In the ranking of the simplest bus systems in the world AS-Interface has long occupied undisputed first place. With the new diagnostic software from Bihl+Wiedemann working with ASi has now become even easier: this convenient tool constantly monitors the fitness of the entire network, provides concrete recommendations at the push of a button when there is an issue – and makes it possible even for non-specialists to quickly solve any potential problem.
Not that it’s an exact analogy, but the comparison with the on-board computer system in a modern high-tech automobile does provide a first-glance and even useful starting point for understanding what the new diagnostic software from Bihl+Wiedemann can do within AS-Interface networks. At first glance they both do the same thing: they check the functions and interactions of all the connected electronic components. When everything is running fine, they give a thumbs-up. When it is not, they tell you where the problem is.
The obvious effect for the user is therefore nearly identical: both tools make even complex systems manageable for non-specialists as well. The technological processes for the complete fitness check run in the background – the messages the user receives are formulated clearly and unmistakably. In the ideal situation, which of course should be the normal situation, they say everything is OK. Even this alone is seen as a huge benefit for most users: the good feeling that everything has been checked and found to be in order. And even when there is a problem there are specific indicators and no complex explanations. “What the user wants is not the diagnostic information per se, what he really wants to know is what he needs to do right now in order to eliminate the problem,” says Managing Director Jochen Bihl.
At second glance there are to be sure certain differences between an on-board computer and a diagnostic software that become apparent. Whereas the automotive version sends his driver to the repair shop for even trivial defects, the electronic ASi fitness coach provides very specific suggestions for eliminating the problem – for example, which slave needs to be replaced for the system to get back up and running. “Of course, our software itself can’t fix the problem,” notes Jochen Bihl. “But it can propose actions that even non-specialists can understand and often even perform themselves.”
In the actual factory and process automation this means a whole new degree of freedom in planning deployment of workers. In everyday production the simple operation of the system has long been known for making it possible to operate AS-Interface networks using machine personnel who have little to no special ASi know-how. Thanks to the new diagnostic software even these same employees are now able to remedy minor faults without the assistance of expert colleagues. And for the producing companies who until now have shied away from jumping into this bus technology before they have no appropriately trained specialists in their ranks, now the last hurdle in the way of an efficient future beyond antiquated parallel wiring has been eliminated.
But the new diagnostic software can do even much more: it not only determines that a slave has failed, it also gets to the bottom of why. Here is an example from real life – as it happened at a long-time Bihl+Wiedemann customer:
After a safety unit kept shutting off for no apparent reason, a particular slave was identified as the cause of the problem. But after replacement the problem kept happening. With the help of the technical support at Bihl+Wiedemann the user then made use of the error history to quickly determine that the actual cause of the shutoffs was not a defective slave but sporadic earth faults. These could be immediately rectified and the system ran smoothly again. “Our objective in this development was for our new diagnostic software to do just this autonomously,” says Jochen Bihl. “Thus, it detects that a slave has failed and at the same time that there is an earth fault – and draws the logical conclusion that one was the cause of the other.”
But even when the connections are far more complex the new diagnostic software provides valuable assistance in troubleshooting. It permanently stores all diagnostic data for each device for up to 24 hours. Based on this information and based on the raw data from the measuring logs it is usually easy for the technical support at Bihl+Wiedemann to get to the heart of the problems and quickly help right on the telephone – without the customer having to wait for a technician to actually travel to the site.
The development of this diagnostic software with significantly expanded performance capability, which is unique to the entire automation sector, was “just” the logical extension of a strategy that has already been pursued for years. With each new Gateway generation the range of values which the devices can measure has been continually expanded in the most costefficient way possible. “The data was already available,” says Jochen Bihl. “It was just a matter of designing an intelligent frontend that processes all this information in a way that brings the most benefit to the user.”
But none of this means of course that the development is finished. The company located in Mannheim may have come a long way towards realizing their vision, but they are far from content, as Jochen Bihl emphasizes. “That won’t happen until I go to a customer and he says to me: ‘For a long time I was grateful for your technical support. But actually you could as well dissolve this department, because now there isn’t a single problem that I myself can’t solve with the help of your diagnostic software.’ But there´s still some work to do before we reach that point."