Newsletter Issue # 19

Real Time Automation's - Best Darn Newsletter 

Do You Know What You Stand For?
Information Modeling in the IA Industry
Fun Facts and Trivia

Get a free pair of RTA sunglasses this month only!

Email your name and address to: jladd@rta- by August 29th to claim your steal of the month.

It's all Perception
Botched Pitches and Business
Data Modeling in Industrial Automation
Can I Admit Something?
ASCII Part 2



Practical tips and information for young engineers. This issue, featuring:

- The Two Times You are the Smartest Person in the World on a Particular Subject

-What the Heck Does RTA Do?


Do You Know What You Stand For?

A Column of personal opinion by John Rinaldi, Founder and Owner of Real Time Automation.

Bragging, crowing, boasting - over accomplishments real and fictional. I hate all those things, but recognize that I occasionally engage in that sort of behavior. It’s not a part of my personality for which I feel a lot of pride. Despite all that, today I am going to engage in some braggadocio. It’s too good to keep to myself, despite my best efforts.

Here’s the situation. I’m on my way to Las Vegas to attend a two-day technology briefing by one of our key partners. And as I quite frequently use Delta Airlines, I am booted to First Class. I meet my seat mate - an attractive, thirty something red head. On the preference scale, she was much more preferable than the long list of fat, smelly, profoundly stupid and inconsiderate seat mates I’ve experienced over the years. Given that’s it’s three and a half hours to Vegas – I’d probably upgrade my seat mate to an attractive, stylish young woman every time but unfortunately, my Delta app doesn’t yet offer that choice. I’m not sure why.

So as we roll down the runway we engage in a very nice, conversation about her work, my business, travel, food, Vegas and all the other general topics that seat mates typically discuss. About a half-hour later, I pull out my laptop to do some writing. And that’s when it gets a little “different.”

She reaches over and starts stroking the back of my hand as I write telling me what a wonderful man I am and how she’d like to get to know me much better. Then she literally pulls my hand from the keyboard to try to hold hands with me! As she does this she asks “John, are you in the mile high club?” and “Would you like to be?”

Shocked, I try humor. I feign some mock outrage and say “I don’t know who you think I am but I’m not a harlot. You have to buy me dinner first, tell me I have beautiful eyes and that you’re overwhelmed with my wonderful personality.” Not only is she not dissuaded by this, she reaches for my head to turn it toward her so she can try to kiss me. To which I again feign more outrage and stridently defend my honor telling her that I am certainly not an easy pickup.

Now I admit that I do tell this story. Often. To anyone and everyone who’ll listen - to brag. It’s as simple as that. I defy any 50ish male to do anything else when propositioned by an attractive female some twenty years his junior.

But there IS another point to all this. It has to do with knowing who you are in life, your morals, what you are all about and what your personal philosophy is. Few people spend any time at all thinking through these questions to the point of writing a personal mission statement for their life. When you don’t do that you are ill-equipped to deal with life’s challenges.

At a recent seminar, we discussed a famous story about incorrectly receiving five dollars in change. Would you bring it back? What if it’s raining? And you’re parked at the far end of the lot? And the clerk was rude to you? And you have a baby needing changing? And the grocery bags broke? And you have a flat tire? And… And… And… It’s helpful in life to have a personal philosophy so that it’s easy to know who you are and what you will do when life tests you. I’d bet that there are few of us around that have a philosophy we can apply to the situations in life which test our congruency with our values and beliefs.

That’s different than having goals. Most everyone has goals. I want to get a big raise and I want to lose weight are popular, but terribly inadequate, insufficient and unspecific goals. Most of us don’t go any farther than weak, unproductive goals like that. We don’t strategize, organize, seek out information, develop processes and make specific plans for achieving our goals.

We might have a weight loss goal, but we don’t plan on avoiding the street with the burger place. We don’t strategize about how we could deliver more value at work or find out what additional training, experience or project work would qualify you for that raise by the end of the year. We all (often myself included I’m sad to say) play what’s called “Blind Archery.” There is a target out there somewhere but we’re not inclined to take off the blindfold and really aim at it.

And almost none of us take it to the next logical step. We don’t think through what we are going to give up to reach that goal. If you want to be free of disease, thin and healthy you might have to give up the Farmers Breakfast at the diner or the cheeseburger sliders and beers after work. If you want the promotion and the raise you aren’t going to make it to every one of your daughter’s recitals and your son’s baseball games.

Those goals would be incompatible and you can’t have incompatible goals. It’s unlikely you can be the world’s best dad AND the top performer at the office. It doesn’t work that way. You have to have that personal philosophy, decide what’s important to you and develop the plans, processes and regimen that’s going to get your personal mission accomplished. Whatever it is – best Dad, top performing Engineer or NCAA Basketball referee. Then you have to act congruently when life throws challenges, like a burger, or a forward young woman, at you.

And one more thing, I absolutely assure you that I’ll stop bragging about this in say, one two three ok, twenty years. Promise – I’m adding it to my list of long term goals right now.

- John



Trivia Challenge

· Russia and America are how far apart at their nearest point?

· There are seven rays on the crown of the U.S. Statue of Liberty. What do they represent?

· Who has more operating cash, Apple or the U.S. treasury?

· In Arizona, there are two areas in which the terrain is too tricky for the U.S. Postal Service to reach by motorized vehicles. What do they use to reach these areas?

· True or False: There's a Darth Vader "gargoyle" on the National Cathedral in Washington D.C.



Answers located on bottom of page.

Information Modeling in the IA



I took a database class in college. That course stands out in my memory for two reasons. One, Mary, a tall, lanky 19 year old brunette, and two, that I came to hate entities, relationships, Information Modeling and everything else related to databases. Since I was fortunate to work in IA (Industrial Automation) all these years and not IT, I could avoid all that stuff. Life was good.

Except for, like, NOW…

Entities, relationships, Information Modeling, sometimes in the context of a database and sometimes not, are moving into the factory floor right now. It’s not something I welcomed at first but I’ve learned to make peace with it because for one, I can’t stop it, and two, I have to admit that this kind of technology offers some amazing productivity enhancements.

In the recent past we could rightly claim that the majority of devices were too underpowered and under resourced with too little bandwidth to adopt the kinds of technologies that those pencil-necked IT guys with the skinny black ties and thick glasses used. They did their thing on the Enterprise side; building all sorts of database systems for sales and order tracking, marketing, human resources and all the rest. We did the real work of the company, PRODUCTION.

But those times are pretty much over. Our old workhorse 8-bit processors are obsolete and every year fewer and fewer silicon manufacturers are making them. The new processors are not only cheaper, they’re faster with onboard USB, Ethernet and CAN. I used to look at how many bytes of RAM a processor had and now I look at how many kilobytes or megabytes. That was unheard of just a few years ago. I used to look at a processor to see if it had Ethernet. Now I look to see how many Ethernet MACs it has, if it has an embedded Ethernet switch and even if it has its own PHY.

With all these power and data volumes growing exponentially year after year, the demand for more and more connection to Enterprise systems, more archiving of all that data, faster, and easier connection to MRP, ERP or SAP type IT type systems, we’re being dragged into the world of Objects, Entities, Relationships, and yes, Information Modeling. I admit that I was kicking and screaming about all this until I learned a little more about it. Now I marvel at the power it’s bringing to our work and that’s what I’d like to focus on in this article.

Capturing the massive amounts of data that we have today, securing it, moving it, storing it and analyzing it is now a reality for those of us trying to architect manufacturing systems. And we can’t accomplish that effectively without better mechanisms for organizing all that data. The flat file systems that PLCs have used in the past just aren’t adequate for today’s data explosion. It’s time we adopt the technologies and practices of the people that have been doing it for all these years - our friends over in the IT department. Data growing exponentially without a structure that makes it useable is an important resource that, with the right structure, could provide more efficiency and productivity, improve quality and even lower manufacturing costs. That possibility is too important to ignore.

A confusing aspect of all this is that there are Information Models and Data Models. Many designers don’t really understand the difference. An Information Model is a conceptual representation of a system devoid of any implementation details. It provides a model for designers and operators to study at the system level. A Data Model is a particular implementation of some or all of the components of the Information Model. It contains the specific implementation details that implementers require. In this article we’re only discussing Information Modeling.

An Information Model is nothing more than a logical representation applied to a physical process. An Information Model can represent something as tiny as a screw, a component of a process like a pump or something as complex and large as an entire Filling machine. The Information Model is simply a structure that defines the component devoid of any information on how process variables or meta-data within that structure can be accessed.

The first thing you do when creating an Information Model is to decide what is of interest and what isn’t. The Information Model for a pump might only contain the color, case style, manufacturer part number and purchase data if your Information Model is designed for asset tracking. It might contain none of those items if your Information Model is more process oriented. A process Information Model for that same pump might contain the current RPMs, the operating hours and the gallons per minute. Or, for a more comprehensive model, it could contain both.

Once you pick those items of interest (entities in database lingo) and you define their specific characteristics, you set up the relationships between those items. Our Filling machine has all kinds of devices - valves, pumps, motors, controllers and sensors, which we can call Objects in the model. Each of these Objects are modeled by more specialized objects. A Motor Drive Object can consist of a Motor Object and a Drive Object, for example. And those Objects can be modeled by other, more specialized Objects. As you do this, a hierarchy of Objects is developed that forms the Information Model for the system.

You can get as complex or as straightforward as you’d like. The Information Model has infinite flexibility to describe your process in whatever way serves you best. When complete you can document your process using a standard language and symbols that convey to everyone exactly what each entity is and what relationship exists between those entities.

But what have we really done? Your Information Model is only that, your Information Model. You may have modeled a pump with the characteristics speed and RPM. Someone else might have used a pump model that includes the current flow rate. The RPMs might be an integer value in one system and a float in another. Since you’ve both modeled the pump differently there are no savings in labor or productivity for either one of your customers. You may have given them a model using some open standard but they still have to incorporate your proprietary characterizations of the Objects in the model. That’s actually not much better than what we have with current day Programmable Controllers.

On top of all that we haven’t even begun to talk about common Transports, Data Encoding and access to the data contained in the Information Model. It’s one thing to define a nice Information Model for your device, your machine or production line but if there isn’t any way to easily access it using that model, it really isn’t helpful to an implementer. That problem is exactly what’s being addressed by a number of industry groups and will be the subject for the next newsletter.




Fun Facts

·The tune of the United States National Anthem was originally used by an English drinking song called, "To Anacreon in Heaven."

·In an odd twist of fate, both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on July 4, 1826.

·Due to concerns about cracking the iconic instrument, the Liberty Bell has not been rung since 1826.

·One of the 26 known July 1776 copies of the Declaration of Independence was found behind an old painting purchased at a flea market for $4.


  Trivia Answers: About 2.4 miles; The seven continents; Apple; Mules; True
  RTA Website