Test drive HMI and ladder software from Unitronic and produce more with less effort
30 September 2014
Unitronics, an industry leader in the development and manufacture of all-in-one PLC + HMI controllers, recently launched the third model in the UniStream product line. The new USP-156-B10 controller features an embedded 15.6in high-quality touch-screen.
In line with the UniStream family, the new controller is programmed using UniLogic, an all-in-one programming software which enables automation engineers to program HMI and PLC ladder applications, configure hardware and communications in a single, easy to use environment and which promises to cut program development time by as much as 50%, even for first time users.
Taking UniLogic for a test drive and looking under the hood reveals just how the software cuts development time…
Over the past 25 years Unitronics has produced four generations of HMI + PLC all-in-one controllers and HMI + PLC programming software. Its long experience has clearly been brought to bear, both in UniLogic’s intuitive, user-friendly design, and in features that enable a highly efficient workflow.
UniLogic offers a powerful, flexible, yet simple programming environment for control applications. Part of its power is due to the fact that the software is based on certain concepts from well-know and well-used object-oriented programming languages such as C. Programmers can greatly boost efficiency by taking advantage of the time-saving features
UniStream: The hardware and how to configure it
UniStream is uniquely modular. Powerful dual CPUs (Central Processing Units) offer faster scan time, supporting up to 2048 I/O’s over 2MB of operand memory. The elegant, high-quality HMI touch panels are available in different dimensions, and a selection of I/O modules can be simply snapped together into a single, compact controller.
The platform is also superbly scalable, expanding to meet application requirements via local and remote I/Os. A really useful feature is the option to integrate I/Os via CANbus at ranges of up to 1000m. In addition to UniStream’s built-in Ethernet, serial, and CANBUS ports, users are also able to add serial and Ethernet COM modules to integrate additional devices into the application.
Hardware configuration is extremely fast, via an absolutely intuitive interface. After the user selects the controller model, all I/O and COM modules are displayed in the Toolbox window. The user adds modules, either via drag & drop capabilities of the software, or by typing part of the module name in the search box and pressing ‘Enter’. No addressing is necessary – all of the relevant tags are automatically created by the system.
Intelligent, ergonomic design – a true time saver
Clearly, Unitronics has focussed on ease-of-use in designing the software interface. This benefits the programmer in a variety of ways. Firstly, the programmer is able to customise the interface to suit their own personal workflow requirements – everything is pinnable, floatable, and dockable.
Next, no time is lost searching for program components. In UniLogic, everything is visible – all program components are logically organised in the Solution Explorer – Hardware Configuration, Ladder functions, HMI and Webserver screens, Actions, Data Tables, and Data Sampling, as well as all aspects of communications from configuration to SMS and emails. The UniLogic program ribbon is context-sensitive, changing to offer relevant commands according to what is open in the workspace. The workspace itself is multi-tabbed and supports side-by-side display.
Ladder programming is incredibly fast when using UniLogic software. The Ladder Toolbox supporting ‘Intellisense’ element location, combined with keyboard strokes, enable the programmer to place Ladder elements and to assign tags without touching the mouse. Editing Ladder is virtually error-free, with a drag & drop action that automatically snaps elements into place.
HMI design is rapid – the rich library of graphic images saves considerable time in image design. Attractive user controls and widgets eliminate the need for image design for underlying programming to support a number of tasks.
Build-it-once and reuse: Proficient programming
The reuse paradigm for HMI displays, Web Server pages, and Ladder functions is supported by the user Library. The programmer designs a display, page, or creates a Ladder function, and then simply adds it to the Library, which can be then be ported between UniLogic projects.
A powerful part of the reuse paradigm is the UDFB (User Defined Function Block). These enable the user to create a function to perform any task, such as oven control, and then drag it from the Solution Explorer and drop it into another function – or add it to the Library. In addition to its Ladder code, a UDFB can include any of the following:
• Input and output tags to transfer values in to and out of the function.
• Local tags, which only exist within that function.
• Global tags, structs, and arrays.
Data tags and structs: Unexpectedly powerful
The controller memory of the UniStream range of controllers is dynamically allocated. The programmer creates lexical tags and assigns data types. In addition to the standard bits and registers, the programmer is able to create arrays, buffers, and structs. Linking tags to elements and functions is fast, thanks to a powerful Intellisense algorithm that automatically filters the tag list.
Structs, a familiar concept to C programmers, group operands of different data types into a single, logical unit. This gives great control to the programmer. UniLogic automatically creates Structs during the programming process to support hardware configuration, and to support complex functions such as Communications and PID control.
For example, including a PID function in the Ladder application automatically creates a PID Configuration Struct comprising 18 tags including Set Point, Proportional Band, Integral Time, Derivative Time, Sample Time, and all of the other parameters needed to implement PID control.
In addition, the savvy programmer is able to create specific structs to service program functions. These containers of operands can be reused anywhere in the program. Structs are particularly powerful when used together with UDFBs. A struct can also be defined as internal to a UDFB, allowing it to perform as an independent function.
The use can also export the tag data base, including structs, edit it in Excel, and import it into another program.
Structs also play a role in data tables, where they provide the column structure. Data tables enable the programmer to organise and store both static and run-time data, and then to access it in accordance with program requirements.
Data tables can be populated and the data manipulated via Ladder functions, which can be used to create data logs. Values can also be added by importing from Excel. In addition, the programmer can allow end users to enter and edit data via the panel. This is accomplished either by including data table widgets in the HMI application, or via UniApps, which is a utility embedded into UniStream controllers that enables data access from the HMI panel.
Data Tables are particularly useful in implementing program recipes, where they can contain parameters for pre-programmed recipes, allowing ingredients or values to be collected and used to prepare a batch of product or to perform a specific task.
Communications: Configuration, not programming
Setting up and programming data communications is generally one of the most time-consuming tasks in a control project. This is one of the areas where UniLogic’s internal structure really shines.
UniStream data communications are independent of Ladder. A single PLC can contain multiple slave definitions – and also multiple master definitions. This scheme is complex to set up in Ladder. However, when using UniLogic software it is a simple matter of configuration.UniLogic offers plug-and-play support for major fieldbus protocols such as MODBUS and CANopen. In addition, the software also offers the Message Composer which enables Unistream to communicate data to external devices such as frequency converters, bar-code readers, and printers via virtually any Ethernet or serial third-party protocol.
UniStream also supports FTP Client/Server and modem communications.
Connectability: Remotely access the controller and data
VNC support allows UniStream controllers to be accessed from PC, cellphone, or tablet.
The programmer can control VNC access in two ways: by assigning a password, and by using Actions to open and close access.
HMI design: Simple process, professional results
UniLogic’s extensive free graphic library and broad range of HMI widgets enable anyone to effortlessly create stylish HMI screens and web pages that are professional in appearance, and which appear as though they were designed by a graphic artist. The simple interface supports layers, image transparency, overlap, and rotation.
Video and audio player widgets, complex trend graphs and gauges for the display of run-time values, and data table display, are ready for the programmer to drag & drop onto the screen or page.
Language support: Switching HMI language
UniStream supports UniCode, including double-byte Asian languages such as Chinese, and right-to-left languages.
UniLogic’s Language settings allow the programmer to set the language of the text strings displayed in textual HMI elements, and to determine which virtual keyboard opens when a user needs to enter data via the HMI screen. The programmer can conditionally change the current text language and the virtual keyboard when the application is running. The programmer can translate strings directly within UniLogic, or import them via Excel.
Messaging in a moment
UniLogic makes SMS and email messaging a snap. The message building editor for both is consistent with the Message Composer. The editor enables the programmer to include fixed texts, variable data, and in the case of email, file attachments.
Actions: Driving events
One of UniLogic’s strengths is Actions – events which can be triggered via Ladder conditions or from the HMI screen. Actions can, for example, trigger a switch in HMI language, cause a video or sound file to be played, execute HMI screen jumps, and open a VNC connection.
Conclusion: Is the claim justified?
In short, the UniLogic Test Drive does support Unitronics’ claim to cut control application development time by up to 50% – UniLogic software is specifically designed to save time and effort in all aspects of hardware configuration, communications implementation, Ladder programming, and beautiful HMI design.
Unitronics’ R&D director Benny Magrafta explains further: "Unitronics invests a great deal of effort into the concepts and architecture of our software products. We focus on the customer’s needs – and our goal is to enable you to work less and produce more. Every aspect of our software, from ribbon to toolbox to widget, is designed to save time and facilitate workflow.
“Because UniLogic is free – we would like to invite you to download it from our website and test drive it yourself now.”
It is worth mentioning that all other software utilities – including updates – and personalised technical support, are also free of charge, in keeping with Unitronics’ standard policy of customer care. In addition to the technical support experts at firstname.lastname@example.org
Unitronics also hosts an active, free technical support forum.
The UniStream controller range are a great example of Unitronics ‘all-in-one’ philosophy, which is a primary influence in its development process. This ultimately reduces overall system costs by minimising hardware requirements, saving cabinet space and eliminating the need for the user to set up panel-PLC communication. The user experience in enhanced by UniApps™, a library of applications that enable you to monitor, debug, and edit data either via the HMI panel, or via VNC from a PC, smartphone, or tablet – from anywhere at any time.
Check out the one minute demo videos for UniLogic on YouTube:
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