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24-01-2020
5 min. read
Sjors de Kleijn

A Better Alternative to Data Loggers and Acquisition Software for PLC’s

This article contains an explanation of different PLC data logging systems and an alternative solution that eliminates the need for additional hardware or software.

What is Data Acquisition (DAQ)?

Data acquisition, or DAQ, is the process of digitising data from industrial equipment or environments (like buildings) so it can be displayed, analysed and stored in a computer, PLC, server or cloud environment. 

PLC is an abbreviation of Programmable Logic Controller, an industrialised computer used in the industry to control motors, robots and sensors (transducers) – for example a production line with motors to drive belts, various arms and levers moving etc. PLC Data logging is the process of gathering data from machines and connected devices (sensors) for analysis. An example is the process of measuring the humidity in a factory oven as a digital value using a smart sensor. To correctly evaluate the data it’s labelled with a time and date stamp.

Data logging or acquisition software/systems for PLCs can be used to collect various types of machine or building information including vibrations, light intensities, temperatures, electrical currents, voltage, sound frequencies and pressure measurements. The activity of machines and peripheral devices can generate large quantities of data, and some of the generated data may be useful for service, condition monitoring or optimisation purposes.

Data Acquisition Systems (DAQ): data from sensor to PLC to analysis software Data Acquisition Systems (DAQ): data from sensor to PLC to analysis software

Components of a Data Acquisition System

All data acquisition systems consist of three essential elements:

  1. Sensors
  2. Signal Conditioning
  3. Analog-to-Digital Converters (ADC). 

Modern data acquisition systems may include additional features, such as data analysis, reporting software, network connectivity, and remote control and (live) monitoring options like dashboards. You can see the real-time status of the equipment and instruments you’re monitoring, or log and analyse data and generate reports. Sometimes the software is equipped with email or alarming features.

Writing your own DAQ from scratch is not easy, so choosing an easy-to-use turnkey data logging solution is probably a better choice. It’s a fast and efficient way to analyse your data. There are different types of solutions to help you collect your data from your PLC. Below we will explain the different methods.

Different types of Data Acquisition Systems

There are several methods to acquire, collect and store data from industrial equipment:

 

Data collection software

Data collection software can run on existing data acquisition systems, remote monitoring systems and control systems. You can run this software on computers and controllers based on information received from remote data acquisition modules.

Data logging software applications range from complex, large-scale factory automation to simple automation systems. For example, it’s possible to display real-time energy consumption data from energy monitoring systems by combining HMI's or touch panels with Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) software.

A disadvantage of data collection software is that it’s generally only accessible in the network (plant or factory) or on the system where it’s installed.

 

Data acquisition systems

A data acquisition system, also known as DAS or DAQ, is a collection of software and hardware that allows you to measure or control the physical characteristics of something in the factory. A complete data acquisition system consists of DAQ hardware, smart sensors, meters and actuators, signal conditioning hardware, and a controller running DAQ software. 

Modular data acquisition systems are designed for high-channel-count, complex systems that need to integrate multiple sensor types. These systems are expensive and more complex to integrate and use, but they’re extremely flexible.

 

Data acquisition device

A data acquisition device (USB, Ethernet, PCI, etc.) contains signal conditioning and an analog-to-digital converter. These devices are flexible and can be used in many different applications. Its disadvantage is that it needs to be connected to a computer to function.

 

Data loggers (hardware)

Data loggers are stand-alone data acquisition systems, with a built-in processor and pre-defined software. A data logger captures data and stores it locally for use later on. Web-enabled data loggers can be configured online, share data over a network or store it in cloud environments.

The downside is that data loggers can’t do any calculations. It’s simply a solution you can throw information at and then retrieve at a later date. And don’t forget to make sure that your data is backed up.

 

Remote Terminal Unit (RTU)

A Remote Terminal Unit (RTU), sometimes called Remote Telemetry Unit or Remote Telecontrol Unit, is a microprocessor-based device that monitors and controls field devices, which can then connect to plant control or SCADA systems. RTUs are considered more suitable for wider geographical telemetry which requires wireless communication. The disadvantage of RTUs is that they require programming and a specific skill set.

 

An alternative data acquisition solution for PLCs

A PLC is the core of any modern industrial system. They’re used in machinery’s industrial control systems (ICS) in a wide range of industries. PLCs work well in small-scale automation tasks, like single machine control (switching on and off using triggers) or smaller-scale building automation (lighting, temperature control etc.).

To monitor your machines and check their status, you need access to the data generated by your PLC and its connected components. The data acquisition solutions we previously discussed, however, leave much to be desired. They lack remote accessibility or backups, are difficult to set up, or require additional hardware components. Discover a robust alternative for data acquisition from industrial systems that meets all these needs: IXON Cloud.

Animation of data from sensor to PLC to IXON Cloud and dashboards

IXON Cloud: Data Collection, Acquisition & Web-based Monitoring

IXON Cloud makes data logging and acquisition easy for everyone. It collects data directly from your Ethernet-enabled devices (PLC, HMI, IPC, frequency inverter, drives, sensors, smart meters etc.), without requiring any programming skills, additional hardware or third-party software applications.

Data variables can be configured in a web-based environment, where you simply push them to the IXrouter connected to your devices. The IXrouter is a multifunctional VPN router and gateway device that can set up secure connections, transfer data via MQTT and offers edge computing functionality.

The IXrouter monitors the real-time status of PLC variables using industrial protocols such as OPC-UA or Modbus. You can tell it to log only certain values (e.g. min, max, average, etc.) and also tell it when it should log them (on change, trigger or an interval). Data is then transmitted from the router to IXON Cloud. Note that data is buffered on the IXrouter to compensate for dropped internet connections. As soon as the internet connection is up again, the data is transmitted. All data is securely stored in a cloud database cluster

The collected data can be used for remote condition monitoring by visualizing data in drag & drop dashboards and is made actionable with cloud-based alarms. Or it can be exported to external SaaS tools using the API for in-depth analysis. 

Get these benefits by setting up your PLC data acquisition strategy with IXON:

  • No additional software, data logger hardware and programming skills needed
  • High-speed sample rate of <5ms
  • Acquire data based on interval (200ms to 1 hour), change or trigger
  • All key protocols are supported: OPC-UA, Modbus TCP/IP (for e.g. Siemens LOGO!) , Siemens ISO, Ethernet/IP and BACnet
  • Unlimited storage, data redundancy and backups on the cloud
  • Secured and monitored 24/7 by security experts
  • Edge-functionality included: prepare data (calculations) and reduce bandwidth (local buffering)
  • Web-based remote monitoring of your data with customizable dashboards and easy alarming configuration
  • Built-in remote access to your controllers, HMI touch panels and open webservers for more efficient troubleshooting
  • No costs for maintenance, electricity and additional servers or PCs

This short animation shows exactly how you can easily configure Data Logging on IXON Cloud:

Animation of IXON Cloud Data Logging from PLC to Cloud

 

Test a full scenario with our free starter kit and IXON Cloud platform account. Request yours here or send us your questions here.

[[Request IXrouter starter kit]]

 

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