Production Line Monitoring Utilizes Live PLC Data

Production Line Monitoring Utilizes Live PLC Data

By Chuck Karwoski, President, CimQuest INGEAR

LineView Solutions is a leading European provider of intelligent OEE monitoring solutions to the bottling and packaging industry. Typical LineView Solutions customers are blue-chip companies in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) business, such as Coca-Cola Enterprises, Ltd. and AB InBev. It recently upgraded its flagship product, simply called LineView, and in doing so, needed a software solution to connect its system to the programmable logic controllers (PLCs) found on the factory floor. To make this connection, they chose CimQuest INGEAR PLC drivers. In some respects, incorporating outsourcing driver code to a third-party company is an unusual decision for a software development company to make, rather than writing it themselves.  Yet company developers pointed to reliability and economics when explaining the choice.

A LineView system monitors a customer's entire production line in real-time and provides performance data that drives continuous efficiency improvements. The LineView software ensures that all productivity loss is correctly allocated, meaning customers can be sure that their improvement efforts deliver the expected results. The web-based system automatically captures PLC fault codes, andprovides instant overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and Six Loss analysis. As a result, LineView helps manufacturers reduce manufacturing costs in high speed, high volume production environments which require reliability and stability to operate successfully. 

A LineView system is designed to work with a customer's production line, monitoring its operation, while at the same time allowing it to function at full speed. A block diagram of the LineView system is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. For LineView V5, LineView Solutions redesigned the system, moving to a distributed, Web-based architecture.

The key to this architecture is the iView data collector, which provides the interface between the LineView system and the production line. Each iView contains an embedded PC with the INGEAR drivers and gathers data from a production line's PLCs and remote I/O. iView collects data from a single production line, and multiple iViews can be used to support more than one production line.

The iView connects to the FactoryView data server via Ethernet, which in turn, connects to a wide range of control and display devices, including mobile devices, big-screen LCD displays, LED displays for the factory, and industrial PCs on the factory floor. Because the system is Ethernet-based, users can also use a secure VPN/ADSL link for remote access and support.

INGEAR drivers connect to Allen Bradley, Siemens, Modbus

When LineView Solutions first began designing LineView Version 5, the company had some decisions to make. Earlier versions of LineView were built on a third-party historian platform that required powerful server hardware to run. Production-line PLCs interfaced to this server via a PLC that acted as a data collector.

This new version of the LineView platform would, however, use the iView data collector to communicate with the PLCs. As a result, new drivers were needed, and company engineers had to make a crucial decision. They could either develop the drivers for communicating with production-line PLCs themselves, or they could purchase third-party software.

Both approaches had advantages and disadvantages. For example, according to Andrew Giles, Operations Director for LineView Solutions, one advantage of developing their own drivers is that the company would have had total control over the software. The downside, however, is that developing drivers for even just the most popular PLCs on the market would have taken longer and cost more than purchasing them from a third party.

After a thorough evaluation, LineView opted to leverage CimQuest INGEAR driver software embedding it into iView. This was a big step for LineView, as the INGEAR drivers are the only third-party software used anywhere in the product.

The INGEAR drivers they are using include the drivers for Siemens S7 PLCs, the Allen Bradley suite, and Modbus PLC communication. According to Giles, the INGEAR drivers gives LineView the flexibility to interface with multiple PLCs without requiring additional OPC server software.  And because CimQuest doesn’t require each copy of its INGEAR software to be individually licensed, as OPC software vendors do, the INGEAR decision has saved thousands of dollars in licensing fees.

We essentially had three choices,” Giles explained.  “We could purchase OPC drivers and pay high recurring software costs.  We could write our own drivers with complete control but at an internal cost.  Or we could use the INGEAR solution, which in the end gave us what we needed at a very low software cost, good reliability and stability.”

This decision has worked out very well for LineView. The integration of the INGEAR software went relatively smoothly, and when problems did pop up, CimQuest engineers were available to respond quickly and resolve any issues. And, because the INGEAR drivers seamlessly integrated with the LineView software, installation and use is transparent to the end user. End users don't have to install the drivers separately nor learn how to use them separately.

In the end, it's all about product success, and according to Giles, INGEAR software has definitely contributed to the success of the new LineView V5 platform. More than 80 LineView systems using INGEAR software are now in production facilities/plants and working flawlessly. “The INGEAR drivers have helped us to provide a more scalable solution, which in turn, has opened up sales opportunities that had previously been impractical,” Giles noted.

Simulation not a game for Real Games

Real Games faced a similar decision in driver control software. Real Games' FACTORY I/O is a real time automation sandbox where you can build and simulate industrial systems. This fully interactive simulation environment includes cutting edge physics, high quality graphics and sound, and allows users to create 3D industrial systems quickly and easily using a drag and drop approach.

One of the features that makes FACTORY I/O so valuable for teaching automation engineers and technicians is that the simulated systems can be controlled in real time by connecting FACTORY I/O to external technologies, both hardware and software. Using the actual hardware and software that will be found in the production system makes the simulation more accurate.

To interface FACTORY I/O with Allen Bradley programmable automation controllers, Real Games uses CimQuest's INGEAR NET.LOGIX and NET.ABLINK. Real Games chose INGEAR as part of its strategy to reduce the complexity of developing automation systems and make it as easy as possible for its customers to get their systems up and running. “INGEAR drivers are very easy to use,” says Bruno Vigario, CEO of Real Games, “They just work.”

According to Vigario, with INGEAR drivers, beginners can enable communication between a PC and a PLC just by connecting an Ethernet cable between them. They do not have to learn how to use communication protocols, such as OPC and Modbus, nor do they have to figure out how to enable them in the controller and fool around with configurations.

Another big plus is not having to buy dedicated DAQ hardware and do the wiring. This can be very scary and intimidating to someone just starting in the world of automation technologies.

Real Games developers are also benefiting from the use of INGEAR drivers. Because the INGEAR drivers all use same interfaces, Real Games can avoid code duplication and follow the same architecture in the data exchange aspects of their applications. There is also the benefit that getting a tested and proven solution reduces the amount of testing and verification Real Games needed to perform to have a solid product.

Both Real Games and LineView solutions agree that purchasing INGEAR drivers instead of developing their own was a good decision. Although their products are quite different, both companies found that INGEAR drivers are very economical, easy to integrate into their systems, and have proved to be reliable in the field.