Mar 04, 2016

U-Can Do This! A Look at U-CON (Part One)

Posted by Joanne Bacharach

I recently experienced some technology integration headaches. I tried to install a smart thermostat in my home only to find my ancient furnace uses two wires instead of the requisite four. I was road-blocked trying to get this new technology integrated into old technology, and it turned out to be much more involved—and expensive—than I anticipated.

Does that sound familiar? How about the following situation? You are in the manufacturing automation world or on the plant floor. You have unwrapped the new barcode scanner, wireless temperature sensor, or weigh scale that is meant to make your life easier and your process oh-so-much better. You crack open the manual to get started. After an hour or so of reading and installing some lite, basic software provided by the vendor, you realize there is no easy way to get the data into your existing automation systems.

Having no fear, you reference Google and other tools like Wireshark for help. Let’s take that temperature sensor as an example: after a quick Wireshark of the temperature and humidity readings being broadcast over UDP, you discover that each data packet is simple human-readable ASCII. If only you could parse that ASCII out into data tags!

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Instead of learning how to get this device to hook into systems you have, however, you are even more confounded. You're having no luck searching for a software application that can easily grab the ASCII data, parse it, and send it to your existing OPC-based applications or other industrial automation systems. Since you're not a programmer, you're unable to write this application yourself, either. You feel somewhat stumped.

Enter the User Configurable (U-CON) driver for KEPServerEX. U-CON was created for just this situation, where no pre-defined driver already exists and the data protocol is easily interpreted (or if you are lucky, the vendor provides you with thorough protocol documentation). This driver puts power in the hands of the user to define a custom driver.

But what if you have no idea where to begin programming your own driver? U-CON is not programming in the true sense; you do not need to know C++ or another language to do it. U-CON simply gives you a list of commands to choose from and—with a little trial and error—you can quickly create your own driver. U-CON also takes care of the transport layer, which means you do not need to worry about establishing a TCP socket or connecting to a serial COM port. All you need to do is:

  • Tell U-CON what to send over the wire in the data packet to the device
  • Tell U-CON how to parse the data packet being returned from the device

U-CON takes care of all the higher-level transport layer stuff itself.

Stay Tuned

In my next post, I’ll detail how you can create a driver with U-CON by breaking it out into three easy steps. In the meantime, learn how U-CON was utilized in a solution for ABB Process Automation, who integrated KEPServerEX into Decathlon for Data Centers to overcome challenges with connectivity, data aggregation, and scalability.

Download the ABB Decathlon Case Study