Lightweight Automation Options

Some automation applications don’t need a full-blown control system, and today’s lightweight devices can offer targeted and economical options.

Bill Dehner, a Technical Marketing Manager at AutomationDirect, authored an article for the September 2019 issue of Industrial Equipment News titled Lightweight Automation Options. Here’s a summary, click on the link above for the full text.

Many users have basic automation needs where just a handful of input/output points or a few internet of things (IoT) devices need to be monitored. Lightweight devices—often referred to as portals, bridges, or gateways—are optimized to quickly and easily fill these roles by interfacing with higher-level systems.

Micro programmable logic controllers (PLCs) have gained extensive networking and communication abilities, so are often used for the purpose. But even micro PLCs may have more computing power than needed, with correspondingly higher costs, for simpler installations.

Wireless Portals Work Smarter

Regardless of how many IoT locations there are, many users will find that dedicated wireless portals can do everything they need, while being quick and easy to deploy.

lightweight automation
ure 1: Lightweight portal devices like this AutomationDirect Stride Pocket Portal can be quickly and easily installed to add IoT capabilities at any type of facility.

Bill explains the capabilities of a wireless portal:

Portals are small devices built for industrial installations and include wireless networking, so they are easily added into an existing internet-connected Wi-Fi environment. The version depicted in Figure 1 can accommodate up to four wired low-voltage discrete I/O and two analog inputs, with support for Modbus RTU, making it ready to attach to most any field equipment.

Most of these portals work with a low-cost subscription cloud service, and offer user-configured real-time dashboards for viewing data, cloud storage, logging, notifications, reports, and downloads.

Gateways Can Connect Many Devices to the IoT

For applications with field devices using Modbus RTU/TCP communications, users may find the message queuing telemetry transport (MQTT) protocol to be a better fit. A low-cost MQTT gateway efficiently transmits Modbus or Ethernet data up to an end user’s MQTT broker in the cloud (Figure 2). This solution is robust enough for data logging or true machine-to machine connectivity.

lightweight automation
Figure 2: Gateway devices, such as this AutomationDirect MQTT Gateway, can integrate common Modbus field devices and make them IoT-capable.

Bringing the IoT to Your Site

Lightweight solutions like wireless portals and MQTT gateways are an ideal way to integrate IoT methods for new or retrofit projects.

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