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Supervision: as free as ever
Article taken from "Automazione Industriale", issue 98 - May 2002

Image 1
The magazine cover is dedicated to Automa

Automa's mission is to upgrade production process automation with software solutions that facilitate integration and communication between the various levels of industrial computerized systems. This company from Bergamo develops software for industrial automation and has just released the new version of the renowned supervisor system Super-Flash.

By Valeria Villani

Five fingers for Automa's five main business areas: Hmi, Cam, Eps, Monitoring and control (Monitel) and Specials. This is one of the slogans that cleverly summarize the company's business philosophy: encouraging integration and interactive communication between the various levels of a company's computerized system, just like a hand on which each step/finger is independent yet constantly coordinated and integrated with the others.
In the same way, Automa has developed specific software products for industrial automation in order to integrate production divisions (plants) and management in industry. This Italian company was founded in 1987 in Pedrengo (Bergamo) and has evolved on home territory, while always managing to keep up with foreign competitors.
With its state-of-the-art development tools and solutions that help programming, it is now a big name in industrial automation software.
Automa develops software for a number of different areas and involves some of the many levels of a company's computerized system. In particular, it is specialized in Hmi, and has recently been working on Eps (Enterprise production systems).
Three main software platforms are pillars of this company: MainteX, an application for programmed maintenance management; Dolphin, a software product developed for facilitating communication between Hmi and Eps systems; and Super-Flash, the platform for generating specific applications for industrial supervision and human-machine interfaces. MainteX, which is user-friendly and tailor-made for servicemen, demonstrates Automa's awareness of how crucial it is for a company to have an efficient maintenance system on a technical as well as managerial and organizational level.
To achieve such efficiency, it is necessary to have a tool like MainteX, whose main functions are maintenance management via a record of programmed operations (maintenance files); theoretical maintenance plan management; management of operations carried out; and preventive and final cost management for each operation carried out and relative comparisons. Dolphin, on the other hand, is designed for manufacturers of EPS software packages and software houses that produce this type of application on order, as well as Scada and HMI application developers for interfacing with superior levels.
The main purpose of this software is to link human-machine interface systems with database-oriented applications for programming company activities.
We talked about the features of these products with Automa's product manager, Mario Borali. This meeting was an ideal opportunity to know a bit more about this dynamic company, which has an exciting new product in store: the new version 3.3 of the Super-Flash software platform.
Mario Borali talked briefly about the company and its "integration philosophy", which has always been the inspiration behind product development and continues to motivate the company to evolve and upgrade software platforms in EPS and Hmi. Super-Flash 3.3 clearly demonstrates this.
"There are many Hmi, Scada and Erp products on the Italian and foreign market", explains Borali, "so it is our priority to solve problems linked to integration between these areas. I think Eps level can enable this integration: product programming lies at the very heart of Hmi and Erp integration". "People often tend to play down the importance of integration in Hmi and Erp", points out Automa's product manager.
Unfortunately, Information Technology has not seen much change in this area: people don't know exactly which technologies to use on a Plant level and vice versa. They are two completely different cultures.
Communication between Management and the Plant is a real problem, which is why we need to offer an integration strategy that helps unite these heterogeneous areas".

The history of Super-Flash
Now let us go back in time to see what led Automa to develop one of its leading solutions, the Super-Flash platform, and recent updates in this development environment to ensure integration and total reliability.
"In Automa", continues Mario Borali", "we gradually moved from application development to products for structural monitoring, where we focused on safety systems: monitoring, remote control, alarm event management, gas leak management, security system control units and so on. It is easy to understand why reliability, rather than speed or performance levels, becomes the keystone to supply".
Automa launched its first version of the Super-Flash development system in 1991. Borali tells us that the only valid Scada products on the market had runtime development systems with high royalty costs, and many applications were limited by excessive prices. So one of Automa's challenges when designing Super-Flash has been to limit high costs while maintaining efficiency. This integrated software environment is for applications for industrial supervision and is part of the "Supervisione Libera" line, which includes a complete range of specific products and services for developing supervision applications or human-machine graphic interfaces.
Developed entirely in Italy, Super-Flash multi-platform software has a 32-bit structure and generates Mmi and Scada applications that run in Ms-Dos and Windows (Win 32) operating environments. It can be easily connected to most PLCs on the market and supports communication with highly advanced network protocols such as Industrial Ethernet, Netbios, Tcp/Ip, and with field buses like Profibus, Interbus, FipWay H1, BitBus and CanBus, etc. It also supports Ddl and Dde protocols for communication between different applications.
Super-Flash enables integration with various modules for managing alarms and online documentation, for example Recipe modules, Alarms, Project Manager, Trends, Graphic editor and Multilingual support. It also supports different communication drivers to Automa's MicroC, which is an independent compiler with more than three hundred library functions. Super-Flash is designed to improve the programmer's productivity and increase the possibilities of communication, while offering an even simpler graphic interface and a "no royalty" strategy.

Super-Flash 3.3
At the end of last month, Automa launched the new release of the Super-Flash platform, which promises a host of new technical and commercial features in addition to some basic characteristics from the previous version. Mario Baroli explains: "Version 3.3 had to be a "multi-platform" system for both Dos and Windows, and maybe soon for Linux. This is a promising for Linux, considering its potential in the embedded and real-time world. This development system can also be used in no royalty mode, as we think it's important to offer software packages at even lower costs."
On a commercial level, the 3.3 release has two novelties. Firstly, Super-Flash 3.3 comes in two versions: Royalty Free, which means buying the development system with a free runtime licence; and Runtime, which means buying the runtime licence with a free development system. This allows all users to try the product without having to invest in the entire development system. Secondly, Super-Flash 3.3 offers runtime licences that vary in price, depending on the number of alarms and variables managed and on the quantity purchased. This means that there are various purchasing options: RT/S (300 variables, 200 alarms), RT/M (500 variables, 300 alarms), RT/H (1,000 variables, 600 alarms) and RT/X (9,999 variables, 16,000 alarms).
"With the new version", explains Automa's product manger, "we have kept and improved on the typical performance of a quick and user-friendly development environment with Window interfaces, in order to simplify and optimize work for developers". In fact Super-Flash 3.3 has a new Windows interface for the development system, including List control, Tree-view, Tool bar, Drag&drop and Cut&paste, making it easier to pass from one system to another, to manage several projects at the same time and to move objects quickly from one project to another.
The software also offers runtime modification of all variable characteristics defined in the database, for new font management, Usb protection and summary dialogs for resources defined in a project. Version 3.3 also provides MicroC 2.0 runtime support, with 64 simultaneous programs each 1 MB, new debugging of MicroC programs, new timing functions and finally an automatic logger with detail levels for MicroC programs.
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