There are hundreds of thousands of Rockwell Automation's Remote I/O systems in use. Remote I/O is being discontinued. Users will need to upgrade, but the new Flex I/O requires Ethernet, not the Remote I/O network. So do these users have to replace all their network wiring?
The inspiration for ProSoft Technology's new Ethernet to Belden Blue Hose Industrial Media Converter came two years ago at Rockwell's Automation Fair. "A customer came to us with this problem regarding his Remote I/O system," says Ken Roslan, vice president, global marketing, ProSoft Technology. "Of all those Remote I/O systems currently in use, many use PLC 5 and SLC controllers connected with Belden 9463 Blue Hose wire, which has been the industry standard for Remote I/O networks. Much of it is still in use in facilities all over the world."
Typical systems have 1,000 to 10,000 feet of cable. To put in a new control system, factories would have to add Ethernet using Cat 5 cable and managed switches, with fiber for distances over 300 feet, as well as pull cable all over the facility and work around running equipment. "Just running the cable itself in an existing plant can be a challenge," Roslan says. "Then they have to convert programs and schedule downtime to install and commission the new system. That's when risk starts going up."
The new converters allow users to upgrade a Remote I/O system by running Ethernet communications over the existing Remote I/O network. The patented technology helps companies upgrade their control systems with minimum downtime. Once the converters are installed, users can run Remote I/O and Ethernet data simultaneously on the same cable, letting them upgrade individual nodes at their own pace.
Machine builders can use the Ethernet capabilities to add features to existing machines in a phased migration with no need to rip and replace the original control system. They can upgrade PanelViews or condition-monitoring and remote-monitoring capabilities over Ethernet.
The cable company runs TV and Ethernet over the same coax cable, and ProSoft applied that same idea, but over Blue Hose, which is twinax.
These converters support 57.6-K and 115.2-K baud rates, and the units are plug-and-play with no configuration required. "You connect to the Blue Hose, power up, and there's no setup," Roslan says. "It's completely transparent, like an Ethernet to fiber-optic converter."
The system is tailored for retrofits. "A lot of this Blue Hose cable has been out there for many years, at different lengths and various levels of deterioration. The converters monitor communications and pick the best broadband channel for the condition of the cable," Roslan says.
The converters do more than avoid replacing cable. "You can change one thing at a time during another scheduled shutdown," Roslan explains. "You can continue to use an old controller while you install a new controller, convert the code and use a remote I/O card to test the code while the plant is running on the old controller, then switch over."
This approach allows users to upgrade I/O as needed—one node at a time—and move it over to Ethernet. "Being able to simultaneously run Ethernet and Remote I/O lets you make changes with minimal downtime and little risk," Roslan says. "You can upgrade a node and use the old I/O as spares for other old nodes to buy time before you need to replace them. In effect, you'll never have to replace the network cable."
One master handles multiple slaves with cable runs up to about 1,750 feet. Up to eight repeaters can be used to extend runs to 10,000 feet with up to 32 nodes, the same maximum network size as Remote I/O. Supporting a minimum of 1-4 Mbps, speed is at least 10 times as fast as Remote I/O, and it can handle bursts as high as 20 to 30 Mbps.
The Ethernet capabilities are standard Ethernet that can run any Ethernet protocol for any Ethernet device that works within the speed limitations, Roslan says.