Aug 07

Welcome Ciaran

Ciaran O'Rourke

Our newest staff member Ciaran O’Rourke joins us from Ireland – Welcome to the team Ciaran.
Ciaran takes over from Matt Brown who has moved to Fonterra Darfield after many years with Streat Automation.

Jul 30

Speight’s Dunedin

It’s been great working with the team at Speight’s this year – We’ve been working together with Pace Electrical and the Speight’s projects team on their $29 Million upgrade to the Speight’s Brewery in Dunedin.

Check Speight’s out on Facebook for updates and be sure to stop by the Speight’s Youtube channel too.

If you can’t get to Dunedin to do their famous brewery tour then you must check out the video below:

Feb 11

Marmite – Don’t Freak – It’ll be back

Marmite

It’s getting closer to the day you’ll see that favourite Kiwi spread back on the shelves of your local supermarket. Streat Automation is excited to be part of the team which is bringing back Marmite. We are helping to rebuild the packing automation system (the bit that prepares it to go in the jars). We are all looking forward to the return of Marmite as much as everyone else.
Although we can’t say much at this stage, make sure to check out the Sanitarium webpage and also keep an eye on their Facebook page for the latest news.

Nov 27

Where’s my jetpack? Mobile HMI & SCADA

If a jet pack was a safe, reliable and cheap way to travel we would all be using them. It seems that cars are the definitely winning in the transport arena though. Just take a look at how far Google have come with their self-driving race-cars – yes race-cars; they’re developing them with NASCAR. Sure its a racing environment and not a “real” environment – but at least someone out there is doing the hard yards to get this technology working. Another technology that seems like it would be a great idea, but just isn’t really there yet is mobile SCADA and HMI.

ProficySCADA

ProficySCADA

It’s fair to say that there are already quite a number of mobile SCADA packages available; GE has ProficySCADA and if you have a quick browse through the android play-store or iOS app-store you’ll see a number of others in the mix (mySCADA, SCADAMobile, Autobase). There is also more robust hardware out there that will allow users to run a full copy of windows, and thus almost any SCADA package you like, just as though it’s on a desktop/laptop. There is also the option of running a thin-client on any kind of tablet and leave the real number crunching to a HMI server.

Despite there being plenty of software options – there are still other hardware issues. The two biggest being battery life, and communications. There will always be a need for the hard wired options because there are some environments where wireless just isn’t reliable enough (think mega-magnets and underground mines). However in those situations where mobile automation would be well suited, those issues still remain. How many tablets would you actually need in order to have enough mobile stations even after breakages, 24 hours shifts and low batteries?

There are a lot of engineering solutions out there that are supposed to make life easier – but just don’t live up to the expectation in the long run. This PLC 5 to ControlLogix conversion module offered by Rockwell Automation as a staged upgrade path seems great, but tell me how in 6 months time an electrician will be able to get in there and trouble-shoot that beast? I think mobile platforms for factory automation will face the same challenges, they need to be sensible, intuitive and usable for ALL the people that will use them (developers through to end users). oh yeah… and they have to work. It never ceases to amaze me what a poor user interface many of the desktop SCADA development studios have given that the design space is for developing a user interface. They are almost always usable, but almost never nice to use! Since real game-changing technology usually offers so much more than their predecessors ever did, mobile SCADA will need to offer a better development experience as well as a better end user experience to get it’s foot in the door.

There are a number of questions bought up by having a plant operator able to walk around their factory and be using a mobile device for control. Beyond the technical issues there’s also security and safety (both machine and operator). So what are the driving factors behind you considering mobile SCADA in your factory? We’d love to hear your opinions on mobile SCADA (and why we don’t have our jet-packs yet).

Nov 26

It’s time to replace that old PLC

The following PLC systems are now considered obsolete: Siemens S5, Modicon 884 & 984 and Allen-Bradley PLC2, PLC3, SLC 100 & 150.

Some Allen-Bradley PLC 5 & SLC500 components are ‘silver series’ meaning that at some stage in the future (typically in the next 5 years) they will no longer be available, for example; from the start of 2013 you will no longer be able to buy a new PLC5 chassis and some components are only available as ‘remanufactured’ items on an exchange and repair basis with Rockwell.  Rockwell are discouraging the sale of ‘silver series’ hardware for new systems and are recommending that plant owners with ‘silver series’ hardware should plan for migration.

PLC manufacturers are reluctant to withdraw hardware from sale as there is a large installed base, however they eventually run out of the components required to build this hardware.

If you have critical plant controlled by an obsolete PLC system then you will need to hold an extensive range of spares to ensure a system failure does not result in significant plant downtime.  However even holding spares is no guarantee that you won’t face major problems as electrical components break down overtime. There is no guarantee that a module that has been sitting in your store room for over 10 years will work when required.

Your best option is to plan to replace your obsolete, or about to be obsolete, legacy PLC system by migrating to a new control system.

So what options do you have if you have old PLC’s running important parts of your factory?  PLC manufacturers have a vested interesting in keeping you as a customer so they provide various options for partial or total replacement of your legacy control system that minimizes the cost and disruption of the upgrade.

PLC systems essentially consist of two main components, the processor and the IO (Inputs & Outputs).  As a partial, staged upgrade the processor can be replaced with the original IO (and field wiring) retained.  The new processor will sit in a new rack with the original IO connected via a communications network.  The original IO rack will require an ‘adapter module’ that replaces the original PLC, and acts as a gateway between the new processor and original IO.

This type of partial upgrade allows for a quick migration between the old and new processor and therefore a limited amount of plant downtime and disruption.

The new processor will generally not run the old PLC software.  To overcome this issue most PLC manufactures offer a conversion tool or a conversion service to convert the old code.

However there are a lot of good reasons to not simply convert the code in this way.  Modern PLC systems are a lot more powerful and flexible than earlier versions and a code rewrite offers the opportunity to fix a lot of problems the old machine will undoubtedly have.  Generally old control systems have very limited alarming and diagnostics, they are generally not very robust when minor issues occur like product jams or when restarting from unplanned stops.  Old control systems are also fairly inflexible when handling different products from those the system was originally designed for.  These are all issues that can be addressed when upgrading the control system and rewriting the PLC software.  It may also be possible to reduce bottle necks or delays in the operation of the machine and therefore increase productivity.

A new HMI (operator display panel) could be added to the control system to display alarms and equipment status as well as allow operator control over various parts of the machine.  Recipes or different operation modes can be added as well as monitoring and display of production information and maintenance data.

Replacing the legacy PLC IO can be carried out as part of the control system upgrade or as a separate stage 2 project.  This is largely an exercise in re-terminating the field wiring to the new IO modules.  It is also a good opportunity to update the electrical drawings or generate a new set of electrical drawings if the originals have been lost.  An up to date set of electrical drawings will greatly assist electrical maintenance staff in diagnosing electrical problems.

Upgrading the controls on an existing machine can significantly extend the useful life of a machine while making it more reliable, robust and flexible and can be  significantly cheaper than replacing the machine with a totally new machine.

If you would like to know more about upgrading your control system then don’t hesitate to contact us.

Nov 07

Arduino – Time to Tinker

Arduino Mega2560

What does an Automation Engineer get up to when they aren’t at work? Well anything can happen when you get your hands on a nice little open-source electronics prototyping board like this ATMega2560 based Arduino.

Popular requests from friends include a CNC mill or lathe and also a Millenium Falcon. The Millenium Falcon seems to be pushing boundaries – but what about the guys at OpenPCR – They’re going to get us all into the age of biology before we know it!

So far I’ve re-purposed an old PS2 controller using Bill Porters PS2X arduino library. It will never control a Playstation again – instead I’ll use it as an HMI for any little projects I’m working on.

What will happen when the Raspberry PI arrives?

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