Hi, my name is Elmer, and as part of the PROCENTEC Support Team, it’s our job to support a network of engineers and network architects across the globe, helping keep their systems fully operational 24/7. Every day we come across a variety of problems. Some are easily solved, but occasionally we are inevitably presented with a problem that can cause us to scratch our heads and force us to think out of the box — a recent case springs to mind.
A valued customer reached out to us to help support them with a particular PROFIBUS problem, but soon after arriving on-site, it became apparent that their woes stretched a little further than this. Their engineers were mid-way through a long-term project to gradually upgrade the industrial network that formed the backbone of their manufacturing processes.
The ‘old’ installation, as they referred to it, was based on PROFIBUS, and the “new” – PROFINET. The new network was designed to run parallel to the old. And then in stages – devices and components would be decommissioned from the former, and then either migrated or upgraded on the new.
However, after solving the original PROFIBUS problem – which turned out to be a faulty device – the engineers explained that they were beginning to experience an increasing amount of PROFINET issues as they migrated their system. They asked whether I could help investigate. Never one to turn down a challenge, I willingly accepted! I already had a tool with me that I had previously prepared to diagnose both protocols. So, in this case, just by a simple change to the software, I could manage not only the PROFIBUS but also the PROFINET network.
Our customer’s strategy to orchestrate a steady, planned migration from one protocol to another to mitigate any complications was not wrong. Indeed, sometimes, this route can be the only way forward if a company cannot allow its entire network to be down and have no other contingency in place. It’s a far less costly, less risky, and more adaptable process to build a new parallel network, and then make the transition in stages. With this approach, the engineer can introduce new elements to the network in a controlled manner. If things don’t go to plan, hopefully, any failure is contained or even better, the original solution on the old system can operate as a backup.
The challenge is to balance the migration while simultaneously monitoring both networks for typical issues such as network overloads, wrongly installed switches, or possible conflicts in technology. Our customers believed their primary problem was a lack of compatible diagnostic and monitoring equipment to oversee the growth of the new PROFINET network. But the truth was far more refreshing. Most of the PROFIBUS diagnostic equipment the customer already owned could, with some minor adjustments and alterations, also diagnose the PROFINET network. In a single day, we were able to audit both networks. And at the same time, our customers learned how to adapt their existing equipment to work with both protocols.
I left the facility safe in the knowledge that these engineers could now proficiently migrate, grow, and adapt the new network without any of the previous transition pains. While I’ve arranged to return next year to audit the completed PROFINET system, I’m confident that they will not need to call us before… Success!
Tech-tips by Elmer Vis & Chris Simpson
PROCENTEC Support, Training and TestLab
PROCENTEC is an independent Dutch company that supplies products, training, and consultancy to the Industrial Automation Market. Of primary focus is the development and manufacturing of automation products for PROFIBUS, PROFINET, and Industrial Ethernet.