At the turn of the century, engineers had very little ready-made and off-the-shelf equipment on hand to assemble control systems. The handful of physics labs maintained demanding requirements for new control-system projects that were not commercially attractive to equipment vendors due to the one-off nature of solutions necessary. Besides, the control system engineers were still mostly the scientists themselves and often pursued the in-house development of bespoke equipment. Today, a larger number of experimental projects and advancements in computing have allowed the widespread standardisation of control system components and the adoption of good practices and solutions from the industry.
During this time, control system software packages and frameworks have also matured through community collaboration. The growing control system integration market in science has also attracted industry players in much larger numbers. The latter has reduced control system allotments from 15% of the machine’s budget to 5% or even less for some projects. Therefore, today’s challenge is no longer how to implement a control system with state-of-the-art technology but to do it cheaper and quicker, without sacrificing quality.
This article will outline some of the main points that one must consider when implementing a modern machine control system.
Basic or Multiple Control System Packages
Traditionally, one of the first decisions that the project manager and control system (CS) engineer makes is which control system package to use. Luckily, today’s most popular control system packages are quite mature and with a wide-enough scope that you will be able to finish your project whatever your choice.
Nevertheless, some scientific facilities use more than one control system packages. In our experience, it is better to avoid mixing and matching several control system packages, if possible. Regardless of that, we believe that one should clearly define the system functionalities and requirements for all the interfaces. And also, let’s not forget about the effort of documenting and maintaining the systems. It is quite often best to adopt established best practices and learn from the experience of previous similar projects.
Hardware Platform Selection
Nowadays, we can use a large assortment of hardware platforms that are readily available. Selection and standardisation of the platform – or multiple platforms, depending on the situation – is a crucial step in the control design phase. Non-technical requirements, such as platform longevity (future roadmap), number of vendors, and adoption bases within the same industry and support (community or commercial), are critical parameters and should never be forgotten. Adding technical requirements (including flexibility) and price concerns, one should be well on one’s way towards making a good choice.