Semiconductor manufacturing is still a little bit like magic. It’s hard to imagine packing millions of transistor into tiny spaces and creating cellphones, computers, flat screen television, digital cameras, CD players and so forth. And the industry keeps pumping out the innovations.
And there are so many technologies, all focused on solving application problems but balancing the economics of development cost and manufacturing scalability. Where would the Oui or iPhone be without accelerometers that are really inexpensive? Fax machines without G3 communications chips, or $49 printers without stepping motor chips and ink jet controls? All benefits of high volume economy of scale.
Industrial control systems have generally required chip technology, but in numbers of chips considered too small to merit custom designed solutions. But the Rockwell Control Logix concept breaks the partitioning of applications by applying the same control processor to all kinds of control equipment, variable frequency drives, programmable controllers, HMI’s, you name it.
Is there an ultimate chip? A chip solution that does everything? Not really. But the wizards of the microcircuitry world keep coming up with new architectures. New approaches to existing applications that offer price or performance attributes that will hopefully trigger lots of new designs that result in breakthrough products.
Recent trade press is buzzing about a new processor that combines the logic solving capability of FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Arrays) with ARM (Advanced Risc Machines).
FPGA excels in the ability solve logic, and has scaled up to massive numbers of gates and tremendous processor speeds to solve enormously complex applications. Even applications requiring real time operation like motor control can be solved through FPGA with proper attention to detail. Applications that were considered impossible a few years ago are now within the range of these processors.
But using gate arrays may not be the most efficient way to do motor control. Hard real time motor control requires a great deal of analog processing to monitor conditions in the real world (like voltage and current) and the ability to respond to dynamic changes through complex programming and mathematical models. Much easier for ARM processors with super efficient instruction sets and single cycle multiplication and division. In some designs 16 channels of high resolution A to D converters and direct PWM capabilities.
So combining the two technologies seems like the ideal solution for a huge range of industrial control applications. And if you get it all in one processor, wouldn’t that be great?
I can’t wait to see what new product developments take place in the next few years with this kind of processing power available.