In our modern life style we are using different kinds of mobile storage to cover our daily needs during trips between home and work, university, gym, business travels, vacations, etc. For instance, we use a power bank for charging cell phones, a memory stick for transferring files, data, pictures, and also towing caravan at least for having sleeping room, towing wagon for relocating some stuff as animals in older times.
I would like to extend this concept to the industrial automation field…how? Let me explain it in this way: in general we usually save the code or program to the internal flash memory of a controller that is fixed, although it is possible to install/mount the microSD card permanently and use a USB stick as a temporary tool to transfer code.
Such medias look like microSD card not only provides us more flexibility by extending volume, but also physcially in comparison with the fixed one. When you have additional mobile storage options for programming in parallel with the use of internal flash memory it’s then possible to configure the desired location so you can get additional benefits such as what’s shown below:
1. Travel cost reduction when developer and end user are apart from each other:
In the case of modifications, upgrading, customization … non-technical/professional person could handle the task easily and just copy the codes into the microSD card or USB stick(command file with related address are needed) install it and run the controller without the need of a developer(s) traveling to the end user site.
2. Data Logging:
Exporting of logged data easily is made possible by using a microSD card or USB stick to connect to a PC to transfer the data in addition to uploading parameters from the controller. In addition it provides more storage volume accordingly for longer data logging period.
3. Firmware update:
In the case of releasing new firmware without additional programming tools, upgrading is possible by copying related files into the USB stick and following the manufactures procedure such as power cycle or LED indicators to be sure that the new firmware is installed.
4. Additional programming tools are not needed:
Usually in commissioning and installation phases when a power supply is not available or external wiring and supplying the power takes time, a Power bank or USB cable supplying features are available in new controllers for basic programming needs like code downloading.
If your controller is equipped with a microSD card slot you don’t need any PC, programming cable or external power supply if any on site upgrading or changing is/are needed. As soon as the installation and communication phase are passed, the machine is ready to use because the program is already uploaded into the microSD card and mounted by the controller.
In case of using a USB stick, a power supply via external source or USB port is needed.
5. Time saving by parallel working of programmer(s) and installer(s):
If the structure of machine and components are already installed and ready to ship to the end user site, you could save some time by shipping the machine for installation and commissioning without uploading codes and as soon as program is tested and validated, you can upload via microSD card or USB stick as a fast and easy solution.
6. Document Saving
Possibility to save related/desired document(s) such as: catalogue, user manual, etc. in different formats. We can also open stored files via a customized web server.
7. Web Visualization
Updating and editing customized web visualization page(s) is manageable via microSD card.
8. More Storage Volume
As microSD card provides more volume besides internal flash memory, even if it is not used, we always have this possibility for developing and extending the application in case of: Web server upgrading, storing bigger files, longer period of data-logging, Graphical User Interface or bigger programs.
Although it is easier to save logged data into the USB stick rather then removing the microSD card if the codes are stored in the microSD card.
As a conclusion, because of the benefits mentioned above, I personally prefer to have a controller equipped with a microSD card, USB stick (for download program, debugging, firmware upgrade, HMI program download, parameters download and upload, managing data files as temporarily exchange) or both rather than one not being supported. It provides more flexibility in my projects… although if microSD card is removed, the link process stops, microSD card reader is not universal and automatic detection of the microSD card is taken into account in the power cycle.
Mentioned items could be considered as disadvantages but to solve this issue we can store the same codes/program into the controller’s flash memory or have another already uploaded microSD card or USB stick with downloading as a backup.
What are your thoughts on mobile storage in Industrial Automation applications?