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School of Engineering
Networking Aids Automation
Professor John Wen
Your company has installed a machine in a factory in Ireland, and it’s your job to get it running.

Instead of booking a flight to Dublin, you turn to your keyboard, punch in a few commands to access the Internet, and within minutes you’re transatlantically operating the equipment as though it were in the next room.  

Photo by Thomas Griffin

The idea of Internet-based manufacturing is not science fiction. John Wen, professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering, and his colleagues have built the hardware and the software, and are already marketing the systems through their company, Advanced Realtime Control Systems (ARCS).   

“Any company that requires motion control can use a system like this. The idea is automation with an emphasis on networking. You tie standard camera/vision equipment with standard robot motion,” says Wen, co-founder of ARCS.

 Wen and two senior research scientists associated with Rensselaer’s Center for Advanced Technology—Sunil K. Singh and Brian Tibbetts—started the company in 1998. It specializes in robotics, motion control, process control, and network-based automation. Their Java-based software is marketed as ARCS-ware, and their motion control board, ARCS Lightning, is based on Texas Instrument’s DSP chip.

The technology could prove useful in many industries, including machine tools, flexible assembly, electronic assembly, food processing, and robotics. Through CAT, companies already using ARCSware and ARCS Lightning include Welch Allyn (medical diagnostics equipment), Bausch & Lomb (contact lenses), Delphi Harrison Thermal Systems (automotive electronics), and Pitney Bowes (office automation). Showing off his creation, Wen applied a few keystrokes and a robotic arm lifted a child’s wooden block and moved it to a moving table.   “It’s a lot of fun,” he says.

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