Field Guide: GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms

In its 20 years, GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms has proven to be very much in control-of its automation and control technologies and services.

The company

GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms (Charlottesville, VA; www.gefanuc.com) supplies automation technologies and services. It started out in 1986 as GE Fanuc Automation Corporation, a joint venture created by General Electric and Fanuc. The company's platinum anniversary gift to itself in October 2007 was a new name to reflect the way the business and the markets it serves have evolved. Its nature has changed in large part due to the multitude of acquisitions it has made over the years, including Total Control Products (industrial automation products), CimWorks (supervisory control and data acquisition, SCADA; statistical process control, SPC; direct numerical control, DNC; factory control software), DataViews (visualization and graphical interface development tools), AFE Technologies (human/machine interface, HMI; SCADA), Computer Dynamics (flat-panel computers), VMIC (single board computers, SBC; data communications; networking), Intellution (HMI, SCADA, historian, and process automation software), Mountain Systems, Inc. (MSI; manufacturing execution systems, MES), RAMiX (embedded computing connectivity, storage, and memory products), SBS Technologies (embedded computer boards and systems), Condor Engineering (test and simulation products, embedded boards, data communications), Radstone Technology (embedded computer products), and MTL Instruments Group (I/O products, SafetyNet systems, process control). 

In 2007, GE Fanuc sales were about $136-million and the company employed about 1,850 people worldwide, most of whom are in North America. Founding company GE-General Electric Company (GE; Fairfield, CT; www.ge.com)-is the only company still listed in the Dow Jones Industrial Index since the original index in 1896. GE products and services cover six major businesses: commercial finance, healthcare, industrial, infrastructure (e.g., aircraft engines; oil, gas, and other energy technologies; locomotives; water processing systems), money (e.g., home loans, insurance, credit cards, personal loans), and NBC Universal (media and entertainment). In December 2007, GE employed 327,000 people worldwide; its four global research centers employed more than 3,000 researchers. In 2007, GE generated $173 billion in revenues and $22.5 billion in earnings.

Founding company Fanuc (Minamitsuru-Gun, Yamanashi Prefecture, located at the foot of Mt. Fuji; www.fanuc.co.jp) began in 1956 by developing numerical controls (NC) and servo systems. Fanuc Ltd. was established in 1972 when the computing control division became independent from Fujitsu. Today, Fanuc is a worldwide supplier of computer numerical control (CNC) hardware and software; servo, spindle, and linear motors; visual and tactile sensor systems for robots; robot devices and applications; position detectors, control circuits and other sensor-related technologies; high-density mounting systems; and carbon dioxide (CO2) lasers. In the fiscal year ending March 31, 2008, Fanuc net sales totaled ¥463 billion (US$4.33 billion) and its net income was ¥127 billion (US$1.19 billion).


Product information

The breadth of applications of its products has provided benefit to those who do widely different things. Here's an example. Oil and gas plants and military products both operate in rugged and harsh field conditions. Both involve temperature extremes, shock, vibration, airborne contaminants, hazardous chemicals and gasses, and even explosive hazards. GE and Fanuc's experience in these industrial environments has driven GE Fanuc to produce ruggedized versions of off-the-shelf boards, systems, and displays. According to GE Fanuc officials, "Our products are equally at home in the hazardous world of deep sea oil production or the sterile environment of a semiconductor fab." Add harsh industrial environments, whether in third-tier low-volume job shops or relatively sterile repetitive automotive assembly lines. The same holds true for image processing and video tracking systems initially aimed at military/aerospace applications, such as situational awareness systems for armored vehicles, aircraft, remote unmanned platforms, and security and surveillance systems. Spinoffs of these same systems can be found in applications involving robots, precision machine tooling, materials handling, and semiconductor fab.

GE Fanuc operates in three closely related markets: automation, CNC, and embedded systems. In the automation segment, the company provides nano to high-end programmable logic controllers (PLCs); HMI products; single-board computers (SBCs) and industrial computers; and software packages used to control and report on individual industrial equipment, manufactured products, and production lines. In the CNC segment, GE Fanuc is literally at the "cutting edge"-both where the tools hit metal and in the technology of control. The company divides the CNC market into four basic areas: machine tool controls and systems, servo drives and motors, CNC productivity software, and industrial CO2 lasers. In the embedded systems segment, the company produces SBCs, sensor processing networking products, avionics interfaces, rugged flat panel monitors, and complete computer systems.

Name an industry; GE Fanuc is a player. The company can mix ‘n match products to satisfy the requirements of specific industrial domains. In some industries, GE Fanuc sells specific devices and systems, for example, tracking and image processing systems for military/defense, and high-performance/hard real-time MicroTCA systems for telecommunications, military/aerospace, and industrial applications. GE Fanuc also sells products that find a home in multiple industries. For example, automotive, food and beverage, metals and mining, oil and gas, packaging, pulp and paper, semiconductor, and water and wastewater all can deploy such GE Fanuc products as Proficy Historian, Proficy HMI/SCADA-iFIX (or -Cimplicity), and Proficy Real Time Information Portal software products; Genius I/O; and PACSystems, the Series 90-30 and 90-70 controllers, and the IS-series industrial-grade servers. While automotive is keenly interested in possibly using Proficy Tracker to facilitate on-time and in-sequence product delivery to OEMs, pharmaceuticals are more interested in Proficy Batch Analysis for facilitating recipe management.



GE Fanuc competes against all the industrial automation heavyweights serving the discrete manufacturing and process industries, including ABB Automation Technologies, Emerson Process Management, Honeywell Process Solutions, Invensys Process Systems, Omron, Rockwell Automation (particularly the Allen-Bradley portion of that business), and Siemens AG. Numerous suppliers of both general and specialized controls/auto-mation products, and engineering services, also compete with GE Fanuc in specific industrial domains and applications.

Dozens of companies provide industrial CO2 lasers, including Access Laser, Coherent, Control Laser, GSI Group, Parallax Technology, PRC Laser, Rofin-Sinar Technologies, Synrad, Trumpf, and even Fanuc, Ltd.



The plethora of GE Fanuc brands merely hints at the range of capabilities covered by the company's product portfolio. Here are some.

Controllers and programming tools. PLCs include Durus (low-end controllers with few I/O), Series 90-30/90-70 (AMD and Intel processor-based, high-density discrete and analog I/O support, and, at the high end, hot backup), VersaMax Micro and VersaMax Nano (compact, modular PLCs with up to 176 I/O points), and VersaMax PLC (up to 128K of memory for application programs, floating point math, real-time clock, subroutines, PID, flash memory, and bumpless run mode).

QuickPanel Control, based on the Microsoft Windows CE operating system, combines visualization and control in a single device. PACsystems RX3i and RX7i are high-end modular controllers for high-speed and complex discrete, motion, and process applications. ftServer systems are fault tolerant (ft) computers, based on Stratus Continuous Processing technology, in a panel-mount size.

The Proficy Logic Developer is a software development environment for programming, monitoring, and troubleshooting PLC and PC control applications. The PLC version is available for all GE Fanuc PLCs andPACSystems controllers; the PC version runs on Microsoft Windows CE, Windows NT/2000, Embedded NT, and Hard Real-Time NT. The Proficy Motion Developer-Machine Edition is for creating motion control programs for GE Fanuc S2K series motion controllers.

I/O and communications. Genius I/O products provide a modular system for implementing decentralized discrete and analog I/O and control. The Genius family includes 20 I/O blocks, a variety of PLC interface modules, and a growing number of third-party interfaces. VersaMax and VersaPoint are two other I/O families (DIN rail-mounted systems). GE Fanuc provides I/O drivers for industrial devices from A to Z-from ABB Kent Taylor Mod 30 v7.xxm to Ziton Fire Panel.

Where (hard) real-time response and high availability in I/O are critical, there are AdvancedTCA-, AdvancedMC-, and MicroTCA-based cards, hubs, blades, and systems. (MicroTCA has spread from communications applications to other embedded computing applications.) Redundancy and hot-swap features in MicroTCA systems ensure the high availability of those systems.

TranSphere Wireless is a family of industrial wireless communications products that provide wireless IP/Ethernet and serial communication at 900 MHz or 2.4 GHz. NETerenity Gigabit Ethernet switches provide high-speed network connectivity and management to embedded systems.

There are also peripherals. One recent addition is the Portable Program Download Device, which replaces needing a PC when uploading/downloading controller configurations and logic from/to a USB memory stick.

CNC and programming tools. The compact, low-cost Series 0i unit can control up to 4 programmable axes; the Series PowerMate i can control a single axis up to 256 synchronous axes. At the other end of the CNC spectrum is the Series 30i Model A, which can control up to 40 axes (24 of which may be interpolated simultaneously) and up to 10 paths. The Series 16i/160i is an 8-axes CNC that can execute ladders with up to 32,000 steps at 0.085 µsec/step, and can perform real-time multi-tasking through an independent 32-bit C language processor.

Fanuc Ladder III is the company's ladder development and debugging tool for creating ladder building blocks, supporting extended ladder instructions, and copying and pasting ladders between different controller types.

Motion control. S2K is a family of 1-axis standalone motion controllers that feature a multitasking 32-bit microprocessor, sinusodial commutation, and a broad range of encoder- or resolver-based motors. The VersaMax Micro Plus has built-in motion and MicroMotion expansion modules for motion applications with fewer than 4 axes. PACMotion, based on PACSystems RX3i, is a high-end motion controller for high speed and highly complex applications (up to 40 axes in a single rack). Digital Servo Motion modules can receive commands, programs and data from PCs, PLCs, or networks. Advanced Machine Control modules uses incremental/absolute and rotary/linear programming modes.

Servo drives, spindle systems, and advanced linear motors. GE Fanuc offers various servo motors (0.84 to 664 in-lb and torque ranges from 2.7 to 169 in-lb). The Alpha i line of servo motors are best for high speed and nano machining applications; the Beta i line, for feed axis and auxiliary axis of machine tools. Larger, linear synchronous servo motors based on the Alpha design are available. VersaMotion motors range from 100 W to 3 kW with torque ratings from 2.7 to 169 in-lb, and encoder feedback with a quadrature resolution of 10,000 counts per motor revolution. And there are digital AC spindle drive systems for turning and milling applications.

HMI. GE Fanuc has a range of human-machine interfaces (HMI), from low-end displays and message centers to touch-screen panels and high-end operator interfaces with integral control or bundled software. For example, the DataPanel line consists of units with varying numbers of thumbwheels, keypads, function keys, navigation and editing keys, programmable LEDs, panel meters, and text-based displays. Combining QuickPanel View, a line of slim-profile touch screens from 6 to 12 in. (color or monochrome), with QuickPanel Control creates a box for visualization and control, plus networking, data collection, trending, and alarming functionality based on Microsoft Windows CE.

Intelligence Industrial PCs are panel-mount units that can function as an operator panel, machine control platform, or local data collector. Intelligence PanelClient Pro is a Microsoft Windows XP Embedded thin-client touch screen-based HMI. Intelligence PanelPC Workstation is a full-fledge industrial PC that includes touch screen, full alphanumeric keypad, and several programmable function keys. Recently announced SeaBrite from the Computer Dynamics division of GE Fanuc is a family of flat panel monitors featuring a wide voltage range for power input and support for RGB, composite video, S-video, and DVI signals.

SBCs, systems, and servers. GE Fanuc SBC come in a variety of form factors, processor speeds, memory configurations, I/O options, and levels of ruggedization. The VPX Intel (previously VITA 46) was created for the defense industry. It comes in both 6U and 3U form factors, supports existing PMC and XMC mezzanines, and has the maximum possible compatibility with VMEbus. The VPXcel3 SBC320 uses the Intel Core 2 Duo Processor, supports two 4-lane PCI Express ports across the backplane, and has a number of high-speed interfaces for off-board communication, including two gigabit Ethernet ports, two USB 2.0 ports, and a SATA disk interface. Operating systems supported are VxWorks, Windows, and Linux. The recently announced 2-GHz V7865 Intel Core Duo processor-based SBC can operate in VITA 47 Class EAC6 environments with temperatures of -40° to +70°C and 20 g vibration/shock.

Wolverine computers are sunlight-readable, industrial PCs that are HAZLOC approved and ruggedized. These are based on an SBC with up to a 1.8-GHz Intel Pentium M processor and can be configured with up to 2 GB DDR SDRAM. The Ruffneck Zone 1 computer, also certified for HAZLOC environments, can operate in temperatures down to -400°C.

IS-100 and the larger (2U) IS-200 are industrial servers. Both feature Intel 64-bit Xeon processors (single/dual/quad-core, 1333/1066 MHz FSB), two Gigabit Ethernet controllers, SAS controller with software RAID 0/1/5/10 support, SATA controller with hardware RAID 0/1/5 support, and a graphics controller with 32 MB video RAM. Both servers comply with RoHS 5/6 and WEEE Directives and support the Microsoft Windows XP/2000/2003 Server and Linux software.

Production management software. Cimplicity is a suite of production management software modules traditionally for discrete-oriented, high-volume manufacturing. This suite has been mostly superseded by Proficy, an integrated set of software for production and for linking production to enterprise-wide business systems. Proficy combines workflow, MES, and process quality systems together with an industrial service oriented architecture (SOA). The Proficy moniker applies to over a dozen modules: Remote Monitoring & Diagnostics, Maintenance Gateway (enterprise asset management), Tracker (lean production monitor), Real-Time Information Portal, Shop Floor SPC, Historian, and HMI/SCADA-iFIX (with 21 CFR Part 11 capabilities; i.e., electronic signatures and audit trails). Proficy Plant Applications, powered by SAP NetWeaver, consists of four modules that cover analysis, overall equipment effectiveness, production, and quality.

Process management software. There are Proficy-branded modules for the process industry, such as Batch Execution (includes data collection, batch management, supervisory control, ISA S88 device independent recipe management), Batch Analysis (features active journaling, active binding, and recipe editing capabilities), and Process Systems (scalable process automation and control system).

CNC productivity software. Bolt-on turnkey systems help improve machine availability, performance, and part quality. For instance, as an authorized Renishaw Solution Provider, GE Fanuc will install or upgrade Renishaw probing systems, including adding M-codes, activating options, creating custom macro cycles, training, and ensuring overall performance. Other bolt-ons combine GE Fanuc servo and spindle motors with technology from Mitutoyo AT553 linear scales (increasing positional accuracy), Bayside stealth "advanced" gearheads (increasing total efficiency), and Zero-Max high-performance couplings (accommodating higher torque and high speed).

GE Fanuc iAdapt adaptive control technology for new or existing milling and turning machines automatically adjusts axes feedrates to maintain a target spindle power, compensate for process variation, and eliminate conservative part programming practices. iAdapt-s is for new CNCs; iAdapt-r is for most GE Fanuc or Fanuc CNCs using high-speed I/O Link communications, and to older and third-party CNCs using serial communications.

The Proficy Machine Tool Efficiency is a Web-based software package that collects and analyzes plant data to determine machine availability, performance, and part quality. NCGuide and NCGuidePro are PC-based CNC simulators covering operator training, part programming (including conventional G-code part programming with real-time, 3D tool path simulation, and conversational part programming with 3D tool path and part geometry visualization), and maintenance.

Industrial CO2 lasers. GE Fanuc provides laser oscillators, CNCs, and servo drives as one integrated package for cutting mild steel, stainless steel, aluminum, and other materials. Laser and machine motions are always synchronized because both are controlled by a single processor. Laser parameters can be filled in by direct CNC commands, while special functions can be activated by digital switches.

Image processing systems. Adept video detection, tracking, and image processing systems combine advanced image preprocessing with tracking algorithms that include centroid, correlation, edge, multiple target track, and phase correlation. Fusion60 combines two input video streams into a single, enhanced video output to reduce noise and enhance image contrast for a range of sensor types including image intensifiers and thermal imagers. IMP16 is an advanced real-time, dual-channel image capture and processing module for computationally intensive image processing tasks (such as image fusion). Magic1 combines the Intel Core 2 Duo with the dual-channel Nvidia G73 in a rugged chassis suitable for military and aerospace environments. Similar graphics modules are based on the ATI Radion 9000 and 3DLabs P10 Visual Processing Unit.

Miscellaneous. GE Fanuc's support services include technical support for control hardware, software, and machine tools; spare parts, warranties, and factory repairs; engineering services for designing, integrating, and installing automation systems; training services; and field engineering support services. The company's product lifecycle management organization provides various long-term support services, such as product obsolescence management; repair facilities that include test and diagnostic equipment often found only in a product development; and configuration management to help customers integrate new, higher-performance hardware while retaining form, fit, and function and application software compatibility.