Interfacing with SQL Databases Key to Machine HMI Upgrade
Paul Carter | February 6th, 2018
We were recently contacted by a customer about helping to upgrade some test machines that were built in the 1990's. These machines had a single axis motion control requirement to accurately adjust some positions within the machine as material moved through the machine. The machine also was originally developed with a user interface that had been created using Visual Basic Version 6, that at the time was one of the few software environments that allowed interfacing with a database. In this situation, the database that was used was Microsoft Access….a very popular database application used in the 1990's.
We were presented with a variety of requirements that included upgrading the current motion controller and the user interface. The requirements for the database were to move to a current software platform, preferably Microsoft SQL. The requirements also included a request to allow for the old database information to be migrated to the new database application.
As we reviewed the requirements, we quickly determined the motion control requirements were easy to meet as the system basically needed a single axis controller with multiple position location capability. The user interface presented more of a challenge. We reviewed the capability of several manufacturers of HMI (Human Machine Interface) products, and although some products had the capability to push data into a SQL database, they did not have a good way to get the data back out for display and review as needed by the machine operators. We decided to engage with one of our product specialists, who reviewed the requirements and very quickly determined that one of our software vendors had an HMI product with a specific functionality for interfacing with databases. The functionality allowed for two way interaction allowing for data to be written to and read from the database.
The software vendor is ICONICS and they offer a database server and viewer function called GridWorX that supported the data interface with the SQL database. Our customer also asked for a turn-key system development to include the motion control, the new User Interface, and electrical sub-panels that could be retrofitted into the existing machines. Our customer was pessimistic about the ability to meet all of the requirements at a competitive enough price that would attract their customer to upgrade these older machines. They especially had reservations about the User Interface because they recalled how much effort and expense was invested in developing the original VB6 based User interface. When we introduced the capability of the ICONICS GridWorX function, they were immediately impressed and understood how a very cost competitive solution was able to be presented.
The ICONICS GridWorX function is part of the GENESIS64 HMI suite and includes many other features that supported the development of a fully functionality and robust User Interface. GridWorX allows for connection to almost any type of database, and provides a traditional row and column style display for presentation of the database information, similar to the manner in which a spreadsheet presents information. The interface provides capabilities to read/write/delete information from the database, and allows for real-time sorting, filtering and grouping of data based on the operator's needs.
An additional challenging requirement for these machine upgrades was the owner of the machine provided the computer for handling the User Interface and hosting the database. This was done to allow the local on-site IT department to take responsibility for the long term management of the computer and for performing any Owner required database back-up and management. We needed the software vendor to maintain an active testing program with new versions of Microsoft Windows to assure compatibility as machine upgrades are completed. ICONICS is a Managed Partner with Microsoft, and has been named Partner of the Year multiple times, so we had confidence that compatibility with Microsoft Windows could be provided.
The graphical user interface included with Genesis64, called GraphWorX64, provided a modern and easy to use set of tools for creating all of the needed operator interface functions for the machine.
The result of this upgrade has been very positive. Several machines have been upgraded so far, and our customer reports that many of their customers are interested in the upgrade.
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Paul Carter is a Product Manager for Cross Company Motion Solutions. Paul's expertise ranges from motion control, industrial control, process automation, productivity software, industrial Ethernet and HMIs to sales and new business development.