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OPC Integrates Non-Windows Based Systems

A fire equipment manufacturer uses an OPC solution from Software Toolbox to integrate PLCs, drives and Linux computers for a faster, more efficient robotic picking line.

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Since 1971, Task Force Tips (TFT) in Valparaiso, Ind., has manufactured high quality water delivery solutions to clients worldwide. The company’s focus is on nozzles for the firefighting industry, with product offerings that include hoses, valves, nozzles for de-icing and foam solutions.

For many years, TFT has had a robotic picker that picks from hundreds of parts bins along a 100-foot multi-level picking line. The robot was controlled by a COBOL program via serial connection running on a Linux computer. This picking line had become problematic, with frequent breakdowns and slow response time to commands.  

The team at TFT began to explore solutions to make the line more reliable and efficient. To accomplish this, they began by completely overhauling the robot.  For control, the team chose Allen-Bradley ControlLogix programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and A-B servo drives from Rockwell Automation. The question for TFT then became, how to maintain the control program on the Linux box and use it to pass commands to the ControlLogix PLC.  

After many hours spent researching OPC and how it would be useful to the application, Stewart McMillan, president of TFT, contacted Software Toolbox, located in Matthews, N.C. Software Toolbox provided McMillan with a solution that used the TOP Server OPC Server and the Cogent OPC DataHub to fit the needs and the budget of the project.  Using the TOP Server Allen-Bradley driver suite (specifically, ControlLogix Ethernet driver) and the OPC DataHub, the existing COBOL program was retained for use with the new and improved control hardware. As McMillan says, “It is magical what this can do for our application. The OPC DataHub and TOP Server allow the PLC to share any data point through ODBC to any database connection. The possibilities that this opens up for real-time connections between PLCs and corporate data processing systems will bend your imagination.”

In this application, the TOP Server is connected to the ControlLogix PLC and the OPC DataHub. The OPC DataHub, through its ODBC interface, is connected to an ODBC data source. The COBOL program passes commands as parameters to this data source, which the OPC DataHub reads into OPC data points that are then written through TOP Server to the PLC for control. The responses to these commands are then passed back through this chain to the ODBC data source, and are read by the COBOL program to determine the next step in the sequence.

TFT has seen significant improvement in efficiency of the line and, to date, has nearly eliminated downtime on the line. According to McMillan, “It is really a pretty unique application. It is so much faster than what we had before!  Now we are trying to find other problems to solve. This solution has been very effective for our business results.”

For more on this application, visit

To learn more about solutions that Software Toolbox can provide using OPC DataHub and TOP Server, please visit

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