Many of the 60 000 people who attended Interkama 1999 saw ABB's current product offerings, as well as examples of innovative new technology applications in ABB's own "Think Tank." The Think Tank was a special section of the ABB stand where exciting new concept technologies and applications were shown. These new concepts are examples of solutions that define what ABB means by "the next way of thinking."
One of the concept solutions featured there showed the platform independent Freelance Soft-Controller with its Firmware running on native Linux operating system. This solution was the result of work at the ABB Corporate Research Center in Heidelberg and the Freelance development group, located in Hannover, to investigate benefits of open source software (OSS) for automation product development and quality. To get hands-on experience with OSS the team took the Freelance FieldController firmware and enabled it to run on a variety of operating systems. The original Freelance Controller firmware resides on top of the so-called "target abstraction layer". This layer hides all operating system and platform specific details from the controller firmware. The OSS libraries used for this layer assure that the controller firmware runs with only minor changes on a wide variety of operating systems including Windows NT and CE, most major Unix systems, some real-time operating systems and Linux. For a first demonstration and test, ABB used Linux on a Pentium PC.
Several benefits resulted from that study:
* This solution provides perfect tool integration. As the soft-controller runs the same executable code as the Freelance FieldController, therefore no differences exist in case of engineering (DigiTool) and operation (DigiVis).
* Platform independence allows the user to use the platform, which fits best to his control task. Implementation of a Freelance Soft-Controller on customer's proprietary hardware is possible.
* This solution is very scalable – because the whole Linux source code is freely available; it is possible to build a downscaled version of Linux running on an embedded PC.
* Simulation and test of a control system can be done on an existing PC-network infrastructure, or on one PC only depending on performance requirements.
* Development of new function blocks is more efficient, because host and target is the same platform - cross development is not necessary anymore. Furthermore modern, PC-based development tools improve development speed and code quality.
Other industrial IT concepts demonstrated in the Think Tank included wireless communication for Advant controllers using Bluetooth technology, solutions with using WAP technology, instrument plug-and-play and remote video supervision.
Industrial IT is ABB's unique capability to provide enterprise connectivity and information access. Open communication, engineering tools, asset optimisation software and process specific applications span all elements of the enterprise. Industrial IT gives the user a full scope of automation information across the enterprise to make informed production decisions.
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