EFA’s experience with the next generation Anybus Communicators

20 May 2024 at 11:35
Anybus Communicator

To hear how automation professionals have found the next generation Anybus Communicator, we spoke to Marco Spessi, Industrial Networking Manager EFA Automazione. 


Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. To start off, can you tell us a little about EFA?   

Certainly, EFA has been working within industrial automation for over 30 years. We started as system integrators and HMI panel builders but now specialize as distributors. We provide hardware and software and can offer complete solutions by combining different brands or products to meet a customer’s requirements such as IIoT, Industrial Ethernet protocols, fieldbus protocols, data visualization, data analysis, database or MQTT/REST API communication– whatever they need we can find something to support it. We work in industries such as manufacturing, energy and water, machine builders and infrastructure, with success stories ranging from OEM, robot programming, SCADA, MES to real-time data analysis. 

Since January 2022, EFA has been part of the RELATECH group. RELATECH is a digital company that provides mainly ERP solutions, but also augmented reality, cyber security solutions. So, now we are part of an even bigger company that provides an end-to-end solution for customers in even more different markets. 


How long has EFA been working with Anybus products? 

EFA have been working with HMS and the Anybus products since the very beginning, so for about thirty years. One of the main reasons we’ve worked with the Anybus products for so long is due to their quality. I don’t know the percentage of returns but it’s very, very low. The quality of the Anybus products really stands out.  


Nice to hear. If we focus on the Anybus Gateways today, in what scenarios have you used the Anybus Gateways? 

We often have customers who need to communicate with different industrial protocols. For example, Siemens PLCs are very common in Italy, but not all devices run on PROFINET. Therefore, the customer needs a solution to exchange data between the device and the PLC, and they typically use a gateway. This is the classic request. The gateway is used to solve a communication problem.  


Yep, that makes sense. The Anybus Gateways are here to solve communication problems. Have you had the chance to use the next generation Anybus Communicators? 

Yes, we’ve successfully used the next generation Anybus Communicators in several applications. One example is with SIKO, a German manufacture of device indicators and similar products. Their products use a custom protocol over a serial interface. SIKO provided the Anybus Communicator with their product to connect their serial devices to their customer’s PLC. SIKO used the Anybus Communicator with several different customers and needed to connect to PROFNIET, EtherNET/IP or Rockwell PLCs. 

Another use case was with Ingersoll Rand, a compressor manufacturer. Their compressors are also serial based, using the Modbus RTU protocol. But they needed to connect the compressors with PLCs on the plant, which is usually PROFINET, sometimes EtherNet/IP.  


Super, how did you find the hardware on the next generation Anybus Communicator? 

Very good. Usability has improved as all the ports are now on the front.  

The dedicated Ethernet configuration port is a nice addition. It makes it easier to get started as we no longer need to use a specific cable. We can just use a standard Ethernet cable and connect to the user interface via the IP address, which is printed on the side.  


That’s great to hear. Moving onto the software, what do you think of the new user interface?   

The user interface (UI) is very easy and user friendly. It’s a huge improvement over the configuration manager used in the old gateways. The fact that it’s web based has also helped, as we can use the Anybus Communicator with a remote Gateway, such as the EWON flexy, to remotely configure or manage the Anybus Communicator.   


Did you use any features on the UI?   

The possibility to create templates for the custom serial protocols is very good. That saved us a lot of time with the SIKO use case, as we were able to save the template and reuse it on all the Communicators.  

The endian swap feature was also great. The different protocols and fieldbuses use different modes. PROFINET does it in one way, EtherNet/IP another way and so on. So, the possibility to swap is very good. Especially since everything is so easy to use via the drag and drop functionality.  


Fantastic. And what about the diagnostic features on the UI, were they helpful?   

They have been helpful. The diagnostics features help us to troubleshoot both the nodes and the network. We use the event log to understand what’s happening for the customer and application. It’s been particularly useful for the applications which connect devices, such as our examples with serial devices, as you can see the entire frames on the serial interface and also see the data from the network. This information is invaluable when trying to understand what’s happening.  


We have a Common Ethernet variant of the Anybus Communicator, which allows users to use the same unit and download firmware for the relevant protocol. Have you found the Common Ethernet version useful? 

 Yes, its versatility is very useful. We always have a few units on the shelf to enable us to quickly respond to customer requests. It’s especially useful for smaller installations with only a few gateways. For larger installations we still order the specific gateway, so the customer doesn’t have to update the firmware on multiple units. But it’s great for smaller installations.  


Lastly, how did you find the documentation?   

We’re engineers, our first instinct is not to look at the documentation! To get started, we didn’t need to look at the documentation, we just plugged the Communicator in and used the printed IP address to access the web-based interface. When we needed to get into the details, such as customizing serial protocols, then we looked at the documentation. At that stage, we found the documentation to be helpful and easy to follow.  


Super, thanks for your time! 

Happy to help, thanks! 


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