Transitions Optical is an example of a company that has successfully applied off the shelf .NET technologies in manufacturing. Transitions Optical has production facilities in five global locations and uses Allen-Bradley PLCs in the execution of all shop floor systems. Data from the PLCs are critical to many critical management functions.
Data from its lot tracking and tracing system, for example, are used by the plant MES system to generate lens packaging labels that conform to FDA regulations.
Getting this data requires polling the PLC that controls an auto verification system and Transitions has built custom interfaces to do this using programming tools from CimQuest INGEAR. These tools package all the necessary Allen Bradley drivers with Microsoft Visual Basic or Visual Studio. NET routines and procedures that are commonly used to provide industrial services.
According to Patrick LaFerriere, who is responsible for the manufacturing execution systems for Transitions shop floor operations, this kind of programming requires knowledge of Microsoft programming languages and of the industrial processes that are being programmed.
“It’s relatively easy to find Visual Basic or .NET programmers, and INGEAR NET.ABLINK is so easy to use that I can have the Microsoft programmers writing for the PLC very quickly,” said Laferriere.”With .NET we can simply define everything we need up front, make one call to the PLC and receive everything we need in a single array,” said Laferriere.
Laferriere says also that accessing the PLC more efficiently in this way also puts less strain on the system, which reduces the chance of failure, especially critical for an operation which must run 24/7 to meet production goals.
“There are larger HMI vendors that might provide similar functionality, but deploying licenses throughout our company would get pretty expensive. And sometimes you can find shareware on the Internet, but there is zero support and you really don’t know what you are getting. If we are down for more than 10 minutes, we are losing money and productivity” said Laferriere.
Laferriere says that he is now able to integrate easily with applications that he might never have been able to access cost- effectively. In addition to the integration of track and trace data from the PLCs, as mentioned above, there are numerous possibility for data mining to drive ERP functions.
Indeed, Transitions is now literally transitioning the communications to the web-based framework, so that all global locations can share a common database, common KPIs and can report data consistently. With its Visual Studio .NET and the INGEAR.NET PLC class libraries, Transitions Optical already has the development tools needed.