Instrumentation for the future

We will soon be able to examine, diagnose, and even change set points on our processes using any computer, personal digital assistant (PDA), or cell phone from anywhere in the world.

One of the hottest topics at this year’s ISA show in New Orleans, turned out to be Web-based portals and wireless monitoring. The views expressed at the show gave the impression that we will soon be able to examine, diagnose, and even change set points on our processes using any computer, personal digital assistant (PDA), or cell phone from anywhere in the world.

Central to the concept is serving up process data on a web page. To this end Newport Electronics introduced what it calls the world’s first web-enabled controllers, panel meters, transmitters, and signal conditioners at the show. The company’s iSeries meters and controllers connect directly to an Ethernet network with a standard RJ-45 connector and can send and receive data in standard TCP/IP packets.

‘You can now connect a £160 digital panel meter or controller directly to an Ethernet network, just like a computer or network printer’ said Newport’s general manager Steve Hollander. ‘The device is a separate node-you assign it an IP address and give it a name if you like.’

The devices can serve web pages over an ethernet network or via the Internet to monitor and control a process through a web browser from anywhere in the facility or around the world.

‘In fact, the device could be assigned an authorised Internet IP address from an internet service provider and function as a web server delivering whatever specific information is called for.’ added Hollander.

‘For example, using a 1/16 DIN temperature controller to control a heater, an engineer can monitor the temperature, change set points or alarm points, turn the heater on and off, or make other modifications from anywhere on the local network, or anywhere on the Internet,’ he claimed. ‘The web pages are easily customised and secure, password-protected access to the devices is easily controlled. And it requires no special software on the engineer’s computer to view the data and supervise the controller-nothing other than a web browser.’

‘You could already accomplish all this by connecting the instruments on a bus to a computer, said Hollander, ‘But that approach adds an unnecessary level of complexity and expense to many applications. The iSeries meter or controller connects directly to an ethernet network, not to the serial port of a computer. These small instruments are full standalone Internet appliances. The Ethernet and web-server capability is actually embedded in the device.’

The company has also introduced the same embedded Internet capability in a discrete DIN rail-mounted device that can be a hub connecting up to 32 instruments with serial communications to Ethernet and the Internet. The iServer is both a web server and an Ethernet-serial bridge, compatible with RS-232, RS-422, and RS-485.

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