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1.12 Multicomputer Systems: Communication

All but the simplest mechanical control systems use more than one computer. The computers can be organized in a hierarchical arrangement or a "flat" one, or in both. Hierarchical organization is common in manufacturing facilities or other large systems where coordination of individual machines by management information systems assure ePcient system operation. Flat architectures are used where several computers cooperate in the control of a single machine (or unit physical system). In either case, design of real-time software for controlling a mechanical system will often require understanding of multicomputer architectures and how those architectures will affect control system performance. Properly designed communication becomes a critical element in delivering a reliable system that can be implemented predictably.

As with operator interfaces, portability is a serious problem in the design and implementation of multicomputer control systems. At the earliest simulation levels of the design process, the whole control system will probably run on a single computer. As subsequent stages are implemented, a variety of architectures are likely to be used. In each of these stages, any number of network technologies could be utilized for intercomputer communication. There might even be several network and point-to-point communication technologies existing simultaneously in the final, production system. Within all of this diversity, the economics of software development dictate that as little change as possible be made to the software in going from one configuration to another.

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