OPC UA Empowers Fire Equipment Manufacturer

Sponsored by: Software Toolbox

For over 40 years, a large fire equipment manufacturer has produced high quality water delivery solutions to clients worldwide. The company’s focus is directed at nozzles for the firefighting industry but their overall product offerings include hoses, valves, nozzles for de-icing, and foam solutions.

For many years, this manufacturer has had a robotic picker picking from hundreds of parts bins along a 100-foot multi-level picking line. The robot was controlled by a legacy custom program via serial connection running on a Linux box. This picking line had become problematic with frequent breakdowns and slow response time to commands, negatively impacting production efficiency.

The company’s engineering team began to explore solutions to make the line more reliable and efficient. To accomplish this, they began by completely overhauling the robot. For control, they chose Allen-Bradley ControlLogix PLCs and A-B servo drives. The question then became how to maintain their control program on the Linux box and use it to pass commands to the ControlLogix PLC.  It was suggested that the engineers investigate OPC technology, specifically the most current OPC technology, OPC UA.

After many hours researching OPC UA and how it would be useful to their application, both from a functionality and security perspective, the head engineer at the company, contacted Software Toolbox. Using an OPC UA Server for Allen-Bradley ControlLogix and Cogent DataHub, the engineering team was able to implement a solution that fit the needs and the budget of the project. Using the OPC UA Server for Allen-Bradley ControlLogix and the Cogent DataHub, the existing custom program was able to be retained for use with the new and improved control hardware.  As one of the engineers on the project phrased it, “It is magical what this can do for our application.”

In this application, the OPC UA server is connected to the ControlLogix PLC and then Cogent DataHub via OPC UA.  The Cogent DataHub, through its ODBC interface, is then connected to an ODBC data source.  The legacy custom program passes commands as parameters to this ODBC data source, which the Cogent DataHub reads into OPC UA data points.  Those OPC UA data points are then written securely through the OPC UA Server to the PLC for control.  The responses to these commands are then passed back through this chain to the ODBC data source to be read by the legacy custom program to determine the next step in the sequence.

This manufacturer has seen significant improvement in the efficiency of their line and, has virtually eliminated downtime on the line. According to the head engineer, “It is really a pretty unique application. It is so much faster than what we had before!  Now we are trying to find other problems to solve.” In regards to the application he goes on to say: “I think that it is a very unique way to use OPC UA technology and has been VERY effective for our business results.”

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If you’re not familiar with Cogent DataHub but the use case above is intriguing to you and you would like to try DataHub for your own OPC UA and other integration projects, you can get a free trial of Cogent DataHub.  Click to Download Your Free Trial.

Cogent DataHub is a trademark of Cogent Real Time Systems.  Software Toolbox is a trademark of Software Toolbox, Inc.