Increasing Automation Capability by Magnitude

As a system integration solution expert, I am asked, more often than not these days, to develop a highly sophisticated system with minimal resources. One main resource is space. Real estate for a control system tends to be a big factor. In almost all cases, a controller will be housed within an enclosure along with many of the other components of a control system. The space within the enclosure becomes cramped quickly.

Additionally, many of the Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) or Programmable Automation Controllers (PACs) will not have enough memory needed, the secondary storage space, and/or operational capability to perform adequately for the client’s requirements. Machine learning, database operations, and a large amount of distributed hardware are three examples, among many others, of resource hogs that a client may ask for in their requirements.

An extremely robust answer to this problem of resource management was the pairing of a PLC and/ or PAC with one of NOv8Tex Incorporated’s Embedded Computers (EC). These relatively tiny computers will have a low power, high performance Central Processing Unit (CPU) with more than enough memory and huge amounts of disk space. The EC can easily be coupled with wireless technologies such as WiFi, Bluetooth, and others for maximum communication connectivity. In fact, I paired the EC several PLCs and PACs at the same time on one of our projects. The EC really boosted the automation capabilities of the system. I was no longer constrained by the limitations of a PLC or PAC. I was able to increase the usefulness of the system significantly. The EC allowed me to add many more incredibly useful features to the automation system so that my client could get the maximum usage of the system. The difference between using the EC vs not was night and day.

One of the key points that made the EC so powerful was the fact that the EC took over much of the management level operations. The PLC(s)/PAC(s) were only responsible for data acquisition and processing along with some aggregation and immediate decision making. The EC was responsible for coordination, post processing of the data, saving the data, and communications. One incredibly important aspect of having the EC was that the client could log into the EC remotely and monitor the system. The client had control capabilities as well; however, it was limited by credential management.

The caveat to having an EC integrated into the system is that I had to program an additional device. For the majority of systems that needed that high level of operability that an EC comingling with a controller provides, source code management was not that much more difficult. What I like to do is use LabVIEW for the EC. Whether I use a National Instruments cRIO or a Schneider Electric PLC was determined by the requirements provided by the client, which can be discussed in another blog. The software for the EC and cRIO can all be in the same project. In fact, I encourage it.

For a system that has an EC and PLC, simply store the programs in the same source code folder. The source code management system used will simply store all the files on the source code server.

Something of importance here: NOv8Tex Incorporated’s embedded computer is effectively a miniature PC. It runs Windows. It also has the ability to run several “flavors” of Linux. I personally recommend Debian or Mint. National Instrument’s LabVIEW can be developed on either a Windows or Linux device (make sure to get the right version). NOv8Tex Incorporated’s embedded computer will come standard with Windows 10 LTSC. For many projects I turn off updates. There are some firewalls and some antivirus actions you will want to perform before final deployment. I have deployed quite a few of the ECs into the field and have been very pleased with their performance.

When thinking about a solution, price is always a chief concern. Fret not with Nov8Tex’s ECs. They are very well priced. The comparable embedded computer or IIoT solution on the market is roughly 25% to 100% more expensive. These are really good computers.

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