Stop the Presses

Stop-the-PressesSTOP THE PRESSES! Major advancement in automation technology is upon us…Rockwellis introducing a Micrologix processor with USB.

Can you believe it? Isn’t it everything you and I have been waiting for with “baited” (whatever that is) breath?

Why next week we might hear that apples are coming to market with another shade of red; TVs with digital tuning and cars with radial tires.

I mean, really, I don’t mind USB. I just don’t think it has much place on the factory floor. Let me explain.

1.       It has no legs – 16feet is about it. You have to be really close to the equipment to get connected. Why do I want to walk halfway across my plant to plug my laptop into this processor? Why can’t I access it from my desk.

2.       There are a number of different standards. One side is, of course, the controller side and the other is the adapter. You have to make sure that you’re the end that your customer needs you to be. And there’s a bunch of different standards. USB 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. Some of them incompatible depending on the implementation. It’s really not as simple as the Marketing guy saying “we need to support USB” and you doing it.

3.       And then there are power considerations. These USB devices will want power and you have to support it. How much? Well, it varies…

Lots of ways to screw up with USB. That’s one of the reasons I don’t like it.

But I understand why they are doing it. PCs don’t have serial ports anymore. In the effort to get the price of a PC to less than a candy bar, they’ve eliminated the serial port and most everything else. I’m sure over the last 5 years they have had a host of customers asking for USB. And now, they’ve “quickly” responded.


The trend now is to smart phones, IPADs and a host of other wireless devices. They should have just skipped right past USB and made their controllers work seamlessly with these devices. You can bet that in the bowels of Mayfield Heights they are right now thinking about writing specifications for wireless access to those controllers. [I am sure I’m being a bit unfair here – it takes a long time to get anything done in any huge corporation]

OK, here’s what really frosts my cookies about this. Lots and lots of their customers are going to be confused by this. They’re going to think that RA has just introduced some magic way to access PLCs. That the USB port is the magic bullet for uploading and downloading programs and doing data table read and writes.

Believe me it won’t be. It’s going to be the same as a serial port.

On the serial ports, you need a DF/1 protocol to send PCCC messages. And with those messages you can read or write any data item in the controller.

Now those PCCC messages are going …

Personal Area Networks Part 5 of 7

Personal-Areal-Networks-part-5The previous article in this series discussed the characteristics of the physical part of the radio including the frequencies, data rates, power and bandwidth of the radio. Now we are going to address the organization of the information on the “wire” or air in this case.


This part of 802.15.4, and really any other networking technology, is termed Media Access and the low level software that implements the Media Access is called the MAC or Media Access Controller. A MAC is responsible for both organizing the data received from the application into low level data frames, synchronizing access to the medium, checking for errors and a myriad of other things.


One of the tasks of an 802.15.4 MAC is to present the device to the network as one of the two types of devices defined by the 15.4 specification; a Full function Device (FFD) or a Reduced Function Device (RFD).


Reduced Function Nodes have very limited capabilities. RFDs are single purpose end device nodes like a temperature sensor or a light switch. These devices are often battery powered as they need only communicate intermittently. Reduced function Nodes can only communicate with a single Full function Nodes (FFD). FFD nodes can have device capabilities like RFDs but unlike RFDs they can extend the network by serving as network coordinators.


One way nodes can be organized is a Peer Network as shown in Figure 1. Any FFD can communicate with any other node in range. Each RFD associates with one and only one FFD. The PAN coordinator provides the interface and structure for the entire network.



Figure 1 – 802.15.4 Network Organized as Peer Network with Coordinators


A network containing only FFDs is a true peer network with the capability for any FFD to communicate with any other FFD in range. Figure 2 illustrates an FFD network composed of Full Function Devices.


Figure 2 – 802.15.4 Peer Network with all Full Function Devices


There are two types of network coordinators; coordinators and PAN coordinators. Both are FFDs. Coordinators are FFDs that provide links or associations to other FFDs and RFDs. There can be multiple coordinator devices in a PAN but only one PAN coordinator. The PAN coordinator (Red Node in the diagrams) is the “owner” of the PAN and provides the PAN ID that uniquely identifies the network to the outside world.


The 15.4 standard does not define how the PAN ID is selected. Any FFD can decide to chose a PAN ID and become a PAN Coordinator. Other FFDs and RFDs can then associate with it and “grow” a wireless network. [If that sounds somewhat haphazard you need to remember that we are discussing the very lowest level software layer here. There are other higher layers that provide much more structure.]


A PAN coordinator and most FFDs are typically powered nodes while RFDs are often battery powered. The PAN coordinator will usually have access to a wired network and be …

Allen-Bradley PLC to Profinet

Many of you know that I have been educated as an Engineer. I
did the whole thing. Went to Engineering school, got a BSEE and graduated Cum


If you look up Cum Laude on Google (nobody uses the
dictionary anymore) it is a Latin term for “he spent too much time in the library
instead of at the Gym Bar chatting up the young ladies from O’Donnell Hall”.
Yeah, I was the guy in the library every night practicing calculus problems. I
got a full 8 hours sleep almost every night. Still fell asleep in Chemistry
class but that wasn’t the lack of sleep.


So, I’m an Engineer, a software Engineer. And I’ve done some
really fine work. None really at RTA lately, I have people for that, but at
Kimberly-Clark and Allen-Bradley. I Got a lot of recognition there for my
software expertise.


But what I am going to tell you about today is really
amazing to me. It’s beyond anything I had hoped for. We releasing a product for
moving data from ControlLogix PLCs to Profinet IO Controllers that just amazes
me. They’ve done an incredible job making something that is so functional and
so adaptable and so easy to use that I think this will be a real hit.


The product is our 464ETCPS. On the PLC side you will be able
to read and write any Tag in a ControlLogix or CompactLogix PLC. Or write any
file in a PLC5E, SLC5/05 or MicroLogix. That’s pretty cool.


The real interesting thing is what you can do on the
Profinet IO side. If you’ve been paying attention to me you know that all
Profinet IO Server devices look like I/O racks. They have a series of Slots for
Input and Output. In the real world, each slot is populated with a specific
type of module; 16 channel discrete input or maybe, 4 Channel Analog. Well,
that kind of organization follows here.


You configure the Profinet IO side by assigning data types
and data lengths to each of the 10 input slots and 10 output slots. So input
Slot 1 may be 4 items of Floating point data. Input Slot 2 may be 16 items of
Discrete input bits. And you do the same for each Output Slot.


Here’s the magic. You can then either manually assign all
your Tags (or files) from the Allen-Bradley side to the slots on the Profinet
IO Server side or let our Automatic mapping tool do it for you. If you have 10
Floating point tags they will end up in the first slot configured for Floating
point with unassigned Floating point items. When that slot fills, any remaining
floating point tags are assigned to the next slot configured for Floating


All of this is done easily and automatically for you. It’s
very IMPRESSIVE. If you need to move Tags from ControlLogix to a Profinet IO
Controller, the 460ETCPS is going to …


Speghetti-On-My-Crystal-BallI’m in the great city of Bologna today. This is probably my favorite city in Italia. That’s probably shocking to people that have visited
Italy. Bologna not Rome? Not Florence? Not Venice? Have I lost my mind?

There’s very good reasons to like Bologna. For one, there’s
not a lot of Americans here. It’s not one of “THE” destinations in Italy. In
Rome, it’s hard to hear a language other than English especially in the summer
time. Secondly, the food is absolutely awesome. Bologna is in the plane of the
PO river, a great area for agriculture. Everything is fresh. And all delicious.
You can get Tagliatelle, Tortellini, Pasatelli and more. The only thing it’s
missing is the ocean. I’m as far away from water here as you can get in Italy.

One of reasons for me to come to Italy this week is to
attend the OPC UA Day – Italia. About 40 Italian companies showed up yesterday
to learn what UA is and how they can use it. Italy is a huge center for machine
builders and just like everyone else, they are under pressure to move data from
their machines to MES systems and other places. Claudio Fiorni, the R&D
Manager for Progea, is working hard to advance UA technology in Italy among these
machine builders.

The organizers did a good job detailing all the benefits of
UA including platform independence, scalability, security, a very advanced
mechanism for building data models and a lot more. They also announced a few
things I had never heard about, one of them being the capability to support
File Transfers. This new service is identical to FTP but doesn’t require you to
open an additional TCP port in the firewall.
Plus UA now will support HTTPS and you will be able to use that security
layer instead of the one embedded in UA. Very cool enhancements.

Another interesting piece of information was more details on
all the different protocols that are going to drop their transport mechanisms
to use the OPC UA transport mechanism. Working groups in a number of different
industries have examined the UA standards and have realized that they can keep
their current object model and use the more secure, more reliable, more
flexible transport layers that UA provides. Efforts are being made all over the
world to encode these proven data models in the UA format. I am not surprised
to see the great momentum for this and that it continues to grow.

My takeaways from all this? Here’s what I think:

– Protocols like Profinet IO,
EtherNet/IP and Modbus TCP will continue as
they are now. These are still the very best mechanisms from moving I/O data
from sensors into controllers. I don’t think any of that will change. RTA
products for moving data from
EtherNet/IP, Profinet IO and Modbus TCP
to controllers will continue to be
needed in many different industries.

– Things like BACnet for Building Automation, 61850 for …

ASCII Part 2

ASCII-Part-2-May-6-2014Last night Elon Musk was on 60 Minutes. Now, generally I don’t watch much of 60 minutes anymore. It was really hot about 20 or 25 years ago. Everybody had to see 60 minutes but now, like everything else, there are so many more ways to get news that it is kind of irrelevant.

So Elon was on and they went into depth on his Space X adventures and what he’s done with the Tesla. Very cool stuff. I came away really liking the guy. I like that he came from humble roots with tenacity and vision and really made something of himself.

The Tesla is a pretty unique car. It’s all electric. No other backup power system. When the batteries die it’s a boat anchor just like a gas powered automobile is. There’s a 17 inch touch screen control panel. And some kind of odd, gull -wing doors. Some of the things solve problems but others, like the doors, are just showy.

This made me think of our ASCII products. We really try to focus on the former not the latter. Our products solve real problems. We don’t do things for show.

Take how we can assemble or disassemble strings from individual data items. Our devices for example, can get an ASCII string from an ASCII device, disassemble the component ASCII characters, convert them into Floats, Ints and other data types and then transfer them to some other device, like a Modbus PLC. And we can do the same in reverse. We can take data from a group of tags in a ControlLogix PLC, convert those tags to ASCII strings and then send the string out with some appropriate delimiters like commas, spaces or tabs. Checkout that link to see how easy it is to assemble and disassemble ASCII strings from ControlLogix Tags.

This works exceptionally well with our TCP transports. There are a lot of devices now that have Ethernet but don’t use a protocol. It’s just transfers raw data over Ethernet.

With our latest software enhancements you can get data from EtherNet/IP devices, Modbus devices, BACnet/IP devices and others. You can then send that data to a TCP device as a delimited ASCII string. You could also send it out to some ASCII RS485, RS232 or USB device.

Of course, you can also do the reverse. Pull ASCII data in from USB, TCP, RS485 or RS232, disassemble it, convert it to ints, floats or whatever you want and send it to devices over EtherNet/IP, DeviceNet, Modbus, Profinet IO or any of the other networks we support.

That’s a pretty cool feature and it serves our target market perfectly. It solves a problem that a lot of our customers have without being showy.

No, we don’t have any gull-wing doors on the side. But it is all Electric!

Think I can get on 60 minutes???