IDX’s experience with the next generation Anybus Communicators

20 May 2024 at 11:35
Anybus Communicator

To find out how automation professionals have found the next generation Anybus Communicator, we caught up with Jehrene Phillip, Industrial Communications Specialist at Industrial Data Xchange (IDX). 


Before we talk about the next generation Anybus Communicator, can you tell us a little about IDX? 

With pleasure, IDX has been a prominent leader in the industrial automation sector for over three decades. Whilst our headquarters are based in Johannesburg, South Africa, our reach extends globally to serve clients worldwide. IDX operates through three distinct divisions: Custom Development, which specializes in providing tailored solutions; a Certified Competency Centre, offering certified training and services for network communication; and Distributed Sales, where we collaborate closely with partners like HMS. Our expertise lies in delivering customized industrial ICT solutions across a diverse range of industries, including agriculture, automotive manufacturing, energy, food and beverage, general manufacturing, mining and metals, oil and gas, paper and pulp, as well as petrochemical and supply chain logistics.


Thanks. Who was your customer in this example and what were they trying to do? 

The customer is an international mining company, and this particular project was implemented at the Rustenburg mining site, where they have used the next generation Anybus Communicators in multiple use cases, here are three that we found most interesting.


The first use case involved bridging the gap between the thermal camera detection system, operating on Modbus TCP protocol, with the PROFINET control network. To accomplish this, we deployed the ABC4090, a Common Ethernet to Common Ethernet Communicator, alongside IDX software. The IDX software functions as a Modbus TCP Client, while both the Anybus Communicator and the thermal camera detection system act as Modbus TCP servers. Utilizing the IDX software as a Modbus TCP client, we retrieved data from the thermal detection system and transferred it to the Anybus Communicator, a Modbus TCP server in this case. Subsequently, the Communicator facilitated protocol conversion, enabling the data to be seamlessly integrated into the PROFINET system.


The second application involved deploying the ABC3000, known as the Anybus Communicator – PROFIBUS DP, to facilitate communication between the site's tube leak detection system and the control system. The tube leak detection system utilizes cutting-edge sound emission technology to pinpoint and identify leaks in critical tubes within the process. Alarm signals from the detection system are encoded as Modbus RTU registers. Leveraging the Anybus Communicator, we extracted these Modbus RTU alarm signals and provided access to this data via a PROFIBUS interface for the control system.


The third use case also used the ABC3000. This particular application has garnered significant attention for the Anybus Communicator, expanding its utility beyond the confines of the mining site. In this instance, the mining company procured a large-scale Modular UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) system from INVT Energy Africa. The UPS system is equipped with a Modbus RTU interface, while the site's control system necessitated a PROFIBUS DP interface. Leveraging the Anybus Communicator facilitated seamless integration between these two systems, enabling them to communicate effectively.

The UPS manufacturer expanded on this initiative by incorporating Anybus communicators into several new applications, enabling the adaptation of their system to a diverse range of end-users and solutions that require flexible protocol integration. As a result, an Anybus Communicator is now included as part of the UPS equipment package.


And why did you choose Anybus?  

The first generation of Anybus Communicators has established a remarkable reputation for themselves, particularly in the sub-Saharan African markets. Anybus devices have become the preferred choice for bridging the gap between disparate systems in these regions. Notably, the mining site and numerous other end-users have incorporated the Anybus Communicators and other models from the Anybus gateway range into their specification documents, making them essential prerequisites for new project installations and infrastructure updates. This widespread adoption stems from the impressive track record of success rate and minimal failure rate exhibited by the Anybus product portfolio over the years.


Despite being an independent entity from the mining site, the UPS company has also embraced the use of Anybus devices, influenced by the strong track record that the site has with Anybus products. The reputation of Anybus products is built upon their exceptional quality and longevity. While electronic devices typically cease functioning after eight or nine years, Anybus Communicators defy this trend, enduring through various environmental challenges such as dust, production spillages and other elements. Their resilience is truly remarkable and contributes to their enduring presence in diverse applications.


Good to hear!  Which specific next generation Anybus Communicator was used in these use cases?  

Two different variants were employed: the ABC3000 facilitated the connection of serial devices to PROFIBUS DP control systems. The second unit is the ABC4090 which provides a common Ethernet adaptation for 2 dissimilar networks.

The adaptability of the common Ethernet variant proves highly beneficial, introducing an entirely new opportunity for system integrators. Integrators can maintain a single part number in stock to accommodate various protocol conversions. Another great benefit is the ability to adapt to new protocols should the end user require a change in their infrastructure.


Super. With the next generation Anybus Communicator we’ve modified the hardware with a dedicated Ethernet configuration port, front forward ports and a screw-in serial cable connector. Did you find any of these hardware features useful? 

The Ethernet ports are exceptional and incredibly user-friendly. The inclusion of dual ports now simplifies daisy-chaining Anybus Communicators together. Additionally, the dedicated Ethernet configuration port represents a significant enhancement, eliminating the need for a serial converter. This means we can now utilize readily available Ethernet cables on-site, eliminating the inconvenience of searching for specific serial cables that often go missing. The transition from the RJ11 connector used in older gateways to Ethernet is particularly noteworthy, as it aligns with current industry standards and streamlines installations.


Furthermore, the replacement of the sub-D connector on serial units with a direct terminal connection is a marked improvement. The front-facing ports have also been well-received, especially by end users with minimal space availability, they have noted the neatness and compact integration into their panels. The angled design of the connection points allows for easier cable bending, reducing the need for sharp bends.


Another aspect of the hardware that stands out is the organization of LED lights, with pertinent information conveniently printed alongside them. This design upgrade eliminates the need to refer to a separate sheet, improving accessibility and user experience.


Great, and if we move onto the software. How did you find the new user interface? 

The user interface (UI) experience was highly satisfying. I appreciated the immediate access to comprehensive information upon log in, as it provided clear guidance without the necessity of consulting the manual. The convenience of utilizing an IP address to access the web interface is particularly noteworthy, eliminating the need to download software, which often posed challenges for customers due to IT restrictions on their laptops. The combination of the IP address and intuitive UI has significantly enhanced customer satisfaction levels.


Super, did you use any features on the UI? 

Yes indeed, apart from the general features that are required during configuration like adapting communication and protocol setting which have now been implemented on a useful left stacked library format in the UI, we also found that the endian swapping and duplication on both nodes and transactions within nodes very valuable. The endian swap proved to be highly effective for installations involving smaller byte sizes. Additionally, the duplication feature makes repetitive configurations a breeze to implement. In these particular case studies, the mining company often implements pilot projects at specific sites, and once successful the rollout is then duplicated across other sites. The export/import of configuration files is highly useful for this type of work.

 The IO data map makes it easy to work with the stored data and the ability to move your data within the memory space allows for optimizing the stored data in your application.


Fantastic. And did you use any of the diagnostic features? 

Certainly, we frequently utilize the diagnostic features which prove its value. There's a scarcity of serial Modbus RTU diagnostic tools available, which is why I rely heavily on the Anybus communicator's live data analysis to troubleshoot Modbus RTU slave devices and examine configurations before implementing them on live networks. 

The live data analysis feature also aids new customers significantly. I often recommend to them to initially set up one or two nodes and verify that everything operates as expected before deploying configurations to multiple nodes.

Furthermore, the event log within the diagnostics tab is highly beneficial. It's convenient how data is logged, allowing us to start or stop the log and export it as needed. This feature proves especially helpful when collaborating with end-users, enabling seamless integration, and providing valuable feedback based on the logged data.

Moreover, the event logs play a crucial role when multiple transactions are programmed or configured onto the unit and a single transaction suddenly fails. The log provides insights by displaying missed transactions along with relevant messages, serving as a guide to identify and address the underlying issue.


Great! Did you use the support page or need to contact HMS support to troubleshoot any issues? 

No, we didn’t have any issues installing the Communicators. Although it’s nice that all the relevant information, including a QR code, is easily accessible.


Have you ever contacted HMS’ global technical team and if so, were they helpful? 

Yes, there were a few occasions, particularly when I first started working at IDX. However, having been with IDX for seven years now, I've observed significant improvements in the support provided. HMS has notably elevated their level of service. The support team doesn't simply redirect you to the website; instead, they offer genuinely helpful information and assistance.


Pleased they helped. How have you found the documentation, including the start-up guides? 

The documentation and supporting materials provided are excellent. The start-up guide is particularly beneficial as it offers readily accessible information without the need to delve into the comprehensive manual. Additionally, the Anybus YouTube channel, especially the how-to videos, proves to be incredibly valuable. This is essential for new customers and for use cases where I or the customer hasn’t used the device in a while. These videos serve as effective refreshers and aid in quickly reacquainting myself with the product.


Excellent, thanks for your time Jehrene!

You're welcome! Pleasure to share our experience with you.


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