Controlling motion remotely
With embedded Web servers, manufacturers can gain the remote access and control capabilities needed to enable collaboration between end-user engineering support and OEM suppliers.
Today, using the Internet to remotely access your manufacturing equipment and production processes is a lot like using Google Earth to see if your house is on fire. You can see the house on fire after its already burned to the ground, but what you can’t do is turn on the sprinkler system before it is too late. At best it may be a really neat tool, but what can you really do with it?
What manufacturing industries need is the ability to remotely access and control equipment with trusted network security while enabling collaboration between end-user (or on-site) engineering support and OEM suppliers as necessary to optimize production. Today, some automation systems — and even some motion controllers — have the ability to email, SMS or “call” operators when an alarm occurs.
Unfortunately, the alarms are delayed, and the technician has only one option to fix the problem: go to the machine and make a change. Until now, two-way remote access and control has not been possible. By embedding Web-servers into motion controllers, both OEMs and end users can remotely monitor, control, update and program automated systems from any computer inside or outside of the plant without losing sleep about possible backdoor security issues.
Why a Web server?
Embedded Web servers are no longer “bells and whistles” — they are cost saving tools. Unlike messaging and alarm services, a Web server leverages common protocols such as HTML, Java, SOAP and SSL secure encryption to enable secure communication between virtually any two computers — even between a smart phone and your machine, or a computer with a slow, dial-up Internet connection.
Web servers can be programmed to enable multiple levels of user access: operator, maintenance technician, plant engineer and the OEM — each with specific rights and unique Web pages that enable specific equipment access and control. By linking a user group to a specific Web page, the plant manager can see a Web-based HMI that shows live production data, while the maintenance technician views a status and alarm list for the same piece of equipment without the need for expensive engineering software, proprietary handheld instruments and costly training.
Armed with a laptop and Ethernet port, MRO technicians can turn off one or more axes of a machine from a remote location while corrective action is taken to get the machine up and running. Through the use of XML, OPC UA enables live production data to be ported to front-office supply chain, enterprise resource and asset management systems, as well as computerized maintenance management systems.
Real power comes from combining Java scripting languages with off-the-shelf HTML design programs. With these tools, engineering can develop Web-based HMIs that show critical information for each machine; allow changes to system and process variables on the fly; or provide links to open PDF documents to assist in troubleshooting alarms or detailing preventive maintenance procedures.
Engineers with the proper access level can configure a trace to start on an alarm event and show the actual torque values from 3 seconds before to 3 seconds after that event occurred from a standard Web browser and without an expensive engineering software license. With a few key strokes, they can send that trace — and any relevant diagnostic and alarm data — to OEM engineering support, eliminating costly delays from travel, or frustration when the OEM sends the only available engineer (not necessarily the right engineer) to solve your specific problem. However, remote access from outside of the plant network requires a smart router that maintains security guards between the shop floor, engineering, front office and the Internet.
Improving OEM efficiency
Leveraging Web technologies does more than improve plant floor productivity; it also improves efficiency of the OEM equipment maker. Using standard HTML code, OEMs can build and reuse Web-based HMIs based on a common set of features such as maintenance and diagnostics and even Web-based HMI machine control. As the equipment is commissioned for a particular application or user, the OEM can optimize the custom Web-pages and/or Web-based HMI based on the unique needs of the end user while reusing the majority, if not all, of the existing code.
Remote connectivity using a Web server delivers the ability to perform firmware updates and even complete project updates without sending an engineer to the site. Additionally, as part of the Web-based upgrade feature, the system automatically backs up the current firmware and/or project data to allow a complete system restoration, if necessary. OEMs can use this same connectivity to provide long-term maintenance and service contracts, monitoring equipment as part of preventive maintenance programs while gaining unique design insight based on the actual performance and usage of the equipment rather than estimated workloads and planned procedures. Finally, the best motion controllers with embedded Web-servers can bring this control functionality to any drive regardless of who made it.
With advances in secure Web-based communications and embedded servers in automation control and manufacturing equipment, today’s industrial customers and OEMs can expect their productivity to continue to grow thanks to improved connectivity, access to live production data and the ability to tweak and troubleshoot production from almost any location on Earth.
|Zuri H. Evans is the SIMOTION product manager for the Motion Control Solutions Business Unit at|