The main attraction of an Intel multi-core processor is how an industrial automation vendor is allowed to create solutions using PC-based technology as well as other standards-based components, said Ian Gilvarry of Intel Corporation (www.intel.com).
“These solutions scale capacity and integrate special functionality more easily than platforms based on dedicated hardware,” said Gilvarry, who is the marketing manager at Embedded and Communications Group for Intel Corp.
Rather than installing a number of system boards for HMI and control functions, multi-core processors allow consolidation of applications onto one board, he said. This boosts processing flexibility and power and further improves control performance.
Intel’s Atom processor and integration with certain input and output interfaces are important to control usage, he added.
“Without a doubt, we will see more multi-core CPUs (central processing units) being used in the industrial and embedded spaces as multi-core technology trickles down into smaller and lower-power designs,” said Casey Weltzin, product manager of LabView Real-Time, with Texas-based test and automation supplier National Instruments Corp. (www.ni.com). “The Intel Atom processor is a very good example of this trend.”
Beckhoff Automation LLC (www.beckhoffautomation.com) is now working with Intel on the next-generation Atom. “It has a low-heat, low-power footprint,” said Corey McAtee, technical marketing manager at Beckhoff. He envisions a paperback-novel-size controller that features low power and heat doing complete machine control, from HMI to PLC control between motion and robotics.
Mr. Weltzin shares the same vision, adding: “Multi-core CPUs and the work being done by Intel are clearing the way for more complex algorithms to be used (e.g., machine control) that can improve the capabilities and efficiency of machines. Designers will be able to reduce power consumption and size of current applications that require a lot of computation.”
Intel’s goal is to attain a single architecture converged on an embedded PC. “In the next several years, we may see many-core CPUs with 16, 32 or more cores,” Weltzin said, adding that it will force programmers to be much more adept at parallel application development. “It will also push researchers and companies like Intel to invest in interconnect technology for networking the CPU cores on a chip,” said Gilvarry.
As the number of cores increases, real-time response is, however, getting shorter. McAtee said: “In an EtherCat network with distributed controllers, the ‘slave’ device becomes more like a microcomputer, capturing data at 10-20 microseconds, with 10-20 nanosecond jitter. With [our] TwinCat 3.0, which has two cores, I can say I want one core to handle one high-speed task, such as registration, at 50 microseconds. The next core would do the basic programmable logic state, which you could set at 10 seconds.”