Celebrating great new ideas and inventions...
If I remember correctly - and it's been a long time - my school days seemed to lurch from one fad or craze to the next, that emerged from nowhere and ran for a few weeks, before inevitably being banned after things ended in tears, usually because of loss, theft, arguments or some perceived health hazard (probably along the lines of "if somebody were to swallow that..." or "you could have someone's eye out..."). And if my kids' school is typical, nothing much has changed. There always seems to be something new that they have to collect and trade. Recently it was elastic bands in the shapes of different animals. Currently it is creature shaped erasers. I don't know what they do with them, but I do know that I've spent two successive weekends trawling around different stationers' looking for rubbers that no one else at school would have yet.
It was on the most recent trip that I saw a demonstration of the latest must-have gadget for the pre-teens. It was - drum roll please - an electric pencil eraser. All you have to do is press lightly down on your erroneous pencil markings, and the electric eraser does all the hard work of eradicating your mistake for you. When there are so many great ideas out there that never see the light of day, you do wonder who could possibly have funded this one, and why.
As you'd imagine, a lot of new ideas and inventions pass across my desk. And while I read them all with interest, I've never really felt it was my place to editorialise on them. But perhaps it's time some of these ideas saw the light of day, possibly with a regular page in the magazine. So if you have an idea you'd like to share, or which needs some outside investment, or which could do with the input of some of our suppliers, let me know. To kick things off, let me offer up a thought of my own. What the industrial controls world is clearly lacking is the sandwich box PLC specification. This is a CPU design with a common form factor and a universal backplane for which any manufacturer could provide clip-on I/O cards and control modules. The PLC_specification itself would be managed by some independent consortium of companies for the benefit of all.
Surely, you would think, there are too many vested interests in not having the sandwich box PLC for it to ever come about. But I think there could be winners all round. For the user, there comes absolute freedom to choose best of breed technologies. For the I/O specialists, there is the chance to explore a whole new market. For the smaller PLC makers whose lack of, say, a PID card or a motion control module could be a deal breaker, there will be a whole new range of opportunities. Even the PLC makers who already seem to have every base covered might have something to gain, because sometimes all it takes to bring a company around to your way of thinking is to get your foot in the door. And openness, I've found, is a great door opener. So could the sandwich box specification work? Well, why not? We already have multiple vendors working to develop products to common network specifications.
Talking of great new ideas, we have something pretty special of our own in this issue of Industrial Technology. The front cover is a bit of a clue, and if you turn to the centre pages you'll find the launch of our QR Code Directory, designed to establish a defined link between what you read on paper and how you source additional information and resources. If you have a smart phone or tablet to hand, give it a try.
Mark Simms, 1 October 2011
Industrial Technology - NEWS