Tell Simon Cowell to call off his lawyers, we’re not talking about that X-factor. Today’s blog is about X the unknown.*

Imagine trying to navigate a curving road hugging a mountainside at night without headlights or a full moon to light your way. You quite literally cannot see what lies ahead. This is the X factor causing sleepless nights to those tasked with keeping their factories or buildings up to date in today’s competitive market. They don’t want to simply keep up with their competition, they want to outpace them with the systems which maximize their margins and profits. So, they turn their bloodshot eyes to the designers of control and automation systems which monitor, measure, and respond to conditions on their factory floors, processing plants, or skyscrapers around the globe. Not for a crystal ball to predict coming changes, but for devices with the flexibility to respond to necessary changes, without the expense and downtime of installing new hardware.

An example of the critical importance of flexibility would be in a plant that bottles soft drinks. In our example plant, there is a machine that monitors the temperature of the liquid as it leaves the processing area. Plant managers are always looking for ways to improve productivity so when a systems engineer proposes a way to improve production time by adding a control valve to adjust the flow of the liquid; they are interested. The old way of tackling this idea would have been to design, build and deploy a dedicated, fixed function monitor and control system. This would require a costly change in hardware, made even more costly by downtime while the new hardware is installed.

That was the old way.

Today, with very little re-fit, the same machine monitoring the temperature of the liquid can be reprogrammed to measure flow by using one of Analog Devices’ two new Software Defined I/O (input/output) platforms, either the AD74412R or AD74413R. These software configurable I/O platforms have four separate channels which can be remotely programmed to separately monitor either analog or digital data from any source. This means the supplier of industrial and building control systems can now offer their customers (the end-user factory and building managers) a platform configurable not just to their current needs but the lurking unknown X in their future. Imagine being able to use the same board for a completely different function – or even multiple, different functions. Using the drink-bottling process as our example, one channel could take the temperature of the mixture, a second could monitor and control the liquid’s flow and so on up to four channels.

All of this is possible with AD74412R (optimized for Building controls such as lighting, A/C, and occupancy sensing) and AD74413R (optimized for factories and processing plants.) Oh, and one very important point for system designers; the AD74413R doesn’t just look to the future – it also supports communication with legacy HART modems, providing even greater compatibility to communicate with older, existing control systems.

There will always be an X factor. But with ADI’s AD74412R and AD74413R as the core of an I/O, the X factor is more manageable, and you can get a good night’s sleep.


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* Ironically, the reason we use X to represent the unknown is itself shrouded in mystery. Some say it resulted from European mathematicians’ poor translation of the Arabic word al-shalan, which means "the unknown thing.” Other folks, such as Gizmodo’s Lauren Davis, claim that “the use of x (as well as y and z) became common thanks to René Descartes' use of the last three letters of the alphabet to represent unknown quantities in his treatise La Géométrie.” Sounds like a great topic for another blog…