RMS vibration, Compact FieldPoint features ratings for electrical, safety, and environmental performance. Each I/O module incorporates 250 V rms of double-insulated safety isolation from the backplane and the other I/O modules, as well as 2 300 V rms of transient overvoltage protection. The modules are also designed to meet the requirements of international standards such as EN 61010-1 and IEC 61010-1 for safety and electrical equipment for measurement, control, and laboratory use. In terms of environmental ratings, Compact FieldPoint can withstand 10 to 90% non-condensing humidity in temperatures ranging from -25 to 60°C.


The unique combination of easy-to-use programmability, reliable realtime operation, direct connectivity to I/O signals, and ruggedness defines a new-generation product that is finding its way into the most formidable locations; from the freezing isolation of Alaskan Grizzly bear country along the Alaskan oil pipeline, to the turbulent high seas in shipboard engine control rooms.

About National Instruments

National Instruments ( is a technology pioneer and leader in virtual instrumentation - a revolutionary concept that has changed the way engineers and scientists approach measurement and automation. Making effective use of the PC and its related technologies, virtual instrumentation increases productivity and lowers costs for customers worldwide through easy-to-integrate software, such as the NI LabVIEW graphical development environment, and modular hardware, such as PXI modules for data acquisition, instrument control and machine vision. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, NI has more than 3000 employees and direct operations in 40 countries. In 2002, the company sold products to more than 25 000 different companies in more than 80 countries around the world. National Instruments South Africa toll-free number is 0800 203 199.

For more information contact Michael Hutton, National Instruments South Africa, 011 805 8197,,

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