OPC Tools Shorten .NET Learning Curve

Feb. 21, 2007
An engineering services firm deploys TOP Server and OPC Extender from Software Toolbox to speed connection from Visual Studio .NET to OPC data sources.
Since 1975, Sewell Industrial Electronics (www.sewellelectronics.com), located in Louisville, Ky., has been providing panel construction and control system engineering and commissioning services for industrial clients nearby, as well as for clients located across the world—from Japan to Argentina, Africa, Europe, Russia, Australia, Hawaii, and other parts of the United States. Sewell focuses on electrical and controls engineering implementation of all types of processes. Its applications include material handling, food processing, communications, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), ice machine controllers, test equipment and more. Steve Osborne, electrical engineer at Sewell, has been developing custom human machine interfaces (HMIs) using Visual Basic 6 for a number of years, in addition to doing traditional HMI applications using off-the-shelf software. He recently began using Visual Studio.NET 2005 for his custom applications and needed to be able to connect to OPC data sources. Making the move from Visual Basic 6 to Visual Studio.NET involved learning a lot of new .NET technologies, and Osborne was seeking a way to shorten that path when it came to connecting Visual Studio.NET 2005 to his OPC data sources. Osborne chose the OPC Extender product from Software Toolbox, based in Matthews, N.C., because it enabled him to connect any object on his screen, through “point-and-click,” to OPC data in the Software Toolbox TOP Server OPC Server. He says, “This product is an amazing tool—it’s just like they say. ‘Point, click, connect’ and I can read and write OPC data from my OPC server.” Osborne continues, “I just added the OPC Extender to my Visual Studio.NET application and off I went reading and writing data without code. What I like even more is that if I want to go deeper to customize behavior or extend the functionality, they haven’t kept me from being able to go into code and make it do just what I want. Usually it’s one or the other when you choose a tool like this. With the OPC Extender, I get both.”In Osborne’s latest application, he is talking to facility monitoring devices in stores. The application uses dial-up modems to connect to the remote stations for real-time monitoring and logging. Osborne used the dial-up capabilities in the TOP Server OPC servers to ease the management of the dial-up connections. Using one instance of the Software Toolbox OPC Extender, he manages the interface between the user choosing the location to dial, and dialing interface in the OPC Server. A second instance then collects the data when he connects to the remote location. Adds Osborne, “The support from the team at Software Toolbox has also been a key part of my success. Their people have listened to my application needs, continued to expand and enhance the OPC Extender product to meet my needs, and been willing to show me how to best use their tools together in Visual Studio.NET 2005. I feel that with the Software Toolbox OPC Extender and TOP Server together, I have a set of tools that will enable my business to effectively meet our clients’ needs in a more profitable way than if I just wrote all the code for this on my own.” Osborne has plans for many other projects using the OPC Extender and TOP Server with Visual Studio.NET 2005, including a simulator project for an appliance manufacturer. For more information on OPC solutions from Software Toolbox, visit www.softwaretoolbox.com/opc.