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Direct Computer Links from Boardroom to Factory Floor Promise Ethernet Research Programme

Originally published 5 February 2002

Researchers from the University of Warwick's Warwick Manufacturing Group are putting together a £200,000 "Industrial Ethernet Research Programme" that will allow technology and manufacturing companies to use internet to create simple direct effective computer links allowing control and integration of technology on a factory floor with every level of a business including the boardroom.

The research draws on the successful widespread use of low level industrial computer networks (also known as Fieldbusses) which bring together intelligent sensors, actuators etc with microcontroller technology that did away with labour-intensive, inefficient, wire based factory controls. This technology has already cut installation and commissioning times by 75% and drastically reduced the time such equipment spends out of action when problems occur and need resolving.

The companies using this technology have longed to be able to take this technology a step further by using Ethernet (internet style communications) to develop interfaceless communication through all levels of an enterprise - from the shop floor to the corporate network levels. Such a system would provide an opportunity to easily integrate the IT and factory floor networking, providing substantial cost savings. This allows users to link customer and supplier data, reduce cycle time, increase manufacturing reliability and enhance customer satisfaction.

The new programme will draw on techniques and languages such as XML (Extensible Mark-up Language) DirectX (a system often used to drive computer games) and EDS (Electronic Data Sheet) to resolve the technical issues of speed and reliability which are key to developing practical applications of this technology. They will also investigate the real-time performance of Ethernet switches and hubs on the shop floor.

Rockwell Automation UK, Tellima Technology Ltd of Wakefield, and Warwick Control Technologies Ltd are already funding this £200,000 project and local companies British Federal Limited in Dudley, HM Computing of Malvern, Dearborn Electronics of Wolverhampton, and Contemporary Controls, in the University of Warwick Science Park, are also in discussions with the researchers.

For further details contact:

Richard T. McLaughlin, Senior Research Fellow
Warwick Manufacturing Group, University of Warwick
Tel: 024 76 524711