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Real-Time Togetherness

Device networking gives factory managers updated wireless control of industrial equipment.

More companies are adopting some form of automation, whether it is within their offices or manufacturing facilities, seeing automation as a way to reduce costs, increase access to information when needed, and improve productivity.

Companies have already realized increased productivity just by networking their computers and printers within their offices. In the realm of manufacturing, connecting previously isolated equipment to a network gives managers real-time access to information for improved management and decision-making

In their quest to improve productivity and quality, manufacturers need to remotely monitor and control their manufacturing equipment such as programmable logic controllers, robots, process control equipment, motor drive controllers, power monitoring equipment, flow meters, gas detection devices, temperature monitoring systems, bar-code scanners, scales, and mixing stations. Currently, production and material managers must be on-site to monitor and maintain control; however, managers can access this information from their internal network or via the Internet using industrial device networking. Managers can be automatically notified if equipment is not operating normal and then can initiate troubleshooting of production equipment, even if the managers are located outside the factory.

Industrial manufacturers require networking products that are rugged, easy-to-customize, and cost-effective yet are capable of connecting, communicating information, and controlling virtually any type of equipment in an industrial environment. For products to operate in harsh industrial environments, they must withstand and operate reliably under extreme temperatures and vibration, and resist the effects of exposure to electrical interference. There is also considerable potential for noise interference which can cause communications latency and transmission retries. While operating in these somewhat hostile environments, networking products must offer security and encryption to prevent another type of “interference,” such as unauthorized access, compromised data integrity, or attacks that may result in halting the system.

For any production or materials manager, it is his or her primary goal to maintain a consistent level of quality as well as meet the production volumes of the goods produced. Without having real-time access to information from the equipment within a manufacturing facility, managers must manually gather the necessary information that they need to make responsible decisions to maintain production and quality levels. If factory equipment is working improperly or is outside of its normal range of operation, the manager and his/her staff must manually monitor these machines to determine where the problem exists. Sometimes a factory will use PCs to perform this monitoring function; however, there is often trouble with maintaining PCs due to the harsh conditions that exist in most factories.

Equipped with device information in real-time, managers can gain improved and consistent system performance, all contributing to better product quality and achieving production schedules. Managers can also automate their quality control using device networking by ensuring that the critical parameters of their factory systems are monitored and maintained within appropriate ranges. This monitoring, maintenance, and even troubleshooting of production equipment can be conducted remotely.

Industrial device networking products must be built to operate in harsh, extreme environments and support standard communication protocols. This networking also allows managers to leverage their existing network wiring and corporate IP networks. To access the networked devices via the Internet, these networking products should have a built-in Web server to allow users to remotely access and manage the attached equipment using a standard Web browser. Multiple industrial serial devices can also be cascaded from a single network backbone connection eliminating the need for expensive hubs and cabling.

Industrial equipment can be quickly and easily networked using a device server. The device server is a complete network enabling solution enclosed in a ruggedized RJ-45 or external box package that can create a networked environment from simple serial data. It’s important to consider device server solutions that are easy-to-deploy, versatile, operate in harsh environments, are certified, and support industrial protocols such as Modbus TCP, ASCII, RTU and DF1.

The UDS100-IAP device server from Lantronix allows users to choose between several protocols.

The adoption of industrial device networking, whether its wired or wireless, is increasing because it provides the ability to interactively access, evaluate, and utilize data from networked equipment via a LAN or the Internet. Industry analysts expect the use of device networking especially in industrial environments to grow 44 percent in the next five years. A recent ARC Advisory Group study indicates that the worldwide market for the use of wireless technology in manufacturing is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 26 percent during the next five years.

Ethernet is an established networking standard, robust and reliable enough to support industrial networking. It is also rapidly gaining momentum in industrial automation because it is an open standard, fast, can support multiple Fieldbus protocols simultaneously, and can leverage existing equipment and IT tools. To connect non-networked equipment to a LAN or the Internet, manufacturers are depending on Ethernet and 802.11.

Wireless technology has revolutionized how computer users access information. And this revolution continues in the world of manufacturing. Wireless device networking is the best alternative when it is impractical or cost prohibitive to run cabling to connect factory equipment to a LAN or the Internet. Wireless reduces the need for expensive wiring, which can account for two-thirds of the total cost of an installation in a factory. In installing a wireless network, managers need to consider the physical layout and size of the facility, the RF interference present, and the bandwidth strain if numerous devices are placed on the same network.

By quickly and reliably connecting virtually any piece of factory equipment to a network or the Internet, industrial manufacturers gain the ability to interactively access, manage, control, evaluate, and utilize data transmitted from the devices. This powerful, yet simple to implement technology allows manufacturers to perform real-time diagnostics and repair, automate data capture and gain immediate notification of problems, virtually from anywhere over an Internet connection.