Since the early 2000’s, Control Point has been helping customers connect their equipment and software systems together via Ethernet communications. Typically, this has meant intelligent devices like controllers, PLC’s, and HMI’s being connected back to SCADA software. Today, more and more devices have the intelligence to communicate via Ethernet giving us the ability to share more data easily. Further, the prevalence of the internet has changed how people wish to view and receive this information. After listening to and working closely with our clients we recognized this evolution in industrial connectivity at an early stage. Control Point today offers solutions that provide data via cloud-based dashboards without the complexity of PC based web servers and the cost associated with building the necessary infrastructure. Using hardware products from companies like MB Connect Line and Red Lion we are able to expose data to users in a secure method and at a reasonable price point.
Our mission has always been to keep our customers working efficiently with the highest quality, cost effective, and innovative technologies. With this in mind we see ourselves at Control Point as solution providers and expanding our services to involve innovative approaches to the evolving IoT industry was simply a means of providing our clients with new solutions. In this new era of internet and Ethernet connectivity there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight for the expansion of the “internet of things.” In the meantime, we are honored to have been recognized as a 2017 IoT Innovator and excited to continue to provide new solutions for our industry.
Does it feel like sometimes you are caught between spending a fortune to get someone on site to maintain and service equipment and not being able to get anyone at all? There are a host of changes that have occurred over the years in the automation field that have led to this problem. The good news is there are some modern solutions that can help get you past this and become more in control of your own situation.
In many cases the lack of automation professionals directly employed by the factory has led to outsourcing automation needs. In some cases, one or a few engineers or technicians with the right capabilities are overrun by the demands of the plant. In other cases, there are limited automation capabilities and the plant relies on the machine builder or systems integrator when service is required. The problem is that the integrator or machine builder might be one or more states away. Worse, they are not waiting on your call, they have other work they are doing. The result is service seems slow and prices seem high because of the travel requirements.
One potential solution is to plan ahead and establish a remote access plan for your machine builders and integrators. Remote access can address the cost of travel to sight and, because the travel does not need to be planned, it often means the integrator can look at and address something quickly. Many customers we work with establish this remote access via corporate VPN (virtual private network) access. At first this solution usually works okay but it often falls apart for a variety of reasons. Automatic password changes, accounts closing after a certain period of time, antivirus software mismatches, and inability to connect directly to controllers and HMI’s have all been first hand problems for us over the years. We much prefer a hardware approach that provides us access to the PLC’s and HMI’s in addition to SCADA computers and other software platforms.
The MB Connect Line Mini is an inexpensive device that connects the automation equipment securely through the plant network so that password protected remote access can be had by integrators and machine builders. Better still, as the owner of the equipment it is simple to turn off the remote access and turn it on only when you want your suppliers to remote in. If you want to learn more about how it works contact us or go check out their webpage. It is the simplest and most secure form of remote access that we have found in the market.
Firewalls are often considered the barrier between the big bad internet and the safe confines of the office network. They can also be looked at with an evil eye because they tend to block some of the traffic we want to pass which makes us wonder if it is blocking the traffic we do not want to pass. Further, what if the “threat” is not on the internet but inside your office as part of an e-mail attachment, imported file, unknowing employee or malicious employee? The answer is not to shut down access to everyone everywhere. One option is to consider a firewall inside the facility, between the automation equipment and the balance of the plant network. Then to configure that firewall so that the traffic you want through makes it and all others are blocked. The mbNETFIX product from MB Connect Line is designed as a firewall for automation. You can tell it to learn the traffic patterns and then you can allow appropriate traffic through the firewall. It does not take an IT professional to make this work, just someone who understands the basics of networks and network addresses. The mbNETFIX can Bridge traffic on the same network (same subnet) so you can leave your existing network infrastructure substantially the same. It can also be a Gateway between two networks (different subnets) if that is your system design. Maybe the network security can be handled by IT and automation engineers.
The short answer is YES.
With the technology that exists in the market today, such as that offered by MB Connect Line, you can have remote access to your customers site or your supplier can have access to the equipment they might have to support for you.
VPN Technology is secure and available, and with the use of a cloud based portal the benefits are extensive for supplier and customer alike. Suppliers like the idea that they can often troubleshoot their customers problems without putting a tech in a truck or on an airplane. Additionally, remote access can get the tech visibility sooner so he has a better chance of resolving the issue. Customers like the lower overall cost (ie. fewer service trips) and the increased uptime afforded them when problems are solved quickly.
So, choose your vendor wisely to ensure that you have an easy to configure but highly functional solution. Give remote access a chance because it will pay you back many times over.
Many thanks to Stephane Gaudreau and Tim van Wyk for an excellent technical presentation of the new features in Citect 2015 today. We learned about time saving configuration tools including the Equipment Editor (object oriented programming), great new Popup Page tools, plus Project Backup enhancements that allow you to backup your include projects and Project Restore functionality that shows you the project version and allows you to restore the backed up include projects. We also saw .NET programming integrated into Citect to allow a user to login via a fingerprint scanner. The same .NET integration will allow you to send e-mails directly from Citect through your e-mail client.
Citect v2015 also has runtime improvements like speed enhancements in the Alarm Server and Citect running as a Service. SmartGlance (a Wonderware web tool) is a read-only portable client that connects directly to VijeoCitect and works on Microsoft Azure. Great new features that many of my users will be very happy to see.
The positive value of automation is not always in making more, faster. Automation can make the workplace safer for employees by carrying the heavy loads required when moving raw materials, parts, or finished good. Reducing the risk of injury with automation benefits employees and employers. Speed and efficiency is another benefit of automation. Taking away the redundant, mind-numbing tasks that can physically and mentally wear employees down over time creates an improvement in psychological well-being in addition to improved physical well-being.
We find that there are a lot of switch products on the market that run on either 24VDC power or 115VAC, but what if your system runs at a different voltage. N-Tron has released a series of switches with a High Voltage Option. The units will run on 43-300VDC, satisfying the needs of power, wind farm and railway applications. These units allow you to save the money associated with power conversion and keeps your installed footprint smaller.
I have been doing a lot of work in the food industry this year and have been astonished at the amount of stainless steel that is inside these plants. Stainless Steel is certainly more expensive than other materials, but it is also resistant to corrosion and easier to clean, making it the go to material in the food industry. Food producers have little margin of error for circumstances where their production environment becomes unsanitary because their consumers have an expectation of clean, safe food. The food production environment still requires automation equipment however, so Pro-face’s Stainless Steel Bezel PS4000 industrial computer ends up being a “clean” fit for these applications. The unit is a low profile touchscreen design that will comfortably blend in with the rest of the stainless steel equipment on the floor.
When it comes to the benefits of automation, manufacturers are looking for the perfect balance of maximizing the number and quality of units produced and the lowest cost that will give the highest profits. A small business can dramatically increase their competitiveness with larger companies in its ability to economically produce parts and finished products. Don’t just think about the benefits in the short-term.
How much can automation save your business in the long-term?