Old and new devices unite under OPC

In order to help its customers connect older machines with newer ones, this industrial controls OEM built a flexible, OPC-based network that provides turnkey solutions for factory and equipment monitoring.

Husky HostBy Carlos Sanchez, Husky Injection Molding Systems

THE NEW control system that an industrial OEM embeds in its next-generation machine eventually becomes yesterday’s technology. The time comes when the machine builder finds value for itself and its customers by moving to newer, more capable control schemes and platforms. Repeat that sequence a few times, and a loyal, growing customer might find itself with several generations worth of machine controls on its factory floor.

What do they do when monitoring and data sharing between all these machines becomes an important operating need? Differing generations of controls means many machines can’t natively share data. The manufacturer can’t just dynamite his factory floor, and upgrade all the controls to fix the problem.

This is the customer-support issue that faced us at Husky Injection Molding Systems. In response, we developed Husky Host, a protocol to provide an interface for applications needing to communicate with any type of Husky equipment.

Machine Generations
With global headquarters in Bolton, Ontario, Canada, Husky is a leading supplier of injection molding equipment and services to the plastics industry (See Figure 1 below). Our company designs and manufactures a comprehensive equipment range, including machines, molds, hot runners and robots. We also offer value-added services such as factory planning, customer training, and system integration. Husky’s customers produce a variety of plastic products for the food and beverage, medical, automotive, and consumer electronics markets.

During its more than 50 years in the industry, Husky has introduced successive generations of injection-molding equipment to deliver improved performance and functionality. A new machine often would be packaged with a new controller platform that offered increased functionality, more memory and storage, and different communication protocols.

“As a result, customers had to create new communications drivers to exchange data between the new controller and the existing control and monitoring applications,” says James Bolka, manager of Husky’s central services group. “This was a time-consuming and expensive proposition for customers that relied on third-party vendors to create the interfaces.”

Husky Host

In response to a need for newer generation machines such as this H120 to communicate with older Husky equipment, the company developed Husky Host, an OPC-based protocol that provided an interface for all its applications.

This issue had another downside: end-users who relied on vendors to supply the drivers were locked into that vendor’s software solutions. Without the resources or expertise to write their own drivers, they couldn’t change monitoring software without losing their connectivity to the Husky equipment. In essence, they were limited to the solution the vendor could offer.

Keep Customers Satisfied
Two years ago, customers began asking Husky for complete turnkey solutions that would provide equipment and plant-monitoring capabilities. Plant monitoring software provides several benefits, including access to real-time equipment status, trends displays, receipt of equipment-need notifications, process visualization, a view to machine performance reports, and data gathering for analysis.

“One option was to write a comprehensive monitoring application from scratch,” says Bolka. “We rejected that option, and looked for an application on the market. We also researched the market, and interviewed potential customers to learn about the functionality that they value. Some of the main requirements were flexibility, ease of use, and web enablement.” As part of this process, Bolka says Husky included its own criteria, which included the potential supplier’s corporate culture, company commitment, global support, and financial performance.

After a series of demos and pilot projects, Husky selected Matrikon’s web-based ProcessNet monitoring application. With a collection of more than 500 OPC products and interfaces and more than 100,000 installations worldwide, MatrikonOPC is reportedly the world's largest developer, trainer and distributor of OPC products, and is a charter member of the OPC Foundation.

“We branded the product as Husky SmartLink,” says Bolka, “and we developed an installation methodology and configuration to facilitate deployment of the turnkey solution. The SmartLink solution is intuitive to users, so little training is required.”

Old and New
Despite these gains, SmartLink was not yet the complete solution that customers needed from Husky. The firm also needed a way for customers to connect their different generations of Husky equipment to SmartLink. The company realized that its proprietary protocol wouldn’t allow them the necessary open connectivity into the application.

After researching alternatives, Husky chose OPC technology to provide the needed connectivity. OPC, originally an acronym for “OLE for process control,” with OLE being an acronym for “object linking and embedding,” is a standards-based software communications protocol, which provides a common data exchange method between industrial devices and applications. With SmartLink’s built-in OPC capabilities, OPC was a natural choice.

Next, Husky faced two key problems. First, while newer controllers found in Husky equipment had built-in OPC connectivity, the majority of users had a significant number of legacy machines that had none. Second, the Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM), the underlying technology used to carry OPC messages, presented configuration and security issues that made it very difficult to network devices together.

“For DCOM to work well with OPC, it depends on a highly reliable network that resides on the same Windows domain, has no firewall, and has high-bandwidth availability,” says Matrikon’s Karim Moti, vice president for U.S. operations. “These conditions usually are found in a local-area network (LAN). However, in different domains set up by vendors on a wide-area network (WAN), which is the most common OPC issue in plants, DCOM becomes unreliable and insecure. Timeouts can take up to six minutes to recover, and most applications can’t recover or set up redundancy. Cyber attacks, viruses and worms target DCOM, and, because it needs many open ports, DCOM is hampered by firewall security that closes most ports.” Moti says conditions that the Husky  product needed to operate reliably meant that DCOM and OPC couldn’t work together properly.Husky needed DCOM’s capabilities, but do it using only one port.

To resolve these issues, Husky again worked with Matrikon in development of MatrikonOPC Server for Husky Host. “The OPC server for Husky Host is easy to install,” says Bolka. “Someone with a basic knowledge of networking and PC skills can do the installation with little assistance from Husky. Training normally isn’t required because individuals using the OPC server already have a level of OPC knowledge.”

With an OPC server for the Husky Host protocol, Husky could continue to use Husky Host to reliably connect legacy equipment together, avoid the DCOM setup and security issues, and have the data available to SmartLink via the OPC server. With SmartLink and the OPC Server in place, Husky had a complete turnkey solution that offered the benefits of SmartLink with the flexibility of open connectivity for its customers other equipment (See Figure 2 below).

Reduce Driver Dependency
Before Husky Host, six separate drivers were needed to connect three injection molding machines with different controllers to two control applications. With the new protocol, only two drivers are needed. (Click image to enlarge)

“The main benefit to Husky of using this OPC-based technology is that legacy equipment connectivity is enabled because it modernizes the way Husky communicates with earlier-generation equipment,” says Bolka. “The ease of support allows customers to install this on their networks by themselves. It also reduces support calls from third-party vendors seeking details necessary to troubleshoot interfaces.”
Bolka adds there’s also more flexibility on the type of data that can be shared through the Husky Host interface in combination with the OPC server, and it provides a unified connectivity to Husky equipment, regardless of generation.

“Without the OPC approach, we’d provide the Husky Host connectivity to customers, but then have to rely on third-party developers for the interfacing,” Bolka continues. “Customers would use the OPC connectivity inherent in the newer Husky controllers, and develop third-party interfaces for their legacy equipment.

Customer Sees Potential
Amcor PET Packaging is one of the world’s largest plastic packaging producers. It manufactures containers ranging from plastic beverage containers to food and personal care items. Its parent company, Amcor Ltd., Melbourne, Australia, offers a range of packaging solutions, and it ranks as one of the top three packaging companies in the world.

In 2003, Amcor launched an initiative to integrate all its plant equipment into a factory-wide SCADA system that improved operational efficiencies. At the time, there was no commercial solution for connectivity from its SCADA system to Husky’s machines. The OPC server for Husky Host hadn’t yet been developed.

“We considered two different solutions to the problem,” recalls Robert Cooper, controls engineering manager for Amcor’s North American office, who headed the initiative. “The first was to create a hardware interface to each different controller platform to funnel data into a standalone system.”

However, this solution had several drawbacks. “The hardware-based system required special programming for each machine,” says Cooper. “It would be difficult to deploy the solution to other plants, and the solution wasn’t supportable by Husky. Further, because it was hardware-based, it was more costly than a software solution, and required different hardware configurations for each generation of Husky machine.” On top of that, installation could take up to eight hours.

Amcor also considered using Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) technology offered by a third-party as part of its visualization software package. However, DDE could be a problem when deployed over a network, and using a non-standard visualization tool didn’t fit Amcor’s policy to use standard tools across the enterprise.

Husky Fits the Bill
When Husky released its OPC solution, Amcor began testing the new product via the built-in OPC connector in its own SCADA system and, within months, decided to standardize on this approach.

“The OPC solution provided them with a number of benefits,” says Bolka. “It has a standard Ethernet interface, it’s fully supported by Husky, and Amcor could employ central data amalgamation, with full network integration.”

Cooper also saw the benefits, adding, “It was deployed easily to other plants, and OPC with Husky Host connected different generations of Husky machines with no additional effort, and no added hardware was required.” Installation could be done in 30 minutes, adds Bolka.

“Amcor’s development approach is to build modularized object-oriented SCADA systems using industry standards such as OPC,” says Cooper. “Based on the Husky Host Interface with the MatrikonOPC server, we developed an Automation Object housed in one container, which has all the communications, logic, scaling and interfacing required to connect to a Husky Injection Molder, and can be dropped into our SCADA system like a plug-in component.”

Bolka says the server has been deployed successfully in plants worldwide during the past two years, and is working trouble-free from Australia to the Americas and in Europe.

Main Benefits of OPC Technology

A summary of the benefits that OPC-based technology brought to Husky and its customers include:

  • Legacy equipment connectivity by modernizing the way Husky communicates with the earlier generation equipment
  • Ease of support by allowing customers to install it on their networks by themselves
  • Reduced support calls from third-party vendors asking for details and troubleshooting of interfaces
  • Flexibility on the type of data that can be shared through the Husky Host interface in combination with the OPC server
  • Unified connectivity to Husky equipment regardless of generation

  About the Author
Carlos Sanchez is a member of the Central Services Group at Husky Injection Molding Systems. Learn more about Husky at www.husky.ca.

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