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On PCs and LANs: tying the factory together.

We began devoting feature coverage to personal computer issues last June in our Advanced Manufacturing Technology section, "Micros in manufacturin." Use of the technology is skyrocketing, with a third stage recently ignited by the dual announcement from IBM, Boca Raton, FL, viz., the PC/AT (top photo) and a broadband local-area network (LAN) for PCs.

The PC/AT (meaning advanced technology; code name, Popcorn) is an Intel 80286-based CPU than can be built to 3-megabytes of RAM, and can include a 1.2-megabyte floppy-disk drive and a 20-megabyte hard disk. The LAN, developed for IBM bt Sytek Inc, is broadband and provides a 2-megabit/sec data transmission rate. Essentially, IBM has just blessed broadband.

According to Glen Allmendinger, president of Harbor Research, a Boston-based industrial-market research firm, "The importance of these products for manufacturing companies is the potential for IBM operating units to configure the PC/AT and LAN for industrial applications. When analyzing this, there are three classes of products that could be displaced: current IBM computer products used in industrial applications, such as the Series/1; IBM terminal products like the 3270 family and 3270 compatibles used in manufacturing; and non-IBM computers such as those from DEC, Hewlett-Packard, and other traditional manufacturing computer suppliers.

"The AT overlaps the low end of DEC's VAX family, for example, and many of the Motorola 68000 implementations. It also may cause significant problems for the low-to-medium end of AT&T's 3B computer family."

Net effect

Many industry observers doubt that PCs can significantly impact the way manufacturing does business. Reasons include sensitivity to industrial environments, lack of network support, and lack of computer horsepower.

IBM squelched the first complaint by introducing the 5531 industrially hardened PC a few months ago. In fact, a portable version was introduced by General Electric at IMTS '84 (see T&P Oct '84 pg 94). The PC/AT and LAN announcements pave the way for dismissing the last two reservations.

"Anyone involved with plant-floor computers," predicts Allmendinger, "can look forward to an industrial strength PC/AT showing up within the next year; expect an industrial-grade LAN at about the same time."

Allmendinger is quick to point out that IBM's LAN dovetails nicely with General Motors' manufacturing automotion protocol (MAP) specification, which also is broadband. Both use commonplace coaxial cable as a transmission medium (like your cable TV--CATV--system). There is potential, then, for running the personal-computer network on an industrial CATV system, and later installing MAP compatible hardware without rewiring. This means PCs could be implemented easily within the scope of GM's approach to a totally integrated factory.

"Combining the PC/AT and personal-computer LAN has many interesting possibilities," says Allmedinger. "Now, for approximately $1000, you can easily buy the technology to connect 72 PCs. If, however, you have a CATV system similar to those being installed in many GM plants, you can, with no hardware or software changes, handle 1000 PCs up to 5 kM apart."

Allmendinger believes MAP is a strong catalyst for wide-spread acceptance of manufacturing facility-wide networks. At the workstation (supervisory) level, however, there are many options, such as baseband Ethernet, broadband Ethernet, and proprietary networks from several industrial-control vendors (e.g., Allen-Bradley's Data Highway, TIWAY from Texas Instruments, Reliance's RNWT, Siemans' Control Net, etc).

IBM appears to support the MAP (IEEE 802.4) approach for factory-wide networks, and, as evidenced by the new products, a broadband CATV approach for the lower level supervisory networks.

"What's most important about IBM's local-area network within an industrial context," remarks Allmendinger, "is that it can coexist, even interface, with MAP. The PC LAN even may be used as a gateway. If, for instance, a four-channel asynchronous board was placed in a PC/AT that ran IBM's software (called Crystal) for connecting to programmable controllers, it could link four different brands of programmable-controller networks into the IBM LAN and MAP concurrently!"

If you're interested in more info about LANs for the factory, see "Fundamentals of factory communications" and the follow-up piece "A MAP to future?" in this month's Advanced Manufacturing Technology section.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:personal computer and local-area network
Author:Coleman, John R.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Nov 1, 1984
Words:674
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