PROFIBUS Troubleshooting Tool Demonstration: Checking Device Statistics (11:40)

When looking at the live list on the main screen, the user is able to see real time updates of what is going on. If the user had just walked up to the instillation and saw that all of the devices are green, they would assume that there is nothing wrong with the instillation. In reality, they would be seeing a real time representation of what is going on right now. The user has no idea what happened five minutes ago, or even an hour ago by looking at the live list screen. Fortunately, ProfiTrace includes a statistics function. There are little tabs across the top of the matrix that change what is shown in the main window. For this tutorial, we have been in the live list tab. For this purpose, move over to the tab that is titled “Station statistics view” and click on it.

From this new tab, the user can see something called “Syncs” that is going on. The syncs statistics are measured. The boxes show how many times each of the devices took a sync message. Sync messages are sent out by the master whenever a device drops off of the bus and it is trying to bring it back. This is essentially an “are you there” message. Every time the master is attempting to talk to a device that is missing, it would just send a sync message instead of its usual write outputs and read inputs. Basically the device says “are you there?” When the device gets power back or is returned to the bus, it will answer and the master will put it back into data exchange on the next cycle. If there are sync messages, it lets the user know if there have been problems on their network because it means that a device has been missing. The Phoenix Contact that was turned off at address 15 in our demonstration was off for quite a bit longer than the other devices. In the few minutes it was off, it recorded 68,000 sync messages, which is substantially larger than the others.

At the top of the matrix, there is a drop down menu that is titled “selected statistic.” A variety of different statistics, including syncs, can be accessed from this menu. Let’s take a look at the “station lost” statistic, which is a little simpler than the sync statistic. This statistic simply shows the user how many times the device dropped off of the bus. There are about 20 statistical variants that are recorded by ProfiTrace. As long as it is plugged in and active, it will be recording these statistics so the user can look at things such as the slowest/fastest data exchange interval, I/O size, diagnostic messages requested by the master, and lots of other great stats. However, the main ones are at the top of the drop down list.

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The Changing Nature of Human Life and the Internet of Things

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer

The way consumers interact with the objects in their lives is changing at a pace that once seemed impossible. Connectivity that was recently unimaginable will soon be the standard for all technological devices. The Internet of Things (IoT) goes far beyond industrial applications; consumers will be able to receive updates and information about nearly every aspect of their lives with wirelessly connected smart devices. The push for IoT technology is a push for control. Users will have control over their homes, cars, and even their own bodies through wearables. Even though it may seem intimidating to have technology take such an invasive role in consumer life, the benefits created by connectivity outweigh the perceived intrusive nature of smart devices.

The internet-connected devices that are being implemented as a means to create the ultimate smart home are changing the way individuals interact with their environment. IoT devices allow users to establish a network of smart devices, giving the user the flexibility to build an environment optimized for their needs. Smart home connectivity is enabled through powerful software such as the innovative Apple HomeKit, which gives users complete control over a variety of smart devices. Having the ability to control and monitor different aspects of a home gives the user endless possibilities in terms of setting up a custom, optimized environment.

The ability to control a connected network of devices will help save the user a significant amount of money. The most direct application in terms of money being saved is simply having the ability to reduce power usage. IoT devices give the consumer the convenience of being able to operate different devices on timers and manually control devices with their mobile phones. If a thermostat is being controlled, the user can set the air conditioning to only be on when people will be present in that environment. If various lights are left on when the user leaves their home, they have the ability to turn them off remotely. A washing machine can be set to run its wash cycle during electrical quiet periods. These are just a few of the many ways a smart home can be managed to reduce electricity usage and save the consumer money.

The smart home is still in its infancy. Even though the potential for the IoT to continue to improve human life is easily observable, extremely advanced solutions are still on the horizon. This does not mean that there are not functional and efficient devices on the market today, it simply means that there needs to be more hardware available to develop a true network of connected devices. It is essential to begin to create a personalized smart home as the cost of connectivity continues to plummet and smart home solutions become more sophisticated.

Customer Service and The Internet of Things

Customer service could be substantially reformed due to advancements in the Internet of Things (IoT). Data collection, customer engagement and client solutions can all be improved through the advanced analytical capacity and network ubiquity of connected technology. Real-time improvements and software updates can be achieved with more fluidity to the greater satisfaction of the customer.

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Managing Big Data: Moving analysis back to the edge

The Internet of Things (IoT) and its wide range of devices are growing at an unfathomable rate. With an increase in size, comes an increase in the collection of massive amounts of data. In this article written by Grid Connect’s Vice President, Adam Justice, he stated, “The IoT relies on data — and massive amounts of it — to fuel connected devices and give us drastic advances in monitoring and automating our environments.” The overwhelming amount of data being generated at such a rapid pace is making it more important than ever for the issues of data management to be resolved.

The cloud is a centerpiece for the management and analysis of data collected through the embedded sensors of various devices. One solution to reduce the burden on the cloud and make data more manageable is to move analytics back to the device itself, which is called moving towards the edge. Utilizing edge IoT analytics could help drive efficiency as it is a cost-efficient solution that reduces the amount of bandwidth being used. Devices that have the ability to synthesize their collected data locally will be much faster and more reliable. Moving data analytics to the edge is an innovative IoT solution that will drastically improve the functionality of these devices.

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Grid Connect is One of the Coolest Companies in Chicago

This year, Chicago Inno is hosting their second annual, Coolest Companies Competition. This is essentially a fun challenge between different local companies to highlight the best company cultures in the Chicagoland area. An assortment of companies submitted information about what makes their company cool; Chicago Inno then selected the best companies to be nominees for the award. Grid Connect is honored to be nominated as one of the coolest companies in the area for the second year in a row.

So what makes Grid Connect so cool? The company culture includes many employee benefits, such as a weekly free lunch, an unlimited vacation policy, exciting ping-pong and bags tournaments, and more! In the nomination list, Grid Connect was quoted for another unique benefit, “We have ‘Shot Fridays,’ which includes a new shot or alcoholic drink every Friday at 2.30PM.” Grid Connect is dedicated to providing employees with the best work experience possible. Making it fun to come to work is great for keeping employees motivated and happy with their jobs.

The finalists will be selected by a panel of judges and last year’s winners at Chicago Fest, a celebration of the city’s innovators. New to this year’s award, there will be “Reader’s Choice” winners, which are publically selected winners. This means that anyone can vote for Grid Connect! Help recognize and spotlight the amazing company culture that Grid Connect has created. In order to vote, check out the link below!

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PROFIBUS Troubleshooting Tool Demonstration: Accessing GSD Files

The next important thing to cover is the fact that there is a place where the GSD files are saved. In the “Settings” menu at the top of the screen, go to “Preferences.” At the bottom of the “General” tab in preferences, there is a section labeled “GSD directory locations.” This will provide the directory where the user can say where their GSD files are. This allows the user to add their own files. Let’s say that the user owned Step 7 software. They could use those GSD files to point ProfiTrace to their directory. Another option is to use the standard directory that is under the ProfiTrace software in “Program Files,” which is part of the Windows C-Drive.

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Crowdfunding and the Internet of Things

Crowdfunding has become a major source of interest ever since the launch of Kickstarter in 2009. The concept is that businesses and individuals should be able to showcase their ideas in a social media-like fashion, and raise money through donations. Many of these campaigns offer rewards for donations, usually including sales, or early bird specials on the product they are hoping to release. Not only have these initiatives been able to offer the opportunity for products to touch markets which would have previously gone unnoticed, but they also offer a unique opportunity to show off products in a receptive community.

This platform has the possibility to be a huge stage for the development of Internet of Things (IoT) initiatives; this has been recognized recently in the partnership between Arrow Electronics and Indiegogo, an established crowdfunding website. Using the initial activity associated with starting and funding a campaign on Indiegogo, Arrow will rate these projects based on technical savvy. In addition, Arrow has pledged to work with tech campaigns that meet a certain standard of excellence, providing design, financial, production, and manufacturing support to the highest rated projects on the site. The partners are calling it a “crowdfund to production” platform.

Although this initiative is not directed specifically at IoT products, the move towards this form of marketing will definitely affect the way that new tech products are introduced. This trend towards encouraging outside developers has been on the rise, and has its notable example in Apple’s WWDC conference held every summer. Pushing outside creatives and developers to engage with crowdfunding platforms could allow for ideas to flourish in new ways as the IoT progresses. We may start seeing a variety of imaginative IoT solutions beginning to emerge as more businesses begin to encourage development.

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PROFIBUS Troubleshooting Tool Demonstration: Using ProfiTrace Software (3:28)

For now, stay on the main ProfiTrace page that is included in every kit that Grid Connect sells. To begin, click on the button that says “Init ProfiCore Ultra.” It will begin to initialize the ProfiCore Ultra, essentially it is checking the firmware that is loaded in the Ultra to make sure it is the latest firmware. Then it will begin to check the baudrate of the instillation. Once this is complete, there will be five boxes within the main matrix (grid) on the screen. These boxes will be green with a blue number in the center. There will also be a box with a white background and the number “2” in red. The matrix is what is known as the live list, which shows the addresses that are available in PROFIBUS. This means that we have PROFIBUS address 0 (Row 0, Column 0), located in the top left corner of the matrix, all the way down to PROFIBUS address 126 (Row 120, Column 6), located in the bottom right of the matrix. This is the maximum number of addresses available, according to the PROFIBUS specification.

Anywhere ProfiTrace is listening to the bus or anywhere it senses a device communicating, it will put it in the box that represents whatever address it is communicating from. In this case we have the five slave devices (located in the lid of the training kit) that were mentioned earlier in this tutorial. It is also important to note that the red “2” represents the master or PLC. The devices that are marked with the green box means that they are in normal data exchange with the master. Basically the master is writing outputs and reading inputs in a cyclical fashion to these devices and they are all in data exchange. This is a live list, meaning the things we see on the screen are the things actually happening right now.

To see how this works, we can simply turn off one of the devices in the training kit. We have small on/off switches to make this easy. Once the device is off, there will be a blinking red light in the top left corner of the device’s address box. The phrase “Phoenix Contact” will then appear on the screen when the box turns from green to yellow. The yellow color means that the device was on the bus communicating, but then it suddenly stopped, which makes sense because we turned the power off. Essentially the device is no longer communicating with the master, which ProfiTrace senses when it changes the background to yellow. Clicking on “Phoenix Contact” within the box will provide information in the section on the left of the screen titled, “Info Panel.” This is next to the live list, which is indicated with a heart image, that includes the matrix we worked with moments ago.

In terms of the error that occurred, the red blinking light in the top left corner of the box indicated that the device was sending a diagnostic message. Essentially what happened was that the Phoenix I/O block that we have in our training kit has some capacitive power that remains if it loses power. This allows it to last just long enough so that it can tell the PLC that it has lost power. In the Info Panel, it will say something that says “low voltage sensor supply US 1.” Basically it noted that it lost power, so it raised a diagnostic flag. In its messages, the master saw the diagnostic flag and asked for the diagnostic message. Then the device didn’t have enough power to keep living, so it dropped off the bus. This is what created what we now see before us.

Why did the Phoenix Contact suddenly appear? ProfiTrace is listening to the bus. Every device manufacturer assigns something that is called an “ident number” for each one of their types of devices. An ident number is just a way to identify each device of a particular type. An example would be a Siemens ET200S, each one of these devices has the same ident number. Each manufacturer creates a file called a GSD file, which contains all information about the device, how many words of input and output it has, information about what types of diagnostic messages it supports, information about the manufacturers, and so on. When a diagnostic message is generated, the ident number is included during that time. Once ProfiTrace sees the ident number, it will go look in its folder of GSD files to see if it has one that matches that ident number. Then it can know what device that was that just got its power turned off. When we plugged it in, the devices were all in data exchange when ProfiTrace started, so there wasn’t an ident number. ProfiTrace didn’t know anything except the address the devices were transmitting their messages to and from. It could not tell us that at that point it was a Phoenix Contact, it could only tell us it was a Phoenix Contact when it saw the ident number.

So now that we know this information, we can switch the device back on and simultaneously see the device turn green again. At the bottom of the screen, there is an isolated green box, which is a special device in our training kit from Acme corporation. Essentially it is a device that Procentec created for training purposes. For our troubleshooting classes, it is a way to let students discover that this device has power that follows another device when it powers off. It had a little power glitch from the other device. During that time, we saw the ident number for our fake device (Acme device) and were able to look up the GSD file and so on.

If we turn off any other device there will be similar results as the color changes from green to yellow. The Siemens works exactly the same as the Phoenix Contact. When we turn off the Brad device, the color will change yellow. However, there is no diagnostic at the beginning so this device is unidentifiable; this is because the device doesn’t have capacitive power. When it is turned back on and it starts back up as part of the initialization process, it provides its ident number, allowing the user to know what it was when it came back on the bus. The last device on the network we are using is the Turck. This device does have a little capacitive power and was able to send the diagnostic message before it totally lost power.

Now we can see the five devices in green with the device names in blue. As stated previously, if the names are clicked individually, the information about them can be accessed in the Info Panel.

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The Importance of Good Hardware and Software Documentation

By Nathan Rockershousen, Technical Writer

Technical documentation can be intimidating because it needs to include technically complex information in an “easy to digest” fashion. Having reliable documentation is crucial in helping users figure out how to use a product as well as aiding writers and developers in creating work of consistent and high quality. Whether the documentation is software or hardware oriented, it is essential that it focuses on a diverse variety of user experiences. This may seem like a daunting task, but there are a couple of things that writers can do to formulate a well-rounded and efficient document. Here are a few key steps in writing and creating quality documentation:

Understanding the Task: Before the writer even begins to construct their document, there are a couple of things they need to do. The first thing the writer needs to do is establish the type of document they are creating. There are a variety of different technical documents that can range from something like a user manual to a data sheet. It is important to coordinate with anyone else working on writing the document in order to establish the design, organization, and style. In addition to this, creating a time-table and an organized outline are ways of keeping the project moving and holding writers accountable for producing content.

Considering the Audience: Once the formatting and guidelines for the documentation are complete, it is important to understand who the audience is before beginning to transcribe any ideas. Being able to comprehend the background of the reader is critical because it establishes the way the content is written in terms of language, detail, and organization. It is important to know if the audience is technical or not in order for the writer to use appropriate references. Whether the writer is writing for a group of engineers within their company, or for an external group with no technical experience, the different audiences need different levels of detail. Regardless of who the audience is, it is critical to determine what information not to include, what information will confuse readers, and what information will make it difficult for a reader to digest the main points.

Writing the Document: When writing a technical document, one of the most important things to consider is the hierarchy of the information being used. Adding levels of hierarchy to categorize information can allow for a very coherent and granular organization system, but over-categorizing information can lead to confusion. Another simple thing that can be done to make important information easier to understand is writing paragraphs in a short and concise manner. The main point of a paragraph should be stated almost immediately so the reader knows if they are looking in the right place. Other beneficial things to do to make a document more user-friendly include reducing the amount of redundancy, providing tables and examples with explanations, avoiding jargon, and using clear sentences.

Even though the task of writing can be managed under the right instructions, proper documentation is often something that is neglected among developers and engineers. This is due to the fact that engineers are not natural technical writers. Writing documentation is tedious and requires a lot of attention to detail. Often these developers and engineers are the experts on the technical language and concepts, but being able to translate that knowledge into something that is coherent to someone who doesn’t understand the complexity of the technology can be difficult. The main issue with documentation is that it can go out of date very quickly. Having to constantly update software or hardware documentation can slow down engineers and developers in doing their actual jobs of creating new content. Even though there are negative connotations associated with engineers and their documentation ability, there are potential fixes to these issues. A potential solution can be training engineers how to communicate the simplicity found in complex ideas through technical writing training. In addition to this, having technical writers work with engineers to produce documents and update them can help ease the task of writing documents.

The time and cooperation it takes to write great documentation can be very beneficial for a business. Poorly written documentation will deter customers because the information they might need to use a product isn’t easily accessible. If engineers and developers cooperate to make proper documentation, there can be improved sales because the product information is much easier to reference. In addition to this, a well written document can provide adequate training on how to use a product, which will prevent customer errors. A well written document will attract customers and make it much easier to sell products.

Companies loosen vacation policies…

Grid Connect is one of the few companies participating in the growing trend of offering unlimited paid vacation to employees. While this may not be a great fit for all companies, Grid Connect has a company culture that is based on trust and a sense of community. The environment is based on providing employees with the best work experience possible. Brittney Borowicz, Vice President of Marketing, was offered a free, two-week trip to Singapore only two months after starting the job. Although Borowicz was originally nervous about the situation, it worked out very well as noted in her reflection; “My boss said, ‘Sounds great.’ They were very excited for me to go.” The ability for employees to take off as much time as they need is a great way to increase company morale and attract young talent.

Many companies have had difficulty transitioning to a functional unlimited vacation policy similar to the one Grid Connect has created. That being said, Grid Connect also offers a variety of extra benefits for employees to make work a much more pleasant experience. The company’s Vice President, Adam Justice, states, “You try to offer employees some extra perks to make work fun.” The company offers employees a free, catered lunch every Wednesday, free massages every Thursday, as well as ping-pong and bags tournaments during lunch breaks. In order for these types of benefits to be implemented successfully, companies need to have trust in their employees and have a more relaxed company culture.

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