PARK RIDGE, Ill. Wind River Systems Inc. will attempt to strengthen its presence in the manufacturing sector this week by rolling out a product that promises to help connect the factory floor to the front office .
Known as VxOPC, the new product combines Wind River's venerable VxWorks embedded operating system with OLE for Process Control (OPC), a set of standard connectivity interfaces commonly used in industrial automation software. The product is expected to be used in control systems for robots, machine tools, packaging systems, semiconductor fabrication equipment and dozens of other automated systems.
The new software provides system integrators and automation vendors with a single solution to link factory floor automation systems with front-office software applications, such as spreadsheets and word processors.
The rollout also serves notice to embedded competitors that Wind River is carving out a niche in the growing industria l software arena. "Wind River does not want to be known only as an RTOS company," said Dick Slansky, senior analyst for the ARC Advisory Group (Dedham, Mass.).
In an application, VxOPC is built atop Wind River's VxDCOM and the VxWorks operating system. The software package is tightly integrated, not only with VxWorks, but also with Wind River's Tornado Integrated Development Environment.
VxWorks gets OPC link
The new product represents the first time that an embedded software company has linked its real-time operating system with the so-called OPC "data server." Until now, OPC interfaces have typically been written by industrial automation system vendors such as GE Fanuc, Rockwell Automation, Siemens Energy & Automation and others.
OPC has become increasingly important to makers of automated machinery in recent years because it is based on Microsoft's object linking and embedding (OLE) technology, which serves as a cornerstone of communication between industrial automation syste ms. "Because OPC has emerged as a de facto standard in industry, we felt we needed to implement it in VxWorks," said Marc Serughetti, director of marketing for Wind River's automotive and industrial business units (Alameda, Calif.).
By doing so, experts said, Wind River has eliminated the need for vendors and system integrators to struggle with the integration of the two. "Customers generally don't want to go through the hassle of integrating the software components," Slansky said. "They'd rather have it done for them."
Equally important, such software is expected to appeal to industrial customers, many of whom are now attempting to link their front-office PCs to factory floor programmable logic controls (PLCs). Such capabilities are becoming more important as companies delve more deeply into e-business, experts said.
Wind River executives said that OPC will also ease communication in the other direction from the front office to the factory floor. Automakers, for example, could use OPC c ommunications to send customer orders directly to the assembly line.
Ironically, the integration of OLE and OPC into an operating system is expected to give Wind River a leg up on Microsoft and on other competitors vying for embedded factory floor customers. Microsoft currently has a strong presence on the factory floor in human-machine interfaces and so-called "soft PLCs," but the software giant has not done as well in embedded control applications for automated machinery.
Experts, however, don't expect Microsoft to respond by integrating OPC into its embedded products such as NT Embedded or Windows CE. "They're not going to get into that business," Slansky said. "They're already more than happy that the OPC Foundation has chosen to base its specification on Microsoft technology. It means that Windows becomes even more ubiquitous."