Software Tools Ease Network Setup and Use

Without appropriate industrial network software, the latest field-, device-, or sensor-level network is just a heap of cables, connectors, devices, and pile of protocol-filled paper. Depending on hardware, software, and protocol capabilities, industrial network software can help with network design, programming, configuration, run-time optimization, troubleshooting, diagnostics, and maint...




  • Networks and communications

  • Software

  • Programming

How a configuration tool works
MS-Windows network tools reduce maintenance costs

Without appropriate industrial network software, the latest field-, device-, or sensor-level network is just a heap of cables, connectors, devices, and pile of protocol-filled paper. Depending on hardware, software, and protocol capabilities, industrial network software can help with network design, programming, configuration, run-time optimization, troubleshooting, diagnostics, and maintenance.

Trends include efforts to:

  • Minimize network setup time, training, and ongoing network maintenance requirements;

  • Simplify changes, such as adding or replacing devices, automating as much as possible, and making the network transparent to the user;

  • Wrap network software functionality into other control system design tools, such as PLC programming and human-machine interface (HMI) configuration;

  • Unify the look and feel of tools for various functions, or modes, even across network families, since many user applications employ multiple networks at multiple levels;

  • Incorporate online help, alarms, prompts, guides, and prevention measures to help avoid "illegal" setup and operations;

  • Maximize support and training opportunities;

  • Consider application-specific regulatory requirements;

  • Use point, click, connect, drag, copy, and other conventions familiar to Microsoft interfaces;

  • Offer testing or simulation of setup or changes prior to runtime; and

  • Share information about the network, connected devices, and processes in useful forms, such as OPC-compliant (Object linking and embedding for Process Control) interfaces.

Many network software tools and vendors are available across the 12-15 major industrial networks—as well as various Ethernet options. Furthermore, many hand-held testers offer setup and diagnostic capabilities. Issues and considerations here can help introduce potential users to the scope of options—the table of "Industrial Network Websites" (in this article) and the mid-June Control and Automation Buyer's Guide provide more choices.

Profibus is master specific

Networks differ in design and capabilities. Profibus protocol, for example, doesn't include language governing software for programming of master devices. Thus, configuration software can be specific to various vendors' masters, though some vendors have chosen to rely on the same third-party tools to simplify setup for users. It is possible to buy multiple masters for a Profibus network and need to use multiple configuration tools (many are free with the devices).

Among Profibus-master-specific software is DPDemo, a free tool for use with Siemens (Alpharetta, Ga.; Munich, Germany) communication processor PC cards, also usable with Siemens' Simatic Net CD. Features include ability to test certain Profibus-specific control functions, such as "sync" and "freeze," and monitor diagnostic information including related text from .gsd files.

Paul A. Camuti, general manager of Siemens Industrial Software Business Unit, says "the ultimate goal is to never do network configuration." That's reflected in the Profibus configuration tools rolled into the Siemens Step 7 PLC programming software.

SST, part of Woodhead Connectivity (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; Bretten, Germany), offers a free upgraded Profibus Configuration Tool (v 1.2) with purchase of SST Profibus interface cards. The software (photo) includes an automatic scan list generator/browsing utility, which creates a list of all connected slaves on the Profibus-DP network, especially useful when the device's .gsd file is unavailable, says Glenn Saunders, SST vp.

Ethernet proponents

Proponents of Ethernet also tout ability of various solutions in that medium to be used at the enterprise, field, device, and, perhaps, even into the sensor level, although some people wonder about Ethernet practicality at lower levels. (See cover story, this issue.)

There's no doubt at National Instruments (Austin, Tex.), which is among companies offering Ethernet configuration utilities. FieldPoint Explorer configures network parameters, I/O hardware attributes, and server parameters for the company's FieldPoint Ethernet I/O. OPC support allows integration into other HMI software, according to David Potter, FieldPoint product manager.

For Ethernet—the growth network for many automation vendors—commercial programming tools are available, says Gordon Quigley, vp customer information and support for Schneider Electric Automation Business (North Andover, Mass.). With Ethernet, users will be looking for a network neighborhood, standard software, embedded intelligence, and devices that plug-in, self-configure, and interoperate as easily as commercial PCs and printers.

For customers using FIP, Modbus, Interbus, or Profibus, Mr. Quigley says configuration tools are available from Phoenix Contact (Harrisburg, Pa.), Softing (Munich, Germany), and others. In addition, PLC programming software—such as Modicon PL7-3 for TSX and PMX PLCs (Telway, Mapway, Ethway, and Fipway networks)—can program, configure, and debug. (For more about PLC programming software, see CE , Dec.'98, p. 42).

DeviceNet, ControlNet

Users of DeviceNet and ControlNet can now use a single design and configuration software through Rockwell Software's (West Allis, Wis.) RSNetWorx (photo), which provides users with access network status reports, diagnostics, and drag-and-drop editing (capabilities for each sold separately). RSNetWorx integrates electronic data sheet services and supports Rockwell Automation and third-party devices. While the software is easy to use, "Support is critical; there are lots of options," says Dave Babuder, the lead project engineer for RSNetWorx. Online help is written into RSNetWorx and RSLinx, printed documentation is offered as support, and live technical support is included for a year, with option to extend.

Additional suppliers of ControlNet and DeviceNet configuration tools include Cutler-Hammer, Omron, and SST.

Cutler-Hammer (Milwaukee, Wis.) NetView provides users network interrogation, easy modification of device addresses, and fault node recovery with DeviceNet, says Charles Grant, Cutler-Hammer, automation software product manager. The software (photo) receives setup attributes from each intelligent device, allowing users to configure device parameters directly from the network, he explains. It also displays faulted nodes and recovers all nodes that have faulted due to a duplicate address, Mr. Grant says.

Omron Electronics (Schaumburg, Ill., Tokyo, Japan) DeviceNet-compatible PLC configurator works with Omron PLC scanner modules and any DeviceNet slave device, says Nick Infelise, engineering consultant, PLC and network specialist. The software also installs and creates electronic data sheet files.

Beyond working with multiple devices, various solutions can configure multiple networks, further simplifying matters for users.

Synergetic Micro Systems (Downers Grove, Ill.) has its single SyCon configuration tool for AS-i, CANopen, DeviceNet, Interbus, Profibus, and SDS networks. Most users can learn SyCon in 10 minutes, guided by a wizard. "For OEMs and machine builders, we believe that having a single configuration tool for all buses is a convenience, creating a shorter learning curve," says Mike Justice, Synergetic president. Mr. Justice observes that networking software needs and desires differ by location. "In Europe, customers want to play around with the software—they always ask for source code. In the U.S., if you offer source code, most customers ask, 'What would I want that for? Don't make it fancy; just make it work.'"

Industrial Network Websites (Go online at to hotlink to sites.)


Site (www.)


AS-Interface (AS-i)


(CAN in Automation)


DeviceNet (ODVA)

Fieldbus Foundation






Profibus-DP, -FMS, -PA



Smart Distributed System

WorldFIP .

How a configuration tool works

Network configuration software tools can reduce setup time by taking advantage of intelligent I/O devices. Ultimately, users should be able to configure I/O devices as close to instantly as possible, given the network parameters.

One such package is Think & Do Software's (Ann Arbor, Mich.) I/O View (photo), which instantly reads any configured network. After a user wires the devices and loads the appropriate driver, selecting "Connect Icon" allows the software to poll the devices and I/O bases on the network, and draw an animated picture of the device. From this animated drawing, input status for both digital and analog inputs is displayed in graphic and numeric form. Digital outputs can be toggled, and analog outputs can be triggered with values, without programming.

Through data tabs located at the bottom of the screen, a programmer can look at any device parameter, device name, make, and manufacturer or get any of the diagnostic information available from the device.

This I/O data can then be immediately mapped to data tags within the Think & Do PC-based control package. Schematics and data sheets for most devices and a .pdf viewer are included—a user can "right click" on any device and pull up the wiring diagram and data sheet.

If the devices have not been preconfigured with a node address, the I/O View tool can be used to program the device node directly.

For more information, visit

MS-Windows network tools reduce maintenance costs

Tools can provide traditional network and device configuration and monitoring functions, plus field device calibration, diagnostics, identification, and materials of construction and set-up. Advantages include better instrument management and ability to build applications and integrate workstations and other applications with ease, economy, and performance.

One such software is Syscon from Smar (Houston, Tex., Sertãozinho, Brazil). Unlike distributed control systems, field control systems have a lean architecture built on the latest open standards, such as FOUNDATION fieldbus and Ethernet networking, Microsoft Windows NT, and OPC (OLE for Process Control).

Benefits reported by users include lowered maintenance costs and reduced downtime as on-line diagnostics and operational statistics allow them to switch to a proactive maintenance program. Tighter product uniformity and quality is also achieved as the information from the field devices let them better tune loops, manage calibration and pinpoint sources of variability.

Description of the application may be stored in the memory of each fieldbus device along with other pertinent information, such as tag number, serial numbers, description of materials of construction, and sensor limits.

The main user interface is the Microsoft Windows Explorer-like browser.

For more information, visit

Author Information

By Jonas Berge, Smar Singapore Pte Ltd., 315 Outram Road #04-05 Tan Boon Liat Building, Singapore 169074;


Control Engineering Online Extra: Go to

Network programming, configuration strategies differ for field, embedded solutions, with views from CAN in Automation;

Attributes of Smar configuration software for Foundation fieldbus;

Gensym analyzes network performance; and

LonWorks network programming reaches sensor-, device-, and field- levels, with information from CICSO, Echelon, and Metra.

Comprehensive list of networking terms.

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