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Protocol Conversion: A Building Block of Industry 4.0

Jan 02, 2018
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Protocol conversion is a cornerstone of Industry 4.0. On factory floors, engineers have to ensure that a mixed bag of devices, with their large variety of protocols, can communicate with each other seamlessly. The usual way to do this is through protocol conversion; without it, factory automation would be a completely different story.

As more and more factories move to Industry 4.0, budget constraints are accentuating protocol conversion’s indispensable role. When making the changes needed to create a smart factory, it is often cost-prohibitive to replace all existing legacy devices in order to connect the edge of a network to the Internet. The ideal solution is to extend these devices’ lifetimes by making them compatible with more modern equipment. However, it can be a challenge to get a large number of legacy devices, mostly using Modbus, to communicate with management systems such as SCADA systems and PLCs, which mostly use PROFINET and PROFIBUS. This is where protocol gateways come to the rescue of system integrators (SIs) by providing seamless protocol conversion, and subsequently allowing manufacturers to reap the benefits of a smart factory.



Modern factories are required to connect a large number of legacy devices, mostly using Modbus, to communicate with management systems such as SCADA systems and PLCs, which mostly use PROFINET and PROFIBUS.

The market abounds with protocol gateways, and it can be a head scratcher for engineers to separate the wheat from the chaff as gateways offer different communication methods, support for big data applications, configurations, and other capabilities. By and large, engineers should base their choice on these criteria:

  • Multiple protocol conversions
  • Fast and easy configuration
  • Built-in troubleshooting tools
  • Flexibility and scalability

Let’s take a closer look at these criteria.

Easy Deployment for Multiple Protocols

SIs usually deal with a large number of processes that require different combinations of protocol conversions. Handling these processes with many different gateway models—each performing a specific protocol conversion— is time-consuming and adds complication because each gateway’s user interface is designed differently. Because time is of the essence for engineers, it is advisable to invest in a gateway that does conversions for multiple combinations of protocols. This can save many hours during deployment and reduces installation and equipment costs. The added advantage of an all-in-one design is that it makes life a lot easier for inexperienced engineers, who usually have limited knowledge of protocols.

Fast and Easy Configuration

Configuration can be an arduous task, especially when users have to implement detailed parameter configurations one by one. Furthermore, many engineers can vouch how frustrating it is to spend hours setting up a gateway and not getting it right on the first try. Gateways with a user-friendly interface help engineers quickly set up protocol conversion routines for most applications, saving them a lot of time adding new components in an existing system. Also, to avoid the disappointment of failed attempts, a configuration wizard can come in handy to help engineers easily access protocol conversion modes and finish configuration in a few easy steps.

Easy Troubleshooting

Often, incorrect command settings, a disconnected cable, environmental noise, to name a few examples, can disrupt data transmissions. Built-in troubleshooting tools, such as protocol diagnostics, traffic monitoring, status monitoring, and fault protection in protocol gateways help engineers quickly pinpoint these types of issues, reducing downtime. An integrated protocol diagnostics and traffic monitoring tool offers engineers a shortcut to find the root cause of a problem by recording the data transferred through the gateway and providing details such as an alive list, counter, the results of commands issued, etc. A status monitoring function can provide information about the status of field devices and alerts the SCADA system when a slave device is not responding, and a fault protection function can send a predefined setting to field devices to prevent incorrect actions downstream when the upstream connection is lost.

Flexibility and Scalability

Adding protocol gateways to distributed network architecture brings major benefits such as flexibility and scalability. Traditionally, PLC communication modules are added to PLCs to connect with distributed field devices, but their star topology has several limitations, for example, the number of racks. Using standalone gateways that bundle a large number of field devices together makes wiring less of a challenge, consequently reducing cable costs and increasing scalability. Engineers can also save a lot of time when it comes to programming PLCs.

About Moxa

Moxa recently launched the MGate 5103 and MGate 5111 gateways that enable fast protocol conversions between Modbus devices and PROFINET/PROFIBUS-based SCADA or PLC systems. The MGate 5103 converts a variety of protocols, such as Modbus RTU/ASCII/TCP, to PROFINET, while the MGate 5111 converts the same protocols to PROFIBUS. Additionally, the MGate 5103 and the MGate 5111 can also help you integrate EtherNet/IP PLCs into PROFINET or PROFIBUS systems. For more details about the benefits of these gateways, please visit our site.

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