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Custom-build your automation systems like Lego

16 January, 2014

A Taiwanese company has developed a system for creating customised automation systems by assembling modular function blocks onto printed circuit boards.

Tibbo Technology’s system is based on the idea that no two automation projects are identical, so it allows users to pick-and-mix components and functions to create a unique system that does exactly what they need. The slogan for company’s Tibbo Project System (TPS) is: take what you need; leave out what you don’t!

At the heart of the system are blocks of pre-packaged I/O and other functions, called Tibbits (Tibbo bits), housed in colour-coded plastic shells. The Tibbits are divided into Tibbit modules and Tibbit connectors. The modules include items such as analogue-to-digital converters, 5V power supplies, PWM (pulse width modulation) circuits, power-over-Ethernet devices, and RS-232/422/485 ports.

The Tibbits are designed to be plugged into Tibbo Project PCBs (known as TPPs). Each TPP can accommodate many Tibbit modules and connectors. The PCBs incorporate the bare essentials: a processor; an Ethernet port; and a simple power supply. The board’s functions are defined by the Tibbits you plug into it. There are several sizes of TPP that can accommodate different numbers of Tibbits.

The, TPPs are programmed using an easy-to-learn language called Tibbo Basic, which is tailor-made for control, automation, and networking applications. The language is complemented by a set of programming objects. For example, there are objects for socket (TCP, UDP, HTTP) and serial communications, WiFi, GPRS, file data storage, LCD and keypad control, and many other functions.

The Tibbo Basic applications are created using a free software package with a built-in debugger. This allows users to upload their applications onto the TPP board and to cross-debug it through an Ethernet LAN without needing special debugging hardware (such as a JTAG board or an ICE machine).

Tibbo's roll-your-own technology allows users to build automation systems that meet their precise needs

The final hardware element in the system is a range of enclosure kits called Tibbo Project Boxes (TPBs). The top and bottom walls of an assembled Project Box are formed by two rows of connector Tibbits installed on a TPP.

A translucent plastic front cover allows users to view the status LEDs of the Tibbit modules installed inside. The front panel also accommodates paper inserts for marking the wires and ports of the automation assembly.

To help create and evaluate TPS-based automation products, Tibbo has developed an online configurator where users can select TPP boards, arrange their Tibbits, and name their projects. The configurator will identify any potential problems and calculate the expected power consumption. Validated configurations can be ordered via Tibbo’s online store and, optionally, shared with other Tibbo users.

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