As the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) continues to sweep across manufacturing, connecting disparate or dissimilar networks as well as facilitating data exchange between software and automation components that may be separated by multiple network layers and varying communication protocols continues to be a priority. As a result, interoperable network portals can play an important role in alleviating these connectivity concerns.
The struggle for interoperability can take many forms. Firstly, networks that need to be connected may employ different fieldbus protocols from one another. Even with experts estimating that network structures will be flatter and more Ethernet-based in the future, not all current communication structures will completely disappear, meaning that interfaces are needed to assist in linking them together. In addition, vertical communication from field devices using different protocols will need to be passed on to upper-level systems, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP). Finally, controller-to-controller communication between devices from different vendors will also need to become more seamless. Even with the interoperability provided by OPC UA , this latter task will remain an ongoing project as long as legacy equipment remains in service and needs to be connected.
To address these issues, Parker Hannifin, a company focused on motion and control technologies, has released its PCH Network Portal—a product the company claims can minimize machine costs and shorten start-up time, while offering built-in features to help reduce equipment downtime.
The PCH Network Portal is as an Ethernet node, meaning it acts as a kind of translator between various fieldbus transmission protocols and enterprise-level Ethernet. In addition, it also features IO-Link master capabilities for up to 12 ports to further ease connectivity and configurability. According to Parker Hannifin, the PCH Network Portal is ideal for flexible manufacturing applications where machine changes are common, PLCs are not always accessible, and obstacles on the plant floor may make set-up, configuration, and troubleshooting difficult.
“At Parker we understand the serious impact that lost time can have to the bottom line,” said Erick Rudaitis, senior market development engineer at Parker Hannifin’s pneumatic division. “The PCH Network Portal was designed with the machine builder, controls engineer, and maintenance technician in mind to improve efficiency at every stage of the machine lifecycle.”
Other benefits offered by the PCH Network Portal include fast and storable configurations, power in and out connectors with safe power capabilities, and built-in programming functions, according to Parker Hannifin.