Rumors of the PC’s Death are Greatly Exaggerated

July 15th, 2013 by

By Jeff Hibbard

Pinto’s Prose, a column in Automation World magazine is often inspiring because of the author’s entrepreneurial perspective on machine automation.

Like Jim Pinto I see profound market trends and disruptive technologies – rapid adoption of Industrial Ethernet standards such as EtherCAT for example – that are creating game-changing product opportunities right now.

However, his June 2013 column mystified me.

He writes: “A new twist has become evident in the commercial environment in recent years. Everyone is recognizing that the period of PC domination is over. That same trend is definitely spreading rapidly to factory floor and process control environments [implying doom for PLCs and PACs].”

From my vantage point, the era of the Windows PC for machine control and motion control is exploding – not receding.

Sure, tablets and mobile devices are ideal platforms to collect and report on process trends and roll the information into an ERP or business intelligence system.  A  closed loop process will allow companies to make more insightful business decisions by harnessing the flow of data across industry devices and back-end systems and then transform that data into actionable events.

This is the Intelligent Systems ecosystem approach that both Microsoft and Intel are championing. More on that in a moment.

But Pinto’s piece implies that the PC is not suitable as a machine controller. We see just the opposite. Machine control and motion control OEMS world-wide are recognizing that the PC is in fact the perfect integration platform – combining standards, ecosystem support, power, and user experience in one place for easy be assembly at a far lower cost.

Windows is an ideal platform for developing machine control.  Windows features visually rich results, secure and reliable protection, modularity, and a consistent user experience. When a real-time capability is added, x86/x64 multicore PCs can deliver on the promise of soft motion, which eliminates the need for an expensive, proprietary motion card.

No FPGAs.  No DSPs.  No proprietary hardware. Just and IPC and a NIC card and software.  And it’s fail-safe. Check out Siemens WinAC RTX F.

In Houston last week at its Worldwide Partner Conference, the Microsoft Windows Embedded Group emphasized its focus on the Intelligent Systems ecosystem noting that tablets, mobility and cloud computing can replace many of the shop floor automation approaches and add tremendous actionable insights.

That’s a good start, for sure, but we see a larger and just as vital a role for Windows in industrial machines and motion control – a true end-to-end approach that can deliver a full Intelligent Systems ecosystem.


Leave a Comment