Using CompactRIO to Develop an Educational Stand for Researching Industrial Communications

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"We used NI technologies to build an educational platform that satisfies customer requirements and can be used for research of industrial protocols. The modular architecture of the CompactRIO platform helped us use separate modules for each of the protocols, providing ease of later maintenance. We successfully installed the platform at the Ho Chi Minh City Vocational College."

- Arev Hambardzumyan, RAFA Solutions LLC

The Challenge:
Developing an educational laboratory stand for researching four industrial communication protocols (PROFIBUS, CAN, Modbus, and TCP/IP) with separate hardware parts supporting the communication with the included protocols.

The Solution:
Combining the compact form factor of CompactRIO hardware with LabVIEW software to create an educational laboratory stand that includes separate CompactRIO modules for each of the communication protocols.

Author(s):
Arev Hambardzumyan - Find this author in the NI Developer Community
Edgar Shadyan - RAFA Solutions LLC

About RAFA Solutions

RAFA Solutions, established in 2012, is a systems integrator company specializing in smart machines and data acquisition and control systems. The company, an NI Silver Alliance Partner, develops and manufactures daughter boards for Single-Board RIO, FlexRIO, and CompactRIO products. RAFA Solutions also delivers market-ready products and services for the development of custom modules and solutions.

In 2014, RAFA Solutions launched an educational labs product line. The company’s educational products are available for sale through a distributor network and have been delivered to tens of universities all over the world.

Problem Background and Solution

The easiest way to explain and teach industrial communications is to show them in action, on real hardware. Students need to research communication protocols on real hardware to better understand the working principles and learn to implement and program communication themselves.

We developed a hardware platform, a laboratory stand, to help students research the basics of industrial communications. The solution includes software with useful exercises and demonstrations to help them understand the structures and operation principles of protocols, data encoding and error detection methods, and more. The platform includes four industrial protocols: PROFIBUS, controller area network (CAN), Modbus, and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP). We also intend to use the Industrial Communications Laboratory to study the controller programming basics from the most popular vendors, NI and Siemens.

The laboratory stand represents the belt conveyor, which is controlled by a Siemens S7-300 controller. The S7-300 PLC controls the conveyor motor and acquires signals from infrared sensors, which can detect the presence of and count the number of items on the belt conveyor. The stand includes a robotic arm, which is controlled by the CompactRIO controller using CAN protocol. All PLC control settings are sent from the CompactRIO  controller through the PROFIBUS network. The stand includes a power meter, which measures power consumption of the conveyor system. The meter communicates with the CompactRIO using Modbus protocol.

The CompactRIO controller communicates with the personal computer to represent real-time data of the conveyor system. We used an Ethernet network to implement communication. A PROFIBUS network implements communication between the CompactRIO controller and Siemens S7-300 PLC.

We used the LabVIEW graphical programming environment to develop the software application. It provides an interactive communication interface for data transmission between hardware modules.

We chose CompactRIO products for the platform’s hardware. The platform needed to include separate modules for each of the protocols and interfaces. We built the educational platform using the cRIO-9064 integrated controller and chassis, together with the NI 9871 module for Modbus protocol, the NI 9862 module for CAN protocol, and the CompactRIO PROFIBUS DP master/slave module  for PROFIBUS protocol. We used the NI 9381 module for the exercises on LabVIEW programming.

The educational platform combines useful exercises and separate demonstrations for each of the hardware parts working with one of the included protocols. We designed 1–3 exercises for each of the protocols that test the student’s knowledge of protocols. The software can also create reports for finished exercises. This option can be helpful for trainers and students to have information about a student’s progress.

The platform includes a user manual with full descriptions of all protocols and instructions for exercises. This document gives an opportunity to fully understand the basics (data structures, transmission and reception modes, and more) of protocols. It provides detailed instructions on programming exercises with LabVIEW and Simatic Step 7.

Solution Benefits

The main benefits of the solution are an open source software platform and the modular architecture of the hardware. Benefits include useful exercises, a comprehensive user manual with short descriptions of digital communication protocols and programming basics with LabVIEW and Simatic Step 7.

We achieved our goals using NI off-the-shelf technologies and drastically reduced development time. We created an open platform to help students learn programming in the LabVIEW graphical programming environment, as well as programming a Siemens PLC with Simatic Step 7. The platform encourages further development and creation of custom applications using NI hardware, LabVIEW, Siemens PLC, and Step 7.

Conclusion

We used NI technologies to build an educational platform that satisfies customer requirements and can be used for research of industrial protocols. The modular architecture of the CompactRIO platform helped us use separate modules for each of the protocols, providing ease of later maintenance. We successfully installed the platform at the Ho Chi Minh City Vocational College.

Author Information:
Arev Hambardzumyan
Find this author in the NI Developer Community

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