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Remote I/O System Modernization with Weidmüller u-remote

A real and practical case-study on how to modernize your I/O system.

In this case study, we will look at the value of modernizing remote I/O systems based on the experience of a leading industrial company specializing in the storage and distribution of bulk liquid products.

To respect this company’s privacy, we will not use their name but we can tell you that this company operates 114 facilities in over nine countries around the world.

At their Amsterdam facility, this company was running a bulk liquid terminal using an aging Distributed Control System (DCS).

This Distributed Control System was built up from two controllers with 17 I/O racks on a Profibus network. These I/O racks interfaced with over 700 I/O points on different devices including pumps, tanks, and motor-operated valves.

Schneider Foxboro Distributed Control System

Challenges

Although this system was working, the company faced several challenges which were becoming worse with each passing year. The main challenges associated with the original remote I/O system were: 

1) Spare Part Availability: Although the Distributed Control System was still supported by the manufacturer; it was becoming increasingly difficult for the company to find spare parts in stock.

As the supply of spare parts decreased, the price of spare parts increased, and the risk of an unplanned system outage increased.

2) Limited Functionality: Operational technology has taken major leaps forward in recent years. Automation manufacturers are constantly innovating and introducing new features into their products.

Not only did the company’s remote I/O system not include any modern features like an integrated web server, but it also lacked basic functionality such as the ability to force individual I/O points for routine maintenance operations.

Limited functionality

3) Network Limitations: Like many others, the company wanted to collect more data from their field devices to analyze and optimize their system’s performance.

Unfortunately, due to limitations in the amount of data that can be transferred from a single remote I/O station over a Profibus network, the company could not add more I/O cards to their remote I/O stations.

This meant that to collect more data from their field devices, the company would have to expand its existing network infrastructure and add more remote I/O stations, which would be an expensive and disruptive change to the system.

Solution

The company understood that it was time to upgrade its remote I/O system to a modern system that leveraged state-of-the-art technology.

The company knew that it was ready to invest in modern hardware, that used a modern networking medium, and modern communication protocols. However, they did not know who could supply such a remote I/O system at an affordable price.

As a starting point, the company made a list of what its ideal solution would look like. The features that were mentioned on the company’s wish list included:

1) Ease of Use

2) Small Footprint

3) Maintenance Friendly

4) Cost-Effective

Ideal solution

1) Ease of Use

The first advantage of the new system should be ease of use. The new remote I/O system had to be easier to use and have more functionality than the old system.

Specifically, the company wanted to have the ability to monitor the remote I/O stations during operations to simulate individual I/O points during commissioning and to force I/O points during maintenance operations.

It would be an additional benefit if these things could be accomplished without using proprietary software through a web-based tool that could run in any browser.

2) Small Footprint

The second advantage of the new system should be small footprint. The company wanted to collect more data from field devices, which meant increasing the number of I/O points per I/O rack.

If the company could find a remote I/O system where each module had a small footprint, they could add more I/O cards to the racks without having to replace the enclosures that housed the I/O racks.

This would help the company to avoid the cost and hassle of building and installing new enclosures.

Small footprint

3) Maintenance Friendly

The third advantage of the new system should be Maintenance Friendly. The remote I/O system had to be built with reliable hardware that would function without failure for a long time.

In the rare case that a device did fail, it should be easy for the maintenance team to get the system running again.

Maintenance Friendly - color-coded modules

This meant that I/O racks should continue to operate even when one module failed, modules should have status indicators for easy fault-finding, modules should be color-coded for easy replacement, and modules should include a QR code that could be used to quickly access technical documents like user manuals and installation instructions.

Maintenance Friendly - modules QR code

Ideally, modules should be replaceable without using any special tools.

4) Cost-Effective

The fourth advantage of the new system should be cost-effective. The remote I/O system should be cost-effective. The company knew that they wanted a lot of features but felt that a modern remote I/O system should be affordable and its cost should reflect the amount of value that the remote I/O system offered.

u-remote

Representatives from the company traveled to Hannover Messe, the world’s largest industrial automation trade fair, to talk to manufacturers and see who could offer a remote I/O system to meet their needs.

At Hannover Messe, they came across Weidmüller’s remote I/O system, u-remote.

This system seemed to meet all of the company’s needs and after several consultations with Weidmüller’s applications engineering team, the company decided to upgrade its facility using Weidmüller’s u-remote system.

Since Weidmüller’s u-remote I/O system is compatible with most industrial networks including Profinet, EtherCAT, Ethernet/IP, and Modbus/TCP, Weidmüller’s application engineering team was able to work with the company to determine what industrial network was best suited to their needs.

Weidmüller’s u-remote

Ultimately, the company settled on an Ethernet-based network that used the Modbus/TCP communication protocol. This allowed the company to use a modern network infrastructure that was still compatible with their older Distributed Control System.

After switching to a Modbus/TCP network, the company could focus on upgrading the density of each remote I/O rack. u-remote I/O modules are incredibly thin at 11.5 mm per module and each u-remote I/O station supports up to 64 modules with a single power supply.

u-remote I-O modules

Since they could fit more I/O modules per rack, the company was able to reduce the number of remote I/O racks in the Distributed Control System from 17 racks to 11. The end result was a system with fewer points of failure and spare parts requirements.

u-remote I-O Racks

The new system is easier to maintain because there are fewer parts that may fail. In the rare event when an I/O module does fail, the maintenance team can easily get the system running again thanks to the innovative features of the u-remote system.

u-remote - Maintenance Friendly

Each I/O module is color-coded so that maintenance technicians can easily identify the type of module to be retrieved from stores.

Each module also has a status indicator so that maintenance technicians can understand the status of a module at a glance.

u-remote - Modules status indicator

When a failed module is identified, the module can be removed from a u-remote station while the station continues to operate leading to higher availability of the system.

Each station also has a dedicated web server which can be used to monitor the status of the I/O modules and I/O points.

This integrated web server can also be used to simulate I/O points when commissioning new I/O racks and to force I/O points during routine maintenance operations. This has allowed the company to have greater visibility and control over its remote I/O system.

u-remote-web-server

Wrap Up

Although it required an investment of time and capital, the company is happy with the result of the modernization of their remote I/O system.

Thanks to Weidmüller and the u-remote I/O system, the company now has a reliable and future-proof remote I/O system that they will use for many years to come.

The end result of the modernization project is a system that has less unplanned downtime, easier operation, and easier maintenance. As far as they are concerned, it has been a great success.

With u-remote you can start the easy way to data pre-processing. One of the company’s favorite features of the u-remote remote I/O system is how easy it is to set up data pre-processing for each I/O point.

u-remote is part of Weidmüller’s u-mation portfolio, which is a portfolio of modern, innovative automation products that help Weidmüller customers around the world optimize their automation projects.

Stay tuned for our next article, where we’ll introduce our favorite features of u-mation, including u-mation’s web-based editing system.

Got a friend, client, or colleague who could use some of this information? Please share this article.

Ken Bourke

Ken Bourke

Automation Engineer

Posted on Jul 16th, 2022

Ken Bourke

Ken Bourke

Automation Engineer

Posted on Jul 16th, 2022

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