Connecting Custom Applications to the Factory Floor

Connecting Custom Applications to the Factory Floor

DMC has expertise in both industrial and PC-based software development. In other words, we do a great deal of projects involving PLCs; but we also write plenty of complex PC-based apps. But my personal favorites are projects that combine the two.

We’re seeing them more and more. Don’t get me wrong, off the shelf solutions are great, and should be used wherever they make sense. But sometimes they don’t fit all of the requirements our customers need. Here are some examples I’ve encountered over the past few months where a custom PC app made the most sense in an industrial setting:

1.    A program that automatically parses CAD drawings of a part, and then sends the resulting data to a PLC.
2.    Multiple offsite PLCs sending Ethernet packets over a cellular modem, to a server-side application that received, parsed, and logged the data.
3.    A web-based interface that translate data back and forth between a custom SQL server and multiple PLCs.

So we’ve established there are situations where a custom app makes sense. But how does one write this type of program? What tools are out there to connect the dots? As it turns out, there are plenty! Here are some of my favorites:

Dot Net PLC Toolbox 
Believe it or not, there’s actually a pretty strong community of .NET developers interested in interfacing to PLCs. One of my favorite open-source libraries is the Dot Net PLC Toolbox. This in-depth, free library allows .NET apps to parse PLC projects, as well as communicate, read tags, and go online. Last year I personally was involved with using this toolbox to create an open-source S7 Source Control Utility.

InGear Drivers 
The guys over at InGear have created easy-to-use .NET drivers for Siemens, OPC, and more. Sure, there are free tools available, but sometimes it’s nice to pay for a product just so you have a support team to rely on when you need them.

Most of our development is built on .NET, but sometimes client requirements dictate another language like Java. This is where a library like Jamod can be handy. Jamod is a Java library written for Modbus (serial, TCP, or UDP). Since Modbus is such an open protocol, this library makes it easy to connect your Java application to PLCs, drives, smart IO, and more.

TIA Portal Openness 
For Siemens PLCs in particular, there are official tools available to the interested programmer. With the latest version of TIA Portal, Siemens released an API used to interface with PLC programs. This code library allows developers to “automate” their code development by exporting, modifying, and importing TIA projects. I was pretty familiar with their old software, the Command Interface, and was excited to see them release a tool for Portal as well.

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