Tuesday, October 11, 2011


The integration of legacy systems and modern technology is sometimes a challenge in the creation and maintenance of robust industrial environments. The maintenance cost and shortage of spare parts for old equipment creates a financial burden and production risk that raises questions - is there a better way, can we leverage the cost and energy efficiency benefits of newer technology?

In response to a customer requirement to retain his existing PLC (with unmodified code) but over time migrate legacy drives to modern drives we have created a gateway/converter that allows them the freedom to upgrade equipment incrementally. In their case a number of drives are controlled over a multi-drop RS485 network using the GEM80 Starnet HDLC protocol.

Our gateway provides access to the original HDLC network and also to a parallel PROFIBUS network. It is possible to disconnect a legacy HDLC controlled drive and enable a modern replacement drive on the PROFIBUS network - the PLC is not aware that anything has changed - our gateway does the necessary data mapping and error management.

Our gateway is generic and can be extended to handle similar requirements with other leagacy and modern fieldbus or industrial ethernet standards.

Below is an indication as to the integration you are now able to create with your legacy HDLC PLC network.

As you can see from the image above we have replaced the legacy drive 1 and 4 with modern PROFIBUS drives which are able to run in parallel with legacy drive 2 and 3. As far as the PLC is concerned it is still talking to a legacy drive on address 1 and 4, but the HDLC gateway is doing all the conversion necessary to control the PROFIBUS devices.

For more details contact us at info@idxonline.com

Monday, October 10, 2011

IDX Breakfast 2011

IDX hosted a breakfast at Blandford Manor, Johannesburg, on Wednesday 7th September. The presenter was Dennis Van Booma, General Manager of PROCENTEC and Chairman Working Group “Training” at PROFIBUS International. The company PROCENTEC, based in The Netherlands, concentrates all products and services on the PROFIBUS and PROFINET technology. The first presentation gave insight into COMbricks from PROCENTEC, the first PROFIBUS and PROFINET based automation system that unites network components, permanent monitoring with ProfiTrace and remote I/O. The second presentation was about PROFINET. IDX is a PROFIBUS Competence Centre in South Africa and is a gold distributor for PROCENTEC.

HDLC GEM80-400 converter

We have recently designed a gateway for one of our clients that allows them to use their old GEM80-400 PLC to control PROFIBUS devices. Their upgrade procedure requires the old system running in parallel with the new system so they needed a gateway that was completely transparent to the old GEM80-400 PLC. The gateway transparently connects the old technology with the new, allowing for the easy integration of modern technology.

Looking at the requirements that our clients had we realized that the system needed to be robust and versatile, allowing for the integration of a vast array of modern technologies. Leveraging the versatility of the converters and gateways already developed, we have built on the technology that is already tried and tested, and developing only what was not already available.

With current testing and design we have developed a Modbus TCP driver which allows us to control most devices and connect to the majority of gateways already available. This allows for easy proof of concept allowing for the design of specific drivers if required.

Getting the GEM80-400 PLC protocol structure (starnet HDLC operating at 180000bps over 4 wire RS485) translated into Modbus TCP has enabled us to provide upgrade strategies to our clients who have to approach their PLC and system upgrades incrementally, which previously was not possible.

Below are a few examples of what systems our clients would be able to integrate with:

  • HDLC to EtherCAT
  • HDLC to Modbus TCP
  • HDLC to ControlNet
  • HDLC to DeviceNet
  • HDLC to ASi
  • HDLC to Ethernet/IP

We see the development of this device changing the way people perceive technology and re-evaluating the strategies they need to employ when upgrading their site infrastructure. Africa has a lot of legacy systems which inevitably will require upgrading. We believe we have created a system that makes that transition a whole lot easier. 

Feel free to contact us at info@idxonline.com for any questions you may have.

Friday, October 7, 2011

PROFIBUS Training Courses in Richards Bay

The PROFIBUS Competence Centre (PCC) travelled down to Richards Bay in September to give two consecutive Troubleshooting and Maintenance courses at Mondi. This training was organised by Cube Technologies who has partnered with the PCC to facilitate Profibus Training in KwaZulu-Natal.

The course was well received with 15 new PROFIBSUS Installers becoming certified. The attendees had the opportunity to do some hands-on troubleshooting on the PCC’s training rigs. They are asked to identify and correct the faults on the rigs which are typical faults that one might find on a plant. Some of these faults can be identified and corrected by visual inspection, which can only be done once you know what you are looking for – that is, by coming on training. Some faults you can only identify with the appropriate test tools, without which, they discovered, they would be shooting in the dark. Profibus test tools include the BC-600 from Softing, the NETTEST II from COMSOFT and the ProfiCore Ultra from PROCENTEC.

The training the PCC offers has to keep up-to-date with the latest technologies that are at the PROFIBUS user’s disposal. This is why ComBricks from PROCENTEC have been introduced into the troubleshooting section of this course. ComBricks allows for permanent remote monitoring of your PROFIBUS or PROFINET network and can be used a modular repeater. ComBricks are able to record messages from before and after an error occurs and email the appropriate personnel of an alarm or a potential problem. A user can log in through a web browser, potentially from home though VPN and monitor the network in real time and advise on-site personnel on what to do. For those attendees that are on standby, this is a very appealing product!

All of these devices and test tools are available from IDX.

Thank you to Dianne Williams from Cube Technologies for organising the training and to Sharmaine Dyman, The HR Coordinator for Training at Mondi who made sure that everything ran smoothly. We look forward to running training in Richards Bay soon again.

If you are in the Natal region and would like to attend a PROFIBUS Course and not have to travel to Johannesburg to do so, then Contact Dianne Williams at Cube Technologies on +27 31 764 6081 or visit their site at www.cubetech.co.za. For training in Johannesburg or on-site training, then please feel free to contact the PCC on +27 11 548 9977 or visit www.profibuscentre.co.za.

Gold Certified Partner

IDX recently attained the Gold certified status from PROCENTEC. So many of you may think “what does this mean?”. PROCENTEC is rewarding companies for attaining a level of excellence by auditing their distributors according to a variety of standards that they have felt is important. These standards include, the technical knowledge of their devices, the practical capability to be able to setup these devices correctly, the CRM system that is used by the company must contain detailed information about the clients and the quotes and invoices. So we can make sure you get the correct device you ordered on time.

What was probably the most interesting part is that we had to write a test, there were 2 options for this test. Either you could write it on an individual basis and you must pass by 90% or you can write the test as a group effort but the trick is that you must get 100% to pass. So you can guess what we did…that’s correct, we opted for the group effort and we passed. It was even fun on top of that.

If you become Gold certified there are 2 things that are very important: you must attend at least 1 distributor conference and all the gold certified companies are the first to get the latest demo items available.

What does this mean for you? We know what we are talking about, we are organized, we have the latest devices PROCENTEC has to offer for you to come see and test.

KNX Training

We have been hard at work on our newest IDX Academy offering. Our strong industrial networking background has provided a great base to launch into the building automation space.*The KNX training course is offered at two levels, namely basic and advanced. The basic course will leave delegates with a solid detailed understanding of how KNX works, practical experience in setting up and configuring devices using ETS™, and how to design and specify a KNX system. You will also learn important techniques for energy saving and how to best go about specifying devices to minimise energy costs.

The advanced course builds on knowledge offered in the basic course, and offers users in-depth knowledge of building automation systems, such as heating, lighting and air conditioning as well as an in depth look into the KNX protocol. The advanced practical includes topics such as security and motor control.*Delegates leave the training courses feeling confident in their knowledge to be able to tackle the world of building automation.

In order to ensure that delegates across the globe receive the same quality of training, the KNX association requires, in addition to the trainer having a KNX tutor’s qualification, that the training centre is audited to ensure that the material and training rigs used are of a satisfactory standard.

IDX is excited to be getting audited at the end of October 2011, at which time we will be able to provide certified KNX training. We are also preparing to complete the KNX tutor’s qualification at the same time.
A huuuuuuge thanks to ABB for all their support and generosity in donating equipment for training!!!
We hope to see you soon!

Anybus Wireless Bridge

I have often been asked if there is a possibility to convert from Modbus to Ethernet and then back to Ethernet, in other words the information needs to be bridged across an Ethernet infrastructure. Anybus is now meeting these requirements using wireless technology with a clever and robust solution.
How it works
The wireless modules act as a wireless bridge where a physical cable would usually be installed. What makes this wireless module so impressive is its ease of use. The simplest configuration is a point to point connection.
The wireless modules require relative little configuration which is all done via the buttons on the modules. The modules will scan for the device that it is connected to and learn the MAC address (physical address) and IP address of the device. Both modules will need to learn the device that they are connected to, from there it is just plug and play. Since the module take on the IP of the device that it is connected to, the modules appear completely transparent hence no changes to your system.
This isn’t the only topology configuration that you can select but it is the easiest. The modules have a built in web server to configure more advanced stings and this allows you to connect to existing wireless networks.
Device features
The wireless modules support 802.11 b/g and 2.4 GHz and 5GHz versions. The modules have a built in antenna with a half radio globe coverage, this is used to concentrate the signal giving the devices better range. The modules are also IP 65 rated and are perfect for industrial applications and are hopefully Africa proof.
The only negative aspect to the product is that the Ethernet connection and the power are connected using M12 connectors making setup take a little longer but this will definitely make them more weather resistant in the long run. The wireless range is up to 400m.