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Welcome to the future of Industrial Ethernet diagnostics

10 July 2017

Reducing downtime and increasing productivity is an important topic for all engineers today. To help system users prevent issues occurring in their network, PROCENTEC has introduced Atlas as its solution to Industrial Ethernet diagnostics.

This year, PROCENTEC celebrates its 20th anniversary. The company started in 1997 when two friends and an older brother started assisting companies in improving their PROFIBUS networks, which at the time was still a new and innovative fieldbus communication solution. From day one, the company had a focus on troubleshooting and maintenance.

Later, after becoming a PROFIBUS training center, PROCENTEC started to offer training to help customers use its acquired knowledge of the system to make their networks stronger and more reliable.

As the use of PROFIBUS grew, so did PROCENTEC. In 2003, the company released its first product – the ProfiTrace toolkit – which allowed users to test networks before they were implemented, or to troubleshoot problems that occurred on the factory network. The ProfiTrace toolkit proved to be a powerful tool for troubleshooting and maintenance of PROFIBUS networks and resulted in PROCENTEC becoming a leading company in this field. Building on the success of ProfiTrace, PROCENTEC went on to form alliances with many international partners who helped the company to grow quickly and become well-known for its PROFIBUS solutions.

Besides the toolkit, PROCENTEC started to introduce manufacturing components such as the ProfiHub family, which helps create the most reliable network infrastructure on the market today. Its third product family is ComBricks, a permanent monitoring networking and control solution for PROFIBUS, which enabled PROCENTEC to rapidly become a primary manufacturer of network components with integrated capabilities for remote monitoring and asset management. These products – in addition to the company’s role as a Test Center and a Competence Center – have made PROCENTEC an established player in the PROFIBUS market. Over the years more than 4,000 participants have  received a training certificate from the company.

PROCENTEC is an international PROFIBUS and PROFINET Competence Center and it runs one of the eight accredited test laboratories for the certification of PROFIBUS devices. In its laboratory, automation vendors can have products tested for PROFIBUS compatibility. Based upon a positive test report, PROFIBUS International will then issue a certificate for the devices.

Moving to Industrial Ethernet
PROCENTEC gained a great deal of knowledge about PROFIBUS throughout the years and shared this with its partners and customers. Although, with over 50 million nodes in use across the globe, PROFIBUS is still the protocol of choice across industry, a shift is occurring within industrial automation. This is resulting in a move away from the traditional fieldbus systems to Industrial Ethernet, which is now becoming the basis for meeting the primary needs of the industrial user. Its essence lies in making the cable reliable and optimising the plugs and switches to meet the often harsh environmental conditions found in the industrial environment. With this in mind, working groups have set out to define protocols that meet virtually all automation goals.

Since 2010, the use of Industrial Ethernet has grown quickly. According to market research from HMS Industrial Networks, today Industrial Ethernet makes up 46% of the global market compared to 38% last year. The transition to Industrial Ethernet is being driven by the need for high performance, integration between factory installations and IT-systems, as well as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) in general.

The simple and effective design of Ethernet has made it a very popular networking solution. However, it can be more complex than it may, at first, look when a problem occurs on the network. One error can lead to serious downtime, which in many factories can be very costly.

Within an Industrial Ethernet network,which can sometimes contain thousands of devices, it can be hard to find out which device is failing. By the time an engineer has finally identified the error, critical processes could already have been ruined, leading to lost material and revenue. That is why the best solution for preventing unexpected and expensive downtime in industrial networks is to have a good strategy for diagnosis. A well thought out strategy for diagnosis will lead to return on investment.

Introducing Atlas
To create a solution for preventing downtime in Industrial Ethernet networks, PROCENTEC started to develop Atlas in March 2016. At that time there weren’t many permanent monitoring solutions for Industrial Ethernet on the market and those already in existence were mainly aimed at highly skilled technicians. There was a need for a solution that is easy to use and one which could be understood by everyone who might be involved in reducing downtime in Industrial Ethernet networks. The Atlas solution is infused with PROCENTEC’s 20 years of experience of supporting its customers in the field and also of producing monitoring solutions for PROFIBUS and PROFINET. Atlas has been designed from the ground up with end user requirements in mind.

The literal meaning of Atlas is a map. PROCENTEC’s Atlas maps the network with its interactive topology: a graphical and hierarchical display of a complete network. This view makes connections between devices become clear very quickly and intuitively. It also shows dependencies to easily identify and mitigate critical paths in the network or to identify line-depths. Information on separate devices is displayed using status icons according to the NAMUR NE 107 standard. The topology can be visualised in a dynamic galaxy view or the more traditional hierarchical tree view. Connected to PROCENTEC ComBricks, even PROFIBUS devices are visible with Atlas.

Atlas also provides valuable information about the quality of a network. Traditionally this information was difficult to achieve, but Atlas’ Q-Factor (Quality Factor) simplifies this using a weighted algorithm which is built up from all connected devices in the network. The Q-Factor shows a number from 0 to 5000, according to the Automotive standard, or from 0 to 100% as a relative display. A traffic light display allows a simple overview of the network status in three colours. 

In addition, the biggest strength of the product is its ease of use. After implementing the device in the network, installation only takes four steps before the tool immediately starts to discover the complete network by recognising devices and getting relevant information from them. All the capabilities of Atlas can be viewed through a web browser on the central, customisabledashboard page. This dashboard is available not only at the factory plant, but worldwide.

Industry 4.0 ready
Atlas also makes sure users are ready for Industry 4.0. The device ensures that networks are healthy and available permanently. It also has an integrated OPC-UA server in the platform. Because PROCENTEC shares its knowledge with its partners, so too does the Atlas platform, by offering third-party support. Additionally PROCENTEC is interested in working with other vendors and implementing all the advantages they have into Atlas as well.

Celebrating 20 years
Twenty years of innovative ideas, creativity and working together as a group has resulted in many innovative products. With the development of Atlas, PROCENTEC has proven that it will not stand still in a rapidly changing market. The company extended its reach in the market by working with a new protocol and will soon also extend its reach by opening a new UK office in Manchester – a testament to the company’s continued growth. Being a family company depends on the values of friendship. The two friends and the brother are still owners of PROCENTEC and the PROCENTEC family has now grown to over 50 people working at their headquarters in Wateringen, more than 10 in the German office in Karlsruhe and three employees in Italy. And all partners from the early days are still there as distributors.

As the numbers of highly skilled network technicians dwindles, the need for systems to help people understand their networks grows. The launch of Atlas, with its easy to use and understand displays, is a good first step in helping companies to do just this.

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