In the last two weeks I’ve spoken with engineers in Asia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Central America and Arkansas. Lips flapped and ears received, but in every case I can’t say that we were communicating effectively. The world may indeed be flat, it’s certainly easier than ever to talk with people around the globe, but yeesh - is it hard to really communicate. Here we are in 2010 and communications inefficiency and confusion still reign.
It’s wholly illogical that there are thousands of active languages. But it’s hard to undo thousands of years of culture and evolution. The left half of my brain accepts that easily, all the while right half imagining what a different world it would be if everyone could communicate easily.
And as ineffective as human language is, you haven’t seen Babylon until you’ve looked at machine level communications. You could learn Mandarin before you’d get a Profibus drive communicating with an Ethernet/IP controller. And it didn’t take us eons to generate this chaos – the industry managed to muck this one up in just a few short decades. Throughout the short history of device communications the only surefire way to avoid your own tower of Babel scenario was the rather distasteful prospect of buying every piece of hardware from a single manufacture. And even that would only narrow the number of languages down, maybe to a dozen, still leaving you with your back against the wall more often than you care to think about.
So what are you to do about it? I have good news to report on three fronts (and I’m a bit giddy about the third one if you want to read ahead).
First, the uber-automation companies have gotten the message and there is beginning to be convergence of protocols, perhaps towards a couple dozen popular protocols instead of hundreds. Progress, but doesn’t change the fact that there are millions of devices in service, and that we’ll never achieve one common language.
The second weapon in your arsenal is our ol’ friend Modbus RTU and Modbus TCP. Virtually every manufacturer has had their arm twisted into offering this ubiquitous protocol as a 2nd language – and I’ve already introduced you to our Vlinx Modbus Gateway that solves the communications conundrums that Modbus leaves you with such as ASCII, RTU and TCP conversion, mismatched baud rates, address conflicts and more.
But what if Modbus isn’t on the menu? I’ve got a new solution.
We’ve added a “Fieldbus Gateway” to our Vlinx family of conversion products. What exactly is a fieldbus gateway? It’s a powerful blue box with three major tricks up its sleeve. In fact, it has so many applications that I can’t help but visualise the late pitchman Billy Mays forgoing OxiClean to amp up the Vlinx VFG.
First, it’s a protocol translator. It has a library of over one hundred (and growing) different industrial protocols and will let you connect most any mismatched device together, particularly bringing any fieldbus protocol over to any Ethernet based protocol. Bring critical data from controller brand X to HMI brand Y. You name it – if you have still have islands of automation that you’d like to integrate, the translation function of the Vlinx Fieldbus Gateway will make it happen.
Then Billy Mays would have boomed, “But wait, there’s more!”
Vlinx Fieldbus Gateway is also a smart datalogger. It will store data – a lot of data – a gargantuan amount if you add in an SD memory card. And it doesn’t just store it - you can set it up to email and ftp you, and send email alarms or even text messages when that data goes outside of limits that you set.
“But that’s not all!” Billy would bellow – the embedded web server provides a window into your system – allowing you to build a graphical view into your data that you can reach remotely, right from your web browser. You can setup amazing graphing and trending screens to rival any HMI, with complete remote access.
Powerful stuff to be sure. And while you can’t have one for three easy payments of 19.95 euro, it’s an affordable solution to your own tower of Babel.
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