Q&A: Optimizing the IIoT with the U-CON Driver for KEPServerEX

Posted by Brent Dube

On February 24, I presented "Collecting Industrial IoT Sensor Data through the KEPServerEX® User-Configurable Driver," a live webinar on how the User Configurable (U-CON) driver for KEPServerEX can help optimize the new breed of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) smart sensors. Attendees sent in great questions and comments throughout the webinar, but due to time constraints I couldn't answer every question asked.

The Q&A pairs below address the topics I didn't have time for during the webinar. I hope that this background information on the U-CON driver will give you the confidence and enthusiasm to explore how it can optimize your smart manufacturing tools. 

Q: Can the U-CON driver be configured to parse a JSON message from a cloud-based platform and present that data as OPC to another application?
A: The U-CON driver can parse a JSON message as long as the end of the incoming message packet is defined. To accomplish this, the entire length of the message must be known, a data length field within the message must exist, or characters must be present that define the end of the message (like a carriage return or line feed). Another possible solution (depending on the technology used in your cloud platform) is the IoT Gateway for KEPServerEX, which has automatic JSON parsing capabilities.

Q: Can you give specific examples of barcode data being read into KEPServerEX?
A: Yes, there are many U-CON profile examples available for download through the U-CON driver product page. Locate the "Resources" section and select the "Sample Code" tab to view terms and conditions and download the examples. One of these examples is reading values from a Zebex barcode scanner.

Q: Can you do advanced calculations (like parsing or converting) on the data received?
Within the U-CON transaction editor, you can parse data down to the single bit level. In addition, KEPServerEX supports an advanced plug-in called Advanced Tags that offers six pre-defined tags for mathematical, comparative, and conversion operations.

Q: Can U-CON be used to get content from a web server (like if a color for an element on the page is green or red)?
Yes—please see my previous blog post on using the HTTP GET request through U-CON for more information on this functionality, including a downloadable sample project.

Q: Has the U-CON driver ever been used to connect to Ardunio projects?
Yes, the U-CON driver has been used to connect to Ardunio projects—in fact, connecting to Ardunio projects is an ideal use case for the U-CON driver. Raspberry Pi and Ardunio devices can be programmed to respond to particular commands and/or send unsolicited messages. In both cases, you’d be creating your own message structures as the programmer.

Q: If you have multiple devices, how do you determine which device is sending the message?
You can define key characters within the U-CON driver's transaction editor. A key character can identify unique devicesfor example, a particular device station ID. The U-CON driver will look for these incoming key characters to map that particular message to the correct destination in the server.

Q: What is the time span for data transfer from the device?
Transmit and response round-trip times vary due to many external dependencies, including network latency and device computational delays. If you’d like to slow your transmission, KEPServerEX does have a configurable inter-request delay functionality. 

Q: Can the U-CON driver generate checksum values?
Yes, the U-CON driver can generate nearly 20 industry-standard checksum values. It can also generate custom checksum values and tests.

Q: If I have multiple CNC machines, robots, vision systems, and other production-based equipment, how would KEPServerEX help in implementing IIoT technologies? What would the configuration look like?
A: KEPServerEX configurations are endlessly flexible and can be adapted to suit your production environment. KEPServerEX is equipped with more than 150 drivers, which natively connect to disparate devices within an industrial environment—including CNCs, robotics, vision systems, and thousands more. Acquiring data from these industrial devices will give you better insight into your industrial process, for more informed decision-making. Please contact our Applications Engineers for complimentary guidance on system configurations.

Q: How many channels, devices, and tags can a user configure with U-CON?
You can configure 256 U-CON channels and 256 U-CON devices per channel within a single instance of KEPServerEX. There is no coded limit to the number of tags you can configure per device.

Q: Does U-CON work with KEPServerEX Version 5?
Yes, the U-CON driver will work with KEPServerEX Version 5 and above. 

Q: Do different profiles of U-CON devices need different licenses?
No, different profiles of U-CON devices do not need different licenses. A single license of the U-CON driver lets you create multiple U-CON profiles within the licensed instance of KEPServerEX.

Q: What are the costs associated with deploying U-CON in KEPServerEX?
A KEPServerEX driver license provides core KEPServerEX functionality. License packages vary, depending on your particular use case. The U-CON driver can be purchased on its own, or as a part of the Manufacturing Suite or other vertical suites. Prices are available on the Kepware website, or you can contact our sales department for more details.

Q: How do I get started with U-CON?
Kepware has many resources to help you get started! I suggest you first read these blog posts on how U-CON works and watch my "Collecting Industrial IoT Sensor Data through the KEPServerEX® User-Configurable Driver" webinar. If you'd like a more hands-on experience, you can explore the Sample Code section on the U-CON driver product page. Finally, if you have a specific device in mind, please contact a Kepware Applications Engineer to see how U-CON can work for you!

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