There’s a lot of hype in Hollywood. Thousands of people are drawn to theaters to see a new movie with hype that “It will alter the way Hollywood makes movies. It is the coolest movie in years, and the hottest movie in decades. It’s "Spectacular!" and "Life-affirming!" No one will ever be the same after watching it.” And it goes on and on.
I can’t say that Rockwell hyped the latest release of RSLogix 5000 v20 like that. More likely, it’s that we’ve been waiting for this release for so long that the expectations just started increasing with time.
And like one of those over-hyped movies, we’re all standing around now looking at each other saying “Is that really all there is?”
Before we get into v20 let’s step back and talk about EtherNet/IP and EDS (Electronic Data Sheets). EDS files are the text files that describe an Adapter device to the network. (Scanners can have them too but they’re of little importance to this analysis). The EDS files describe what the device is, its model number, revision and most importantly, the size of the I/O Assemblies and other connection configuration fields. It also describes all the Objects in the Adapter, what attributes exist, if they are readable or writeable and sometimes if the vendor wants to be complete, the range of values for each of these Attributes.
The concept of an EDS file got customers excited back when EtherNet/IP was new. It looked like this file would move the heavy lifting of providing a configuration tool to a standard tool provided by someone else. And since, everyone using
EtherNet/IP has RSLogix, EtherNet/IP vendors, integrators and end users all thought that there would be a common configuration tool for Adapters.
The customers, integrators and vendors all thought this because, well, that was a lot of the EtherNet/IP Marketing hype. The truth was that until V20, an EDS file was necessary for the Conformance Test Lab but was actually of little use in the field. I’ve had to explain this over and over to many customers over the last 10 years, many more times than I wanted.
But now V20 is here! It’s all fixed, right?
Sorry, but no. Just like the over hyped movie; V20 in the end is disappointing. My spies in Mayfield Heights say that even in the hallowed halls, there is disbelief in how little V20 accomplishes in this area.
Well, let’s take a look at it in depth and see what they did (and didn’t do).
First the kudos. There is one new feature that is really cool. V20 now provides a network Browse facility. It can search for EtherNet/IP devices on the network and lets you automatically add those Adapters to the PLC scan list. RA calls this Automatic Device Configuration which makes it sound a lot more sophisticated than it is.
To understand what we have for EtherNet/IP in V20, let’s take a look at how it operates for various kinds of Adapters:
3rd Party Adapters with no EDS File – These devices typically come from 3rd party vendors with no relationship to RA. The EDS may not exist or not be available. V20 handles these devices exactly like RSLogix did in previous versions. Other than allowing the PLC programmer to find the device on the network and automatically capture the TCP/IP Address, it doesn’t do much for these devices. The I/O Assembly Sizes must still be entered manually. The I/O Assemblies must be manually assigned to simple blocks of some data type (Ints, Dints, Floats…etc). And the Configuration data, the block of data that a ControlLogix PLC sends to an Adapter with the EtherNet/IP Forward Open, must be entered manually. No awards here. A bit of added functionality, but nothing stellar.
Party Adapters with an EDS File – Rockwell calls these devices EDS AOP where AOP means Add On Profile. We’ll discuss AOPs a little later. The big difference between V20 and previous versions is that V20 actually reads and uses the EDS file. Besides populating the IP Address, V20 can now also automatically populate the I/O Assembly Sizes. And instead of manually selecting the assembly data types, they can get populated from the EDS file. (Note that a vendor has to make that information available in the EDS file. Most don’t so don’t expect a lot in the short term.) There is still no way to access the I/O Assemblies other than as an array of raw data. No awards again. Some “fat finger” protection but little to crow about.
Adapters from Encompass Partners – Rockwell provides special functionality for devices from Encompass partners. This functionality is also called Add On Profiles (AOPs). AOPs allow V20 to not only find and load the IP Address and Assembly Sizes but also to define the Assemblies as a series of Tags for ease of use in the Controller. Configuration data can be defined for loading when the Forward Open is issued. A configuration wizard exists to walk the user through configuration of the Adapter. Still no awards here. Encompass Partners always had the ability to work with RA to get this level of integration.
Adapters from Rockwell – V20 works identically for RA Adapters as it does for Encompass Partner devices. As always, they have the ability to highly integrate everything with their ControlLogix PLCs.
In general, V20 is a better tool than previous versions. It has some advantages but most of what it offers is mitigated by the fact that most vendors’ EDS files are simply stub files. These are stub files that have the minimal amount of information needed for the Conformance test. Users with these kinds of devices will have only a slightly better experience with V20.
A lot is missing from V20. Where is the support for Modular devices? Why not add support for identifying the data within the Input and Output Assemblies for 3rd Party devices? Vendors might take advantage of that if the facility was available.
V20 won’t win any academy awards. Too little new functionality. Too much focus on keeping special advantages for RA and Encompass partner devices. Just one of those movies you have to see but don’t expect too much.