Production line remote monitoring

Engineering and IT Insight: Automation engineers spend a lot of time just getting to the right place to identify and fix problems. The IT solution to this problem is based on VNC, or virtual network computing.

04/01/2010


More automation systems and physically separated production lines mean that automation engineers spend a lot of time just getting to the right place to identify and fix problems. Time is also spent travelling to your automation lab to test theories and fixes, watching for “unreproducible” problems by looking over the shoulders of operators to determine exactly what they are doing and why the system is not doing what it is supposed to do. Add in time to monitor multiple systems during critical production times, such as startup, shutdown, and product switchovers, and a lot of time is spent getting in front of the right screens.

 

The IT solution to this problem is based on VNC, or virtual network computing. VNC is a desktop sharing system that is based on the remote frame buffer (RFB) protocol. It allows one computer to control, share, or view the desktop of another computer. Think of VNC as Microsoft’s Remote Desktop on steroids and based on an industry standard. For example, using a VNC system, you can remotely monitor a specific production line operator interface (HMI) in a separate window on your desktop. A VNC system captures screen changes on the remote computer, sends them to your screen, and sends local keyboard and mouse events to the remote computer.

 

VNC uses the RFB protocol for remote access to graphical user interfaces. The current specification is RFB 3.8, published in June 2007 by RealVNC Ltd. and is an industry standard. RFB works at the framebuffer level and does not require any application changes, allowing it to work with most windowing systems including X11, Windows and Macintosh. The RFB protocol is based on TCP/IP, can work through protected firewall ports, and contains security checks so that only authorized users can remotely connect. Most VNC implementations provide build-in encryption and screen compression, allowing both secure and effective operation across 10MB Ethernet links. With 100MB links, you cannot even tell you are operating a remote computer.

 

VNC has two parts: a server that is installed on the remote computer, and a viewer that is installed on the local computer. The server part does not have to run on a server operating system; it can be installed on Microsoft Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Mac O/S, Linux, Windows Server 2000, and Windows server 2008. Viewers can be run from almost any desktop system.

 

A typical implementation is to install a VNC server on all of your HMI, programming, and lab systems. Then, from your desk, you can remotely connect to view, share, or control the remote computer. This eliminates trying to troubleshoot by a phone. If administrative access is needed to fix a problem, you can log in to the remote computer using an administrative account, perform the actions, and not have to physically travel to the production line. If you are monitoring multiple systems, you can make multiple remote connections and tile the screens to see them all at the same time, providing an inexpensive multiple-monitor system.

 

RealVNC and TightVNC provide free VNC versions that can be used for evaluation, and also provide inexpensive licensed versions. There are also many other free and commercial VNC solutions available.

 

VNC is an IT solution that solves a real problem for automation engineers. It allows you to effectively support multiple remote systems, reduces travel, and should be a part of every manufacturing IT solution.

 

References

For more information:

RealVNC www.realvnc.com

TightVNC www.tightvnc.com

Comparison of free and commercial VNC software: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_remote_desktop_software.

 

 

 

Author Information

Dennis Brandl is president of BR&L Consulting in Cary, NC, www.brlconsulting.com . His firm focuses on manufacturing IT. Contact Dennis at dbrandl@brlconsulting.com .



No comments
The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by...
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners.
Control Engineering Leaders Under 40 identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Learn more about methods used to ensure that the integration between the safety system and the process control...
Adding industrial toughness and reliability to Ethernet eGuide
Technological advances like multiple-in-multiple-out (MIMO) transmitting and receiving
Virtualization advice: 4 ways splitting servers can help manufacturing; Efficient motion controls; Fill the brain drain; Learn from the HART Plant of the Year
Two sides to process safety: Combining human and technical factors in your program; Preparing HMI graphics for migrations; Mechatronics and safety; Engineers' Choice Awards
Detecting security breaches: Forensic invenstigations depend on knowing your networks inside and out; Wireless workers; Opening robotic control; Product exclusive: Robust encoders
The Ask Control Engineering blog covers all aspects of automation, including motors, drives, sensors, motion control, machine control, and embedded systems.
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
News and comments from Control Engineering process industries editor, Peter Welander.
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
This is a blog from the trenches – written by engineers who are implementing and upgrading control systems every day across every industry.
Anthony Baker is a fictitious aggregation of experts from Callisto Integration, providing manufacturing consulting and systems integration.
Integrator Guide

Integrator Guide

Search the online Automation Integrator Guide
 

Create New Listing

Visit the System Integrators page to view past winners of Control Engineering's System Integrator of the Year Award and learn how to enter the competition. You will also find more information on system integrators and Control System Integrators Association.

Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Control Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.