Ardexa Machine Plugins
Which machines can be connected to Ardexa?
Industrial connections are typically a confusing mix of modern information technology (IT) elements with engineering operational technology (OT). Physical communications may not always be Ethernet based, and can include elements such as serial or Bluetooth. Similarly, data protocols used over these physical communications have originated over a long period. Many data protocols originated before Internet connectivity was a reality. As a consequence, even something as simple as addressing structures are often unique and can even be specific to a manufacturer, with limited discoverability functionality available. In recent times, this landscape has been further impacted by the emergence of open automation standards (such as Modbus and OPC UA), as well as industry driven standards (such as Sunspec in solar energy industry). Ardexa is an open architecture platform, therefore a user can theoretically establish almost any type of industrial machine connection.
Ardexa has significant experience with machine connection methods. There are normally very few issues with these connections. Only where equipment manufacturers do not share their data protocols, then machine connection establishment can be a more difficult task.
The most common industrial connections used with the Ardexa platform can be grouped as follows:
- Modbus - most commonly found in automation networks and used by machine manufactures and control designers that want data to flow freely between components. Modbus is extensively used in TCP and RTU versions.
- OPC - Classic / UA / XML - commonly used with legacy PLC or SCADA systems, and includes traditional DCOM based OPC Classic servers, or the more modern OPC UA version.
- Embedded web servers - mostly found in data loggers, historians and protocol converters which incorporate a web server in the design. In such cases, data can be extracted by using standard IT tools and methods.
- Proprietary protocols - developed by equipment manufacturers (may be openly shared or closed). It is important that users understand clearly whether the manufacturer in question provides the protocol details openly. It has also been evident that some manufacturers publish different versions of the protocol, each offering a differing level of data access.
- Image and video outputs - automation is no longer complete without the intelligent capture and use of images and video. Most common is the use of HTTP and RTSP. Given bandwidth impacts of moving this data, much of the processing of such captures needs to be done at the edge.
The primary determinant is the willingness of the machine manufacturer to share data protocol and access permission credentials. If the manufacturer supports openly sharing such information, then the plugin development is procedural and completed within a reasonable time. Ardexa will openly share plugin availability on a case-by-case basis, due to the extensive repository of plugins. Once we have machine details, including brand, model, protocol identification, connection method and machine protocol documentation, we can easily confirm the connection, even if Ardexa have to build the plugin for you.
"Machine plugins" are applications developed by Ardexa to read data from identified machines and (in some cases) control aspects of the machine. These applications can be installed via the Ardexa App or the API. As shown below, these plugins are grouped into categories reflective of their function.
Some or all of these machine plugins are made available to your workgroup as required for the tasks identified in your workgroup. If a machine plugin is available to be installed, you will see the "Install" button, otherwise a "Not Available" button will appear (As per the example in the diagram above). For example, if your workgroup has a need to monitor PLCs, you may not necessarily be given access to the Solar Inverter plugins. If you need access to one or more machine plugins, and do not have access, please contact Ardexa support.
Ardexa has implemented a new Dynamic Mapping system, that is used in conjunction with the Machine Plugins. This means that data and metadata is updated automatically when there are changes notified by the Machine Plugin. Machine Plugins, along with Dynamic Mapping allows:
- 1.Machine Plugins to be easily installed remotely via the Ardexa App or the API.
- 2.Machine Plugins can be easily (re)configured remotely via the Ardexa App or the API. This means changes to the collection rates, changes in accessing the machines and or diagnostics or discovery can be easily changed.
- 3.Enables the automatic detection of machine variables. Previously, new or changed machine configurations had to be statically mapped - meaning manual intervention and changes to a configuration file. This was very time consuming and unresponsive. The new method of dynamic mapping is MUCH better.
- 4.Updates the metadata automatically when the edge device detects a change to the machine plugin or a network failure. eg. Dynamic Mapping compresses the configuration data for the machine plugin configuration (which can be very big). This means that if I have a station of say 500 machines, all of which are configured identically, then I do not need redundant field definitions for all 500 sources corresponding to each machine.