Machine control on the water via iPad

Ethernet UDP communications and marine certified PLCs provide state-of-the-yacht control.

By Geisy Penton, Schneider Electric February 8, 2011

When the machines being controlled are owned by sheiks, kings, and other multibillionaires, it’s only fitting that their control systems be connected to a state-of-the-art human-machine interface. In this case, Ethernet communications and marine certified PLCs are enabling the Apple iPad to monitor and control of mega-yachts. (Machine builders, HMI designers and industrial PC users take note: Smart phones and other consumer electronics are changing the way operators expect to interact with machines – and how you will create interfaces.  Control Engineering’s cover story explains how: From Consumer Electronics to your HMI. Also see an iPhone and other consumer electronic applications at the bottom of this page.)

Typically defined as yachts larger than 100 feet, mega-yachts boast luxury features such as swimming pools, beauty salons, massage rooms, and helicopter landing pads. They are case studies in extravagance, integration, and state-of-the-art technology. System integrators who work in this field need to be adept in many areas.

"Palladium is a technology innovator, " said Mike Blake, president, Palladium Technologies (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) "We provide total technology solutions for the marine industry, and we place great importance on integration. We want our integrated yacht management systems to be universally recognized as the benchmark by which other systems are measured. "

Palladium Technologies is the maker of the SiMON system, a monitoring and control system for mega-yachts. The company, he said, has been on the "bleeding edge" of hardware and software technologies since 1991, to meet the complex monitoring and control requirements of these complex, floating mega-machines.

Blake developed the SiMON system for his own yacht after retiring early and sailing the world for 12 years. He has more than 42 years of experience in software development, and to say he is a "techie" is an understatement. His system serves as a virtual engineer, monitoring thousands of sensors throughout a vessel around the clock. Because SiMON monitors critical functions, the yacht captain can focus on navigating and managing a modern vessel.

In search of a PLC

Palladium engineers knew they were coming to the end of life for their first programmable logic controller. They believed the PLCs were going to be discontinued, and that they were also reaching the hardware’s maximum capacity. In addition, the manufacturer was not providing any design support, or moving forward with more sophisticated development tools. This stymied Palladium’s ability to develop new solutions.

Palladium was looking for a PLC that communicated on an Ethernet UDP platform. The company originally chose this protocol because it has more plug-and-play capability, redundancy, and expansion than other communication protocols. In addition, no one else was developing on this platform—a competitive advantage for Palladium, according to Blake.

The problem, said Blake, was that no one was making a controller that used Ethernet UDP. Changing communication protocols would mean the company would have to redesign its systems in a more restrictive fashion—something Blake wasn’t interested in doing. "We did not want to stray from the Ethernet UDP path, because that would have meant less flexibility for us, and our customers, " he said.

It wasn’t until 2009 when Schneider Electric presented its Modicon M258 PLC in a beta version did Blake think he might have found a solution. The Modicon M258 is the newest compact and expandable PLC from Schneider Electric, a supplier of power, control, and automation solutions. According to Schneider, it’s also the only PLC on the market to communicate using Ethernet UDP. It is programmed with SoMachine, programming software that allows users to design, commission, and maintain the logic for drive, motion, and HMI controllers in a single environment. It simplifies machine development and commercialization so users can get products to market faster.

The M258 PLC and SoMachine software are part of Schneider Electric’s MachineStruxure offer, which helps users design integrated, energy-efficient, and cost-effective installations while maximizing performance. Based on tested, validated, and documented architectures, MachineStruxure incorporates flexible and scalable hardware platforms with SoMachine, a comprehensive software suite with application function block libraries.

The M258 PLC not only offered a solution for the SiMON system, but also for Palladium’s entire product mix. This includes the company’s electrical switchboards, bridge, lighting control, and in-depth security systems, as well as its custom hydraulic and integrated helm systems. Palladium also wanted to use the PLC for its new SiMON2 systems, which used the iPad as an interface and targets smaller yachts.

Remote control

Palladium was a beta tester for mobile Apple applications, including those for the iPhone and iPod touch. Palladium created the iSiMON to give a captain and crew instantaneous mobile capability, which meant allowing direct remote viewing of the ship’s engines, generators, tanks, bilge levels, etc., from anywhere on board. All alarms in the SiMON system also provide instant notification on an iPhone or iPod touch. In 2009, Palladium’s iSiMON received a DAME award, a prestigious design award given at the Marine Equipment Trade Show, for the product’s innovation in marine-related software.

Next up for Palladium is the launch of SiMON2, which will bring monitoring and control capabilities to production yachts between 35 and 90 feet in length. SiMON2 has been on the development board for four years, but Blake said Palladium lacked the appropriate hardware and platform to roll it out. The M258 PLC’s dual processors, as well as the release of the iPad platform, have allowed Palladium to finally bring the product to market.

SiMON2 is designed to work exclusively on the iPad and provides much of the functionality of the larger SiMON, but with a brand new interface. SiMON2 uses WiFi technology to communicate with the M258 controllers that interface with the ship’s critical equipment. SiMON2 allows the crew to monitor and control the vessel from anywhere on board using one or many iPads, for ultimate flexibility.

For Palladium, the appeal of the M258 PLC was having one PLC for its entire product line. Also, having one solution that worked with all products helped Palladium uphold its mission of being a complete, integrated technology provider, and helped the company save time and money.

"I believe that partnerships are very important, " Blake said. "I don’t like to use a lot of vendors because it creates disjointed solutions. It’s more important to develop a monogamous relationship where we all move forward together. We can rely on support from both sides and be assured that our needs can be addressed within the Schneider Electric family of products."

Blake also liked that the SoMachine software transcends many different product types, is robust, and is highly supportable. "Productivity is important. Supportability is equally important. Since SoMachine is a cross-compiler type system, it allows us to develop in one or more languages to support our entire product line. We can do more programming in less time, " he said. For Blake, the data transmission capability of the M258 PLC and open-endedness of the SoMachine software offered Palladium a path to the future.

Marine certifications

According to Blake, Palladium’s global market demands also meant he placed significant emphasis on Schneider Electric’s responsiveness and global reach. "Time and again, we presented Schneider Electric with a requirement and they researched it, addressed it, and we felt comfortable moving forward, " Blake said.

For example, unlike Schneider Electric’s other products, including HMIs and variable frequency drives, the M258 PLC did not have any marine certifications when it initially was introduced. Without certifications, Palladium could not consider the M258 PLC for its application. To move forward, the M258 had to be certified by the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) at a minimum.

The engineers in Schneider Electric’s OEM Technology and Solutions (TaSC) group in Raleigh, NC, took it upon themselves to achieve the ABS rating, and are moving forward to gain Det Norske Veritas (DNV) and Lloyds Register of Shipping (LR) approvals. Blake said back office support and services globally is important to help bring products to market faster.

Geisy Penton is an OEM business development specialist for Schneider Electric North American Operating Division.

iPhone app enables real-time remote process control

Flow measurements, valve control, process data, and machine status data can be monitored and modified via iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices with the ProSoft i-View application from ProSoft Technology. The app transforms these devices into mobile human machine interfaces using secure 802.11 industrial wireless or cellular solutions so control engineers can work with live data from programmable automation controllers (PACs) on an Ethernet/IP or Modbus TCP/IP network.

ProSoft i-View displays live process control values in stylized lists and includes user-established variance allowances with real-time alarms, including local notifications. Controls and data displays are color coded based on the value. Security is enabled upon configuration; the software requires the user to assign a matching security code as both a password for network access and as a security tag in the central processing unit (CPU) of the PAC. When ProSoft i-View launches, the security code must match that on the CPU in order to create a connection. ProSoft i-View also supports the retina display feature of the iPhone 4 and iPod touch 4th generation.

For 802.11 plant-floor network access, the WiFi function of the phone can be utilized in conjunction with ProSoft Technology 802.11 Industrial Hotspot solutions. For applications with wide geographic disparity, such as pipeline and well-head monitoring, or where engineers require access from long distances, the ProSoft Technology Intelligent Cellular series can be utilized to broaden the range of access to virtually anywhere in the world.

Consumer electronics talk to industrial machines

Machine builders, HMI designers, and industrial PC users are finding ways to use smart phones and other consumer electronics to change the way operators interact with machines. Here are a few examples.

Control of a robot by PC or PLC. Denso Robotics’ cNew b-CAP Ethernet TCP/IP control protocol allows the use of familiar interfaces and programming languages to extend control to vision systems and smart phones.

Video: Beer fridge security system with power and temperature monitoring. As shown at National Instruments’ NIWeek, a beer fridge security system with power and temperature monitoring uses an Apple iPad or Dell Android smart phone as a thin-client human-machine interface. The system also uses Bluetooth wireless temperature sensing and Compact DAQ. More apps are available at

Graphical and Web-based HMIs. In general, the prevalence of personal electronic devices and technology has "improved the acceptance of HMIs, enabled more content, and given users more flexibility in accessing this information, " said Cheryl Ades Anspach, product manager at Rockwell Automation. "We are seeing users apply small operator interfaces to machines that never had one. " Scott Miller, business manager with Rockwell Automation, agrees that increased personal familiarity with Internet browsers has increased the demand for Web-based industrial applications.

"Achieving this level of accessibility calls for HMI software that tightly integrates with the control system to gather and display manufacturing information to a broader audience, " he said. "From an engineer remotely diagnosing the machine to a manager checking production status, extending the HMI solution with Web-based clients and pairing it with an enterprise manufacturing intelligence (EMI) software solution dramatically improves access to role-specific data."

For more on how smart phones and other consumer electronics are changing the way machine builders and HMI designers are creating interfaces, see From Consumer Electronics to Industrial HMIs.