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February 1992 - July 1998

Bartronics (India)

The Dawn of Technology

1992 – 1997:

Time & Attendance Turnkey Systems, Barcode Solutions for inventory control, vehicle tracking, and WIP management

Customers: TELCO, Whirlpool, Lohia, and Associated Cement Companies.  

 

As General Manager (Technical), I led a team of system engineers and software developers to design, develop, and test a production tracking and dispatch control system. The tracking system used barcode systems to automate data capture of work in progress, product readiness at each stage of the manufacturing process, and final product delivery (logistics and routing). 

Most Indian companies either used a manual system for entering attendance or used a mechanical clock for punching the time on cards. In a bid to move away from mechanical devices to electronic systems, Bartronics introduced Israel-based Synel Corporation’s range of barcode and magnetic strip based time-attendance systems. I had evaluated and recommended that Bartronics should manufacture and sell industrial T&A solutions by bundling (a) Synel's time-attendance system, (b) providing multi-drop network and industrial hardware, and (c) developing customizable attendance software in-house.

 

BAS was a time attendance software package developed by Bartronics to support the Synel time attendance terminals. This package interfaced with the Synel communications software to automate the task of reading attendance “time-ins and time-outs” data from the terminals and provided a user-friendly application front-end to generate HR reports.

 

My other responsibilities included integration, testing, and manufacture of a wide range of barcode, RFID, MagStripe, and proximity products. Bartronics' first barcode terminal was based on an HP barcode decoder ASIC. The communications protocol used was a multi-drop RS485 serial interface. The communications interface was kept simple by using fixed-length asynchronous messages. Each message comprised three fields – Terminal ID, timestamp, and personnel data. The RS485 interface's capability of long distance communications up to 100 meters and connectivity to 32 devices was highly suitable for the attendance system. 

Bartronics-3.png

1992 – 1997:

Spread spectrum based RF network for automatic control of overhead cranes

Customers: Tata Iron & Steel Company.

TISCO is a leading iron and steel manufacturing company with iron mines in Orissa and a steel factory in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand.  The iron ore after preparation (raw material processing) is reduced to sponge iron (direct reduced iron) in a reactor by utilizing natural gas as the reducing agent, to produce pellets. These iron pellets are then mixed with coal and limestone, and transferred to huge vats in a blast furnace converter where the mixture is blown with pure oxygen at 1100°C (2000°F) until the level of carbon is sufficiently reduced. The liquid steel thus obtained is sent to a refining station where it is stirred with an inert gas (argon) to further clean the steel of impurities. (At the refining station, other elements or metals may be added to produce a variety of steels). This liquid steel can now be processed into blooms, ingots, thin or thick slabs, and strips.

The slab casting process ensures uniform thickness and width of the slab by forcing the liquid steel from ladles to flow through a continuous casting mold. As liquid steel moves through the mold, enough heat is removed to solidify it. Precision lasers at the casting line cut the slab to the exact length specified by the job orders. These cut slabs are physically removed from the end of the casting line and transferred to a pre-defined "cooling" area within a slab yard. (A slab yard is defined as an open shed with a roof). The temperature of the steel slabs is now approximately 550°C (1000°F). 

The slab yard at any point of the year is considerably hotter than the outside surrounding areas. In the Indian summer season, temperatures within the slab yard reach more than 50°C (120°F). Overhead cranes operated by humans, move slabs around from the cooling zone to other pre-defined zones within the slab yard. This harsh environment makes crane operators very inefficient and unproductive.

To improve slab yard productivity, TISCO embarked on an ambitious, futuristic automation project.

I led five engineers and three consultants for a Client/Server network system project in Tata Iron & Steel Company (TISCO) in India. The project was “Automation of overhead crane systems in the slab yard”.  The project involved the design and development of communication, control, and application for running on embedded operating systems in Intermec’s RF-based Industrial Terminals and Handheld terminals. The slab yard project comprised of (a) spread spectrum radio frequency based network, (b) remote industrial terminals in overhead cranes, (c) an Ethernet-based backbone, (d) Siemens’ Reliant Unix server, and (e) DEC VAX system.

 

The industrial terminal in each crane was GUI-based, equipped with a 2.4GHz frequency hopping spread spectrum radio. These industrial terminal units would communicate with the wireless access points that were mounted at strategic locations in the slab yard (locations determined by conducting an RF site survey).  The wireless access points were all linked to the ethernet backbone. The industrial terminal in each of the overhead cranes was responsible for managing the PLCs mounted on the crane. These PLCs controlled the x, y, z motion of the crane and hoist. Accurate positioning and feedback are achieved by a Laser Positioning System that uses rulers painted on the sides of the slab yard to determine position.

 

The RF wireless handheld units for the supervisors were used for correcting work orders. These handheld units used the 2.4GHz radio network for communications. The Ethernet backbone was connected to fault-tolerant pair of servers running Siemens’ Reliant Unix. These servers were, in turn, connected to TISCO’s real-time production VAX system for managing and controlling work orders. 

 

This project was divided into these modules:

 

  • Design and deploy spread spectrum wireless network

  • Design and deploy Ethernet backbone

  • Design, develop and install control software for handling work orders in the industrial terminals

  • Design, develop and install RF communications software in the industrial terminals

  • Design, develop and install application and control software for supervisors in the handheld terminals

  • Design, develop and install RF communications software in the handheld terminals

  • Design, develop and install RF communications software for Siemens’ servers

 

  • All the communication software modules were designed and implemented using C/C++. The PLC interface modules were designed and developed in C using the Modbus protocol. All GUI interfaces were designed and implemented using MFC/Visual C++ on the vehicle-mounted industrial terminals.

  • The database used was Oracle 7.0. All database access modules were developed and implemented using Pro-C for Oracle.

  • The case tool used was Case Designer 2000. Other tools used included Rogue Wave tools, ProC, and Purify. Inter-Process Communication was through Berkley compatible sockets and POSIX message queues. Inter-System Communication was through either the local Ethernet LAN or through the enterprise FDDI-2 interface.

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