9/13/2000

Get Embedded Internet


Web technology was one of the hottest topics in one of warmest parts of the country at the recent ISA show in New Orleans. Web-based portals, dashboards, and wireless monitoring and control gave the impression we'll soon be able to examine, diagnose, and even change set points on our processes using any computer, personal digital assistant (PDA), or cell phone from anywhere in the world.

Central to the concept is serving up process data on a web page, and Santa Ana, Calif.-based Newport Electronics has obviously been working on the idea for some time. At the show, the company introduced what it calls the world's first web-enabled controllers, panel meters, transmitters, and signal conditioners.

Called iSeries, the devices connect directly to an Ethernet network with a standard RJ-45 connector and can send and receive data in standard TCP/IP packets. "You can now connect a $200 digital panel meter or controller directly to an Ethernet network, just like a computer or network printer" says Newport's Steve Hollander. The device is a separate node—you assign it an IP address and give it a name if you like.

The devices can serve web pages over an Ethernet LAN or over the Internet to monitor and control a process through a web browser from anywhere in the facility or around the world. "In fact, the device could be assigned an authorized Internet IP address from an internet service provider and function as a web server delivering whatever specific information is called for," adds Hollander. "For example, using a Newport 1/16 DIN temperature controller to control a heater, an engineer can monitor the temperature, change set points or alarm points, turn the heater on and off, or make other modifications from anywhere on the local network, or anywhere on the Internet," says Hollander. "The web pages are easily customized and secure, password-protected access to the devices is easily controlled. And it requires no special software on the engineer's computer to view the data and supervise the controller—nothing other than a web browser."

The controller can even send an email to the engineer (or any number of people he chooses) alerting him to an alarm condition or updating the status. Leveraging the technology of the Internet, the engineer could receive a message from his controller on an Internet-enabled pager or cell phone.

Hollander says you could do this a year ago, but you needed a computer. "You could already accomplish all this by connecting the instruments on a bus to a computer, including computers small enough to be packaged in a DIN rail enclosure. But that approach adds an unnecessary level of complexity and expense to many applications. The iSeries meter or controller connects directly to the Ethernet Network-not to the serial port of a computer. These small instruments are full standalone Internet appliances. The Ethernet and web-server capability is actually embedded in the device."

The iSeries also works with conventional data-acquisition and control programs as well as Visual Basic and Excel. Newport provides free software and demos to make it fast and easy to get up and running with many applications. The company has also introduced the same Embedded Internet capability in a discrete DIN rail-mounted device that can be a hub connecting up to 32 instruments with serial communications to Ethernet and the Internet. The iServer is both a web server and an Ethernet-serial bridge, compatible with RS-232, RS-422, and RS-485. Not just web servers, the iSeries devices are also high-quality, competent instruments. The panel meters and controllers offer a five-year warranty; accuracy within 0.03% of reading; big bright LED displays that can be programmed to change colors between green, amber and red at any set point or alarm point; universal inputs for thermocouple, RTD, voltage or current; and two optional autotune PID control or alarm outputs: relay, SSR, DC pulse, or analog.

Pricing for the Newport iSeries devices (meters and controllers) with embedded Internet starts at approximately $200 in OEM quantities. The DIN rail-mounted iServer sells for less than $100. The instruments are in stock for immediate delivery.
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