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Wireless beacons allow cable-free monitoring of machines

12 February, 2011

The British wireless technologies specialist Intelligent Distributed Controls (IDC) has developed a cable-free system for monitoring and safeguarding machines, based on a range of wireless-enabled stacking beacons. The beacons, made by DG Controls, incorporate IDC’s ZB100 system-on-a-chip module, which allows central monitoring of machines, including those previously considered impossible to network because of cabling complexities.

The module combines a microprocessor with digital, analogue and serial connections, and supports two operating modes. The first allows the state of the beacon lamps to be monitored over the wireless network to wireless gateway, linked to a central PC via Ethernet or USB. This mode is intended for systems using existing signal towers installed with conventional cabling. Installing a wireless module to each stack, allows the beacons to report the state of each lamp wirelessly to notify plant supervisors of any problems. IDC offers PC software that provides real-time analysis of the plant for management and maintenance departments.

The second mode allows the lamp stack to be controlled over the wireless network, eliminating the need for hard wiring from the machine controller – usually a proprietary controller or a PLC. IDC provides wireless interfaces from its gateway using Modbus/Zigbee protocol converters for serial drivers, or OPC/Zigbee for Ethernet connections. It also offers interaction with other Zigbee products, such as pushbuttons and wireless PLCs.

The wireless module used in the beacons allows machine-builders and OEMs to integrate wireless networking into their machines and systems with minimum cost, risk and development time.

The ZigBee wireless network is based on the licence-free 2.4GHz IEEE 802.15.4 standard and provides secure, redundant two-way communications over distances of up to 100m between nodes, with routing over multiple nodes possible for longer distances.

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