Using mobile devices for communication, data collection

Mobile devices like Raspberry Pi are an inexpensive alternative for controllers in the manufacturing space and can be useful for particular input/output (I/O) applications.

By Brian Fenn June 29, 2019

Raspberry Pi is designed to function, according to its website, as “a small and affordable computer that you can use to learn programming.” Often thought of as a controller replacement, the Raspberry Pi allows for simple connectivity for communication and data collection and can serve as a useful and inexpensive alternative in the manufacturing space.

Certainly, if the user is facing facing environmental constraints, performance requirements, lots of input/output (I/O), etc., it is best to stick with traditional controllers. However, if the project only needs to pick up a few I/O for data purposes or interact with the web or data, or develop other small and non-critical types of applications, the Raspberry Pi and other devices of its ilk represent a great alternative. They have a lot of capabilities, they’re easy to use and program, and are easily replaceable from a reliability/maintenance perspective.

For example, a customer was looking to do some checking on packaging material to ensure the right product was ending up in the right package. They were looking at some scanner solutions that could handle all detection and signaling of an issue, but they needed to be provided with the proper barcode and other related order information.

In the past, a small programmable logic controller (PLC) may have been utilized to handle the Ethernet communications to and from the scanners and handle some of the signal processing coming out of them. The scanning devices had on-board relays that could be wired to the existing control system to stop conveyance or annunciate a mismatch, etc., so we only needed to solve for the communication from an existing scanner and some database queries.

This was a perfect chance to use a Raspberry Pi to bridge that gap; a small PLC would have cost a great deal more by comparison. Other customers have used a Raspberry Pi to handle remote sensing of temperature readings or run apps for data connectivity. All of these are proof that having a Raspberry Pi loaded and ready to go on standby provides for a simple and cheap business continuity solution.

Brian Fenn is vice president of operations, Avanceon. This article originally appeared on Avanceon’s website. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

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Brian Fenn
Author Bio: Brian Fenn is vice president of operations, Avanceon