OPC Dramatically Improves Operations for Telemetry System

May 1, 2006
By using OPC products from Software Toolbox, Control Products Unlimited supplies telemetry solutions that insure a seamless movement of information among multiple brands of remote field equipment.

In telemetry, data sources are spread out over more than 100 miles from one end to the other. The ease of knowing what is going on everywhere is critical. Kelly Zini, President of Control Products Unlimited, points out, “A pump station and boosters may be moving water several miles in one direction, but we have to know the level at the other end so we don’t overflow, and we have to watch the source to prevent pump cavitation. The challenge is to—in as real time as possible—let the source end and the destination end know what each are doing.”

Control Products Unlimited Inc., located in Grove, Okla., was conceived in 1990 as a business specializing in the movement of production information between the plant floor and business level computer environments, with a specific focus on the use of telemetry. Notes Zini, “The challenges we face aren’t unique to the water/wastewater business. Our software was designed from the ground up to solve tough telemetry challenges, regardless of the industry. Our goal was to have a solution that, once you set your tags up for each of the locations, you identify a destination and the source, and the software maps the data between the two.”

By its very nature, this involved integrating dissimilar hardware platforms into a single solution. The company chose the personal computer (PC) platform as the primary interface, due to the ease of development, low cost and wealth of third-party connectivity hardware. The original early-1990s technology allowed process information to be shared across both application and network boundaries on a Microsoft DOS platform. Originally housed in a Terminate Stay Resident application named CPUtil, the Real Time Database (RTDB) has evolved into a powerful distributed solution called CPUtilities that runs on the Microsoft Windows Platform.

One of the challenges that Control Products Unlimited developers faced was providing reliable connectivity that handles the unique requirements of telemetry systems while being able to support the widest range of hardware possible. In the early days of their solutions, this challenge inherently limited their offering to applications where they could write their own drivers. Adds Zini, “We wanted to design a simplistic development environment that incorporated powerful features, such as distributed processing, generic data storage, graphical process representation and a wealth of reporting options. The most important requirement was that this product must support connectivity to all major industrial equipment and field instrumentation brands.”

This is where OPC fits into the Control Products Unlimited solution set. According to Zini, “When the OPC standard became well accepted, we knew that it had the potential to be the solution to leverage the research and development efforts of “best-of-breed” software providers focusing on connectivity, while we focused on our unique value-add in the application of telemetry.”

After an evaluation of OPC providers, Control Products Unlimited chose to work with Software Toolbox Inc., based in Matthews, N.C., using its TOP Server product as the platform for connectivity. Adds Zini, “Software Toolbox had a good reputation for quality support and high technical aptitude, combined with a product offering that gave us access to just about any device type we could imagine. Throughout our entire development cycle, they worked with us and supported us all the way to help us deliver a solid platform.” By choosing OPC, Control Products Unlimited was able to offer the broadest level of support combined with increased protection from obsolescence, as its partner companies are continually improving and adding features to their portions of the solution.

Control Products Unlimited has made unique use of some of the lesser-known features of OPC, allowing the company to overcome challenges that others could not. Designed and developed following the OPC Data Access 2.X specification, CPUtilities overcomes an inherent shortcoming of telemetry applications through the use of the OPC IPersistFile interface. Telemetry solutions frequently have multiple brands of remote field equipment that communicate over a common link such as a modem or radio. CPUtilities addresses this limitation by dynamically loading OPC driver configurations to insure a seamless movement of information between dissimilar devices. Zini adds, “Designing CPUtilities to simplify data movement for telemetry solutions resulted in a product that also fits perfectly in discrete processes. We repeatedly encounter facilities that have incorporated dissimilar controls on their manufacturing equipment. CPUtilities has been applied to bridge these islands of automation to streamline production and increase overall plant efficiency.”

The results for CPUtilities users have been impressive, as evidenced by what they have had to say. Notes Ron Malcom, operations manager for the Rogers County (Okla.) Rural Water District, “Converting our remote site communications from dial-up to wireless Ethernet was easily accomplished within a matter of minutes. The CPUtilites and TOP Server software provide a high performance and stable environment for housing our mission critical data.” Says Jerry Gammill, manager of the Washington County (Okla.) Rural Water District, “The move from a proprietary control system to an OPC-based solution has dramatically improved the operation of our facility. The wealth of tools comprising the CPUtilities and TOP Server products has allowed us to perform more maintenance tasks in house, decreasing downtime and outsourced support costs.”

For more information on OPC solutions from Software Toolbox, visit www.softwaretoolbox.com/opc.