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Electrical Engineering

Remote electronic watchman

Company from São Carlos develops pioneer remote access system

An apparatus capable of working as a guardian that controls temperature, pressure, humidity, and the malfunctioning of systems and equipment. This is the proposal of Modcon, an electronic remote controller developed by Incon, a small company from São Carlos that produces 18 types of appliances, designed for the control of processes.  There are counters, tachometers, temporizers, thermostats with microprocessors, codifiers, sensors, transmitters, signal converters, power sources and relays.   .

The new device uses a common telephone line as a means of transmitting information, automatically dialing, if necessary, the telephone number of the surveillance center that is using it, 24 hours a day. It will be very useful for all kinds of companies in the area of telecommunications that for example maintain isolated transmission stations. Modcon also allows the equipment to be activated at a distance, to modify anything from the functioning of a machine to the temperature of the air conditioning, through specific software. More than interconnecting data, this appliance informs what is happening in the environment, and so easing the drama that torments those who run companies that operate day and night.

“Imagine a mobile phone out of action because of fire, sabotage, or lightning. How many handsets will be silenced? And how much is the damage?” asks Paulo Giglio, a partner in Incon, together with Vanberto Nave. “The solution to this problem lies more and more with remote sensors”, explains Durval Makoto Akamatu, a retired professor from UFSCar, the Federal University of São Carlos and the coordinator of information technology courses at the São Paulo Foundation of Technology and Education, in Lins.  He is the coordinator of the project ‘General Purpose Low Cost Controller with Microprocessor with Capacity for Remote Data Communication in a Multipoint Network, under FAPESP’s Program for Technological Innovation in Small Companies (PIPE). For this project, which will end at the beginning of 2001, Incon is receiving R$ 258,000 from the Foundation, over a three year period.

In all, over 20 persons are in activity, between Incon’s members of staff and owners, and the UFSCar students who are collaborating with the project. Two of Akamatu’s closest collaborators are Professors Paulo Rogério Politano, head of UFSCar’s Computing Department, and Orides Morandin Júnior, from the same department, who sums up the importance of the work that is being done:  “We investigated the domestic market and found nothing like what is being developed here in São Carlos”.

Practical tests
Up till now, various field tests have been carried out, with good results.  “All the necessary steps for the controller to be put into operation have been taken’, states the coordinator.  Large companies have opened their doors and machines for the Incon device to be tested on a day to day basis. This is the case of Uniklima, a company located in Embu, a town in Greater São Paulo, which supplies air conditioning equipment to big companies. “We used to supply Uniklima with thermostats and controllers, and, when the company started to install air conditioning machinery in the transmission rooms of the telecommunication companies, the interest for Modcon arose”, explains Nave.

Today, Incon’s main challenge is to develop protocols to interconnect the various access systems that involve Modcon’s operations. A first study is being started now in August to permit a connection between Modcon and the Internet. This study is to be developed in conjunction with graduate and post-graduate students from UFSCar’s Computing Department.

Both in Incon and in the university, the countdown for the interconnection between Modcon and the Internet has been started. For the company, this new technique will be the bit that is missing to add value to its products, giving it the capability to serve new segments of the market, abroad as well.  With this, Giglio and Nave hope to raise by 20% the company’s sales of Modcon.

Academic partnership
Incon began its activities in 1987, with the objective of substituting some electronic products that were imported. Nave and Giglio, then teacher and student at the Technical School of Mococa, pooled their savings, about R$ 4,000, and founded the company; its cradle was Cedin, the Development Center of Nascent Industries, in São Carlos. The original enterprise was to “tropicalize” machine components widely purchased outside the country, like temporizers for road surface compactors.

To grow, Incom kept expanding its range of products. It therefore launched temperature controllers, digital counters, aircraft instruments, and control systems for incubators, as well as sensors of the most varied models, for use in several environments, rural and industrial. Ten years after launching Incon on the market, Nave and Giglio realized that dreaming ambitiously was not just a compelling necessity imposed by globalization. They saw the need to go into the area of equipment for remote control.  Down this road, Nave went into battle, went into partnership with UFScar, and asked FAPESP for finance.  “Everything that is being done is the fruit of the PIPE program”, Nave adds.

The new controller uses a tiny board with a chip-modem, smaller than, but very similar to those that are used by computers to handle, for example, access to the Internet. “We had to develop all the hardware and software, as well as the communication protocols”, explains Paulo Giglio. Modcon is equipment that makes good the potential of a set of technologies that already exist. There are more than 150 components in an apparatus that weighs about 350 grams, and is easy to install and to monitor.

Difference in costs
The development of the product forced Incon to work systematically on microcomponents, using for example, techniques that make it possible to achieve a reduction in the dimensions of these electronic products. For this work, they had to purchase soldering equipment and lenses that magnify by thirty the material to be engraved in the integrated circuits.

Incon has competition for the new product, all of it imported, at a cost close to US$ 1,200. And with an important difference. “There is plenty of control equipment on the market, of course, but there is nothing with the characteristics and for the purposes indicated for Modcon like it in Brazil”, comments Nave.  Moreover, the imported controllers need adjustments to work under Brazilian conditions and systems.  This certainly makes them much more expensive. For Nave, besides Modcon’s advanced technology, another factor ought to guarantee the success of this apparatus. It should cost around R$ 300.00. A low price and an attractive one for an electronic sentry.

Profile:
Durval Makoto Akamatu is a retired professor from UFSCar’s Computing Department.  He graduated in Civil Engineering from the São Carlos School of Engineering of the University of São Paulo (USP), where he also took a master’s degree.  He took a doctorate in Systems and Computing Engineering at UFRJ, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

The Project
Development of a General Purpose Low Cost Controller with Microprocessor with Capacity for Remote Data Communication in a Multipoint Network (nº 97/07553-0); Modality Innovative Research in Small Business (PIPE); Investment: R$ 258,240.40

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