Did you know that you can display data from any OPC DA data source on a portable Sony PlayStation PSP? What next? Will our plants turn production monitoring into a video game, and turn our children loose in the plant? Although it may sound far-fetched and non-practical to use this type of device on the plant floor, there is a point to the idea that affects us all.
The growing demands on manufacturers means that they must do more with less, which requires operators, maintenance staff and control engineers to seemingly be in more places at the same time than ever before. As well, security concerns are dictating that plant networks be locked down and that limits be placed on the use of Java applets and ActiveX components loaded in Web browsers.
To allow the manufacturing team members to do more with less, they would like to carry wireless pocket devices that would enable them to be in Part A of the facility, and access the status of something in Part B, because someone just called with a problem. While they can’t get budget approval for $500 PDAs with built-in 802.11b wireless, they might be able to get approval for a lower cost device, or have access via their cell phones’ Web browsers, Blackberry devices, or other low-cost wireless devices. However, these lower cost devices are not running Internet Explorer and they do not support ActiveX components or Java applets.
Therein is the analogy to the Sony PSP. The PSP may primarily be a game machine, but it is low cost (approximately $249), and it has a proprietary operating system and a Mozilla Web browser built in, along with 802.11b Wireless Ethernet. It really isn’t much different than the low-cost wireless devices the plant team would like to use.
Recently, Phoenix Contact, Harrisburg, Pa., set out to show its customers and distributors—in a memorable and unique way—how its technology could be used to implement a cost-effective wireless monitoring and control network, using low cost wireless devices. Phoenix Contact tried to build this system using its Industrial PC as a server, its INLINE IP20 Din Rail Mountable I/O for control, the Phoenix Contact OPC server, its Trusted Wireless data radios and its 802.11b/g Wireless Access Point (WAP). But as Greg Dixson, Automation Marketing Manager for Phoenix Contact, points out, "We ran into a problem when we realized that the Sony PSPs didn’t support ActiveX or Java applets. We knew right then we would be into writing custom code, which means either there would be no product to offer, or else we had to find a solution that could work."
Dixson’s team evaluated several tools and settled on using the OPC Data.NET component portion of the OPC Web Client product from Software Toolbox Inc., based in Matthews, N.C. This product provided the ability to easily access data in the Phoenix Contact OPC server on its Industrial PC, and deliver the data in ASP.NET Web pages. Using this Software Toolbox component and sample code, the Phoenix Contact developer was able to build a Web page within a couple of hours that took input from the user of the PSP and displayed data feedback to the user, all tied together through the Phoenix Contact OPC server software and hardware.
Dixson adds, "The Software Toolbox OPC Web Client product was so easy to use and the company's responsive support team answered any questions we had. They took great care of us, and our customers have been very impressed at the type of solution we can deliver. By marrying the Software Toolbox technology with our hardware, OPC software and low-cost wireless client devices, our clients are able to access data anywhere, control outputs, and even gather diagnostics and manage the configuration on our managed Ethernet switches. If someone needs the ability to deliver their OPC server data to any Web browser, I highly recommend that they give Software Toolbox a call."
For more information on OPC solutions from Software Toolbox, visit www.softwaretoolbox.com/opc.