Turck Pushes Process Automation and RFID Products

The company is hoping to make a splash with entries in two new product categories.

In a move to underscore its entry into two new product arenas, automation components supplier Turck Inc. hosted 14 trade press editors at its U.S. headquarters in the Minneapolis suburb of Plymouth, Minn., on May 30.  

One of the products—a new RFID system for the industrial space—is likely to find applications in one of Turck’s traditional U.S. markets, namely the automotive industry. The other new entry—a Diagnostic Power Conditioner system for Foundation Fieldbus—will add fuel for Turck’s effort to push further into the process automation space. 

In his opening remarks, Turck Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Dean McCaskill noted that process automation currently amounts to only about 5 percent of the company’s business in the United States. But given that Turck started focusing on this market only five years ago, “we feel pretty good about that,” he said. The company has a goal of doubling its process automation business every couple of years going forward, he said. 

Turck’s business in general is up this year, in the “good single-digit growth” range, despite difficult market conditions, especially in automotive, McCaskill reported. He added that Turck Inc., with production in both the United States and Mexico, accounts for about 50 percent of the global business of Turck, which has headquarters in Mulheim, Germany. 

Gap filler 

In its press release on the new Diagnostic Power Conditioner, or DPC, Turck referred to the product as “revolutionary.” And Turck managers seem to believe that they’ve found a hole in the Foundation Fieldbus marketplace that needs to be filled. The DPC features an integrated diagnostics module to provide end-users with vital statistics that can ease the task of diagnosing any problems associated with the Foundation Fieldbus physical layer.  

Problems in the physical layer have traditionally caused most of the problems in Foundation Fieldbus deployments and take a long time to troubleshoot, said Turck managers. The physical layer has traditionally been “a big black hole up until now,” said Jim Peterson, Turck product marketing manager for IS Interfaces and Foundation Fieldbus Products. “Everybody promotes the diagnostics capability of their control systems, and of their instrumentation. But nobody’s ever gone out and really promoted the diagnostic capability of what’s in between and connecting and holding everything together,” Peterson said. 

On a Foundation Fieldbus, a power conditioner serves to separate the digital signal from the power on a twisted pair physical media, and sends the digital signal to higher-level control systems. With the DPC system, physical layer values and parameters are independently displayed via the DTM (device type manager) that can be integrated in any FDT (field device tool) application, or accessed via a Foundation Fieldbus device descriptor. Web-based access is also available. 

Though fieldbus power conditioning systems have been around since the 1990s, systems that also include physical layer diagnostic capability is a product category that is just getting started, said Randy Durick, Turck business development manager, process automation. Besides Turck, only a few other vendors have announced or introduced products, he said. And Turck managers believe that their system includes features that will make it stand out. 

Ethernet diagnostic channel 

One differentiator is a DPC architecture that allows use of a high-speed Ethernet (HSE) connection to provide the Foundation Fieldbus H1 segment diagnostic information to a higher level control system or asset management system. Unlike competitive systems that use a standard H1 segment as the diagnostic bus, the HSE link means that diagnostic communications will not be lost if a problem occurs on the Foundation Fieldbus network itself, Durick explained. 

Another differentiator is the DPC system’s higher output current—at 800 milliAmps (mA)—than typical competitive systems, said Turck managers. A DPC system can supply up to 16 segments, each with a maximum of 800 mA of output current and 30 VDC output voltage, maximizing the availability to individual segments.  

In the early days of Foundation Fieldbus, users often installed very few devices per segment for fear of overloading the segment, noted James Masterson, Turck vice president, process automation markets. But as users become more comfortable with Foundation Fieldbus, they are adding more devices per segment, he noted. “So that 800 mA supply will become more and more important as people push the limits as to what they’re willing to put on a single segment.”  

Beyond expected application for the DPC in the oil and gas industry, Turck is seeing early interest in the system by end-users in the biofuels and pharmaceutical industries. The company currently has one beta installation in place at a customer site, and expects to have “50 to 60 segments installed on an ethanol plant by the end of summer,” Durick said. He estimates the total available market for these kinds of systems at from 10,000 to 12,000 segments per year. 

Modular RFID 

Turck’s other new product—called the BLident—is billed as “the first modular RFID system with built-in I/O.” The system was developed over an 18-month period with early work and debugging done during two major projects at a Ford plant in Belgium and at a Volkswagen plant in Poland, said Mark DiSera, product marketing manager for Turck’s Network and Interface Division  

Built on the ISO 15693 13.56 MHz high frequency, or HF, standard for radio frequency identification, or RFID, the BLident can handle up to eight channels of RFID on a single gateway, plus additional discrete or analog I/O to comprise a single node on the network. By comparison, competitive industrial RFID systems can accommodate only two channels of RFID per gateway, DiSera said. BLident gateways are CoDeSys programmable.  

Other differentiators for the BLident system include cable lengths of up to 50 meters—twice as long as competitive products—as well as a ferroelectric RAM (FRAM) memory option for RFID tags, which provide significantly more write cycles than more traditional EEPROM tag memory, said DiSera. Compared to competitive systems, the BLident features “extremely fast” data transfer rates, DiSera added, at 0.5 ms/byte for FRAM and 2 ms/byte for EEPROM tags. 

The BLident line includes a large range of puck-style tags as well as high-temperature tags, and new bolt tags for threading into metal, along with new spacer-equipped tags for direct mounting in and on metal. Other components of the BLident line include a wireless handheld reader and an online RFID simulator to aid in application development and component selection.  

The Turck BLident system was actually introduced in Germany in April 2006, but is being released now to the U.S. market with support for Profibus-DP, DeviceNet, Modbus-TCP, Profinet and EtherNet/IP. Besides automotive, target markets include transport/conveying and handling, OEM machine building, food and beverage, pharmaceutical, chemical and petrochemical. 

Turck expects that typical return on investment for the BLident system will fall in the 12-month range, based upon results seen at large project installed at Ford.

Turck Inc.
www.turck.com

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