Wireless I/O vs. Wireless Distributed I/O.

14/02/2016

We all know that one of the biggest challenges to connecting legacy or remote equipment to the network is the cost of running wires. If you have an indoor application, you have to run conduit and wires to the devices you want to monitor or measure. In most cases it is just too painful and expensive. Outdoors, there are trenches to dig, cables to bury underground and the permits…don’t forget about the time it takes for permitting. What if the equipment you need to connect to is across a major street or parking lot? That would mean more costs and permits to tear up city streets. Many times it just isn’t feasible to run conduit between items like water pumps, generators or chillers and your control room. But, how are you supposed to get to the data in this equipment?

prosoft IO.jpg_ico500There is the traditional method of installing a wireless Distributed I/O system using Ethernet radios. Depending on the application, this would work just fine. However, it can be a daunting process that involves costly downtime. And we all know that downtime doesn’t pay the bills.

“With a Wireless I/O system from ProSoft Technology, the cost, hassle and expensive downtime of installing wire goes away.”

What is the difference between Wireless I/O and Traditional Distributed I/O with an Ethernet Radio?
A traditional distributed I/O system using an Ethernet radio requires plant operators to support network communications and program a data communications network. Not so with ProSoft Technology’s Wireless I/O.

Wireless I/O, sometimes referred to as a Wireless Terminal Block, is a simplified form of wireless communication designed to make reliable, secure connections between two locations. Unlike data radios, the Wireless I/O system requires no software to program or network protocol to configure. The Wireless I/O radios are sold in pairs, already programmed to connect to one another. The I/O signal sent between the radios is encrypted with 128-bit AES encryption to make sure only the paired radio on the other end can read the information. The individual I/O modules read the physical signals from the machine – 24VDC digital signals, 0-10V or 4-20mA analog signals – and send that information to a corresponding I/O module at the other end. The corresponding module simply reproduces the signal on its output terminals. The digital I/O module has 4 digital inputs and 4 digital outputs, while the analog modules each have two inputs and two outputs. The system is bi-directional, so each radio can send inputs to and receive outputs from the other. Each radio pair can support 16 I/O module pairs, for 64 digital inputs and outputs or 32 analog inputs and outputs.

Because the system only needs to handle a small amount of data, the wireless I/O radios use a technique called “frequency hopping spread spectrum” modulation. This method is ideal for reducing potential interference from other radio signals in the area and provides very reliable transmission of the I/O signals. The radios are available in either 2.4 GHz or 900 MHz versions. By default, the system transmits the status of its I/O once per second. A “Turbo Mode” option boosts the update rate to as fast as 10 times per second.

Typical Example of a Wireless I/O System
Let’s consider an application with a storm water retention system including pumps and valves, several hundred meters from the control room. The building maintenance team wants to gather information about the storm water system, such as basin water level, pump status, and outflow rate. Digging a trench from the building to the basin control panel could easily cost USD 10,000, even more if the path requires trenching through parking lots or roadways. If you add the cost of cabling and conduit, the project cost quickly exceeds the benefit of bringing the data into the control system.

With ProSoft Technology’s Wireless I/O, this type of project becomes much easier and much less expensive! Using the pre-paired radios, the building maintenance team can install input and output cards right in the cabinet with the basin control equipment. With the wireless I/O there is no need for the basin control equipment to support network communications, and no need for the installer to program a data communications network to make it work.

So, if you have abandoned the idea of gathering information from hard-to-reach or remote equipment in the past…think again. ProSoft Technology’s Wireless I/O system is an easy and cost-effective way to bring your data back into your control system for analysis and action, and most importantly, an increase in your bottom line.


Automation industry veterans are IoT pioneers and didn’t know it!

28/12/2015
Keith Blodorn, Director of Program Management at ProSoft Technology advises what to consider when starting your industrial internet of things journey

Do you consider yourself an Internet of Things Engineer? You should! Think about what the Internet of Things really means. According to Wikipedia, the Internet of Things “is the network of physical objects or ‘things’ embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and connectivity to enable objects to exchange data with the manufacturer, operator and/or other connected devices…” As an automation industry veteran, that sounds really familiar. We have been connecting intelligent devices to control networks for decades. We’re pioneers!

Acoustic coupler!

Acoustic coupler!

So, then, what’s all the fuss about? Looking through automation-oriented magazines and websites, the Internet of Things seems to be all anyone talks about. In the industrial world people call it the “Industrial Internet of Things” or “Industry 4.0” or any number of other names. But fundamentally, what is so different between this new-fangled buzzword and connecting a motor overload relay to a plant communications network like we were doing twenty years ago?

On one hand, these are basically the same idea. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is about intelligent devices like overloads, photo eyes, variable frequency drives, or PLCs providing data that we use to make our processes more efficient. IIoT is a name for a trend that has been going on in manufacturing and process control for years – remember “shop floor to top floor”? IIoT is about gathering more data from more intelligent things, and using powerful analytical tools to find and eliminate waste.

Remote Monitoring and Equipment Access
I know, we’ve been connecting to PLCs remotely for as long as most of us can remember! In the old days, remote access meant installing a serial modem connected to a dedicated phone line, so the machines we made remote access-capable were limited to the most critical operations.

What’s changed in the IIoT world is the proliferation of wireless connectivity, especially cellular networks and wireless LAN. By some estimates, 85 percent of the world’s population will be covered by high-speed cellular data networks by 2017. This has had several effects that change how we should approach remote access and equipment monitoring. First, it’s becoming feasible to gather a LOT more data from remote machines. Since 2008, the average cost per MB of cellular data has dropped 98 percent, from $0.46 per MB to just $0.01 per MB. Now, all that data that we used to deem not important enough to transmit can be made available from our remote sites.

Second, as consumer demand has driven rapid development of Internet- based user interfaces, these same technologies are making remote access to industrial equipment, and especially to process data, more accessible for more people throughout the organization.

Finally, machine builders and control engineers responsible for widely dispersed global operations can build reliable connectivity into their systems without the need for custom infrastructure and integration at the end site. Cellular technology that works on networks worldwide allows these engineers to design their system around a standard remote connection, and reasonably expect that connection to work wherever the machine ends up. For mobile equipment, access is available just about anywhere the equipment goes.

Machine and Process Control
IIoT technology is not just about cellular connections to remote machines. We are seeing new networking approaches to the old requirements of connecting sensors, operator interfaces, controllers and ERP systems that take advantage of the networking technology of today’s Internet. Major automation vendors like Rockwell Automation® and Schneider Electric® have been offering industrial Ethernet connectivity for PLCs and related devices for more than a decade. Industrial Ethernet protocols like ODVA’s EtherNet/IP provide the kind of performance required for automation systems, while also enabling interoperability with the massive Internet Protocol-based network infrastructure found in virtually every organization.

In many industrial applications, moving equipment presents a major challenge for communication to the sensors, actuators, and controls on that equipment. Many products exist to try to solve this problem, from slip rings to flexible cable trays to festoons.

However, these hard-wired solutions add cost and complexity while increasing the maintenance requirements for the machine. Meanwhile, we roam around our offices and homes with continuous connection to the Internet – no festoons in sight! Today’s automation engineers are taking advantage of the Internet Protocol-based industrial technologies to design more reliable networks for moving equipment.

Asset Mobility
One area of automation where IIoT technology is creating new opportunities involves taking the network connection anywhere in the plant. Old systems offered only so many places to “plug in.” Operators had to run the machine from one place – the operator panel. Maintenance had to jot down measurements and observations to enter into the maintenance management system when they got back to the shop. Control engineers could only program PLCs by plugging into the PLC, or to the PLC’s physical network through a proprietary adapter.

In a world where I can set my home thermostat while walking through an airport, we don’t have to live like this! Automation systems are now benefiting from the same “network everywhere” mindset as our home and office environment.

Things to Consider

Keith Blodorn - the author

Keith Blodorn – the author

The Industrial Internet of Things opens up some interesting new possibilities for automation, so you should begin planning how you can get your system “IIoT Ready.” The good news is that you likely have many pieces in place already – intelligent field devices, industrial networks, perhaps even some Internet Protocol-based infrastructure. Here is some food for thought as you consider how your system can fit into this new world of connected machines.

• Network Migration – While many of your field devices are likely already on a network, it is probably not an Internet Protocol-based network. Not to worry! As you see the need to move device data up to higher-level systems, you won’t need to scrap that tried-and-true device network. Gateway devices and in-rack protocol interfaces in your controller allow you to easily connect those older networks to the IP-based applications that need that device data. Serving up data from smart devices adds value to your operation, but it doesn’t necessarily require changing everything that is already there.

• Cybersecurity – While the interoperability of the IIoT brings great benefits, it also opens up new risks that we need to address. In reality, many automation systems are already “connected,” so cybersecurity should already be on your mind. It is important to understand what equipment can be accessed by whom, what connections are necessary and not necessary, and how data that’s transmitted outside the boundaries of your organization’s network is protected.

• Start Small – Vendors everywhere have grand visions for what the IIoT can do for manufacturers. But remember, you don’t need to dive in head first to get benefits from IIoT. Look for applications in your industry that make sense, and give them a try. One of the best parts of the IIoT concept is its scalability – Internet-based applications can just as easily serve one deployment as one million. Pick an interesting application, and run a pilot in a small area. There’s no better way to learn about a new technology than by giving it a go.

• Get Help – Most importantly, work with vendors you can trust. When it comes to industrial networking, ProSoft Technology® has been helping engineers get different equipment all talking the same language for more than 25 years. We can help you navigate your IIoT course, from connecting older Modbus® and PROFIBUS® networks to enabling remote equipment connectivity via cellular networks. When you’re ready to start the next phase of your IIoT journey, we’re here to help make it happen!


Failure is not an option!

18/10/2014

ProSoft Technology’s PROFIBUS Modules and Industrial Radios allow critical data to be transmitted from ControlLogix PACs at Flood Defense System.

Failure is not an option when upgrading a flood barrier’s control system. Should a flood barrier malfunction, thousands of homes and businesses could be severely impacted.

Upgrading a flood barrier isn’t a task that can be done overnight. It takes months and months of work. The barrier has to remain available for use throughout the upgrade, making it a considered and careful task. There has to be several fail safe measures and redundancies in place. Whoever said redundancies are a bad thing hasn’t taken a look at a flood barrier system.

dartford_scheme

Two concrete towers stand 20 meters above the ground on either side of the mouth of Dartford Creek. This is the UK Environment Agency’s Dartford Barrier Flood Defense System in Kent, South East England. The barrier is routinely closed, in conjunction with the bigger Thames Barrier upstream, to prevent high tide water levels in the River Thames Estuary flowing back up the creek and flooding Dartford and the surrounding area.

Two steel gates, each 30-metre across and weighing over 160 tons each, are suspended at high level between the two concrete towers. Like a huge guillotine at the creek mouth, one gate may be slowly lowered on its supporting chains onto the river bed to block the flow of water. Then the second gate may be slowly lowered to rest onto the top of the first gate. When closed together, the 160 ton steel gates can withstand up to 10.4 meters of water.

The gates are raised and lowered by direct drive oil hydraulic motors. The drive system comprises two 18.5kW pump and motor units, providing both duty and standby facilities, enabling a gate to be raised or lowered in 15-minutes. When not in use both gate structures are safely held in the fully raised position and latched using hydraulic latch mechanisms. This permits vessels to pass underneath the gates along the creek.

It is envisaged that due to climate change that the barrier may need to operate an average of 50 times per annum over the next 25 years.

“The system has to be highly available with many fallback systems in case of failures,” said Andrew Garwood, a Senior Contracts Manager in the Controls Division of Qualter Hall & Co Limited, Barnsley (GB).

Just a couple of years ago, the control system was starting to show its age. As part of a large upgrade to the barrier, its associated control system was overhauled. The original control system was a completely hardwired based relay system that was over 30 years old. Spare parts for the 30 year-old system were becoming scarce.

Qualter Hall provided the M&E contracted works on behalf of the principal contractor Birse Civils, who had engaged Qualter Hall as the Systems Integrator for the project and as the Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Contractor in charge of upgrading the control system; they had several goals in mind. Number one was safety and reliability. Flooding, should it occur, could cause extensive damage to the surrounding area.

instrument_inst_DartfordQualter Hall, who provides an attractive ‘one stop shop’ for a multitude of engineering solutions, decided to call ProSoft Technology. Qualter Hall selected this company, because it was a reliable, cost effective solution that was endorsed by Rockwell Automation. ProSoft Technology is a Rockwell Automation Encompass Partner.

Two Rockwell Automation ControlLogix redundant PACs are inside each of the 20-meter towers to control the opening and closing of the barrier, but much of the equipment the control system spoke to was PROFIBUS or Siemens based. Two PROFIBUS Master communication module (MVI56-PDPMV1) from ProSoft Technology were installed inside the ControlLogix PACs to facilitate communication from the Rockwell Automation processors.

“The ProSoft Technology modules were utilized to provide PROFIBUS DP into the ControlLogix rack and permitted four separate PROFIBUS DP segments for redundant operation,” Andrew Garwood said.
Fiber optic cables were installed between the two towers, as part of the control system overhaul. While the cable links were being constructed, ProSoft Technology 802.11 Industrial Hotspot radios served as the communication link.

“The wireless link was then used as an automatic fallback connection should fiber optic connection be lost. The ProSoft Technology equipment was selected for its flexibility and support of the spanning tree protocol (RSTP) “, Andrew Garwood said.

ProSoft Technology’s solutions helped ease the engineering work by making it possible for the ControlLogix system to communicate as one single protocol.

The system now allows data to be reviewed quickly, centrally and remotely, providing convenience when accessing diagnostic information.

Thousands of homes and businesses are now safely protected.