How to enable your machines to call out for Help

Have you ever worried about a critical or profitable process that is remote or sometimes unattended? Maybe it is a high-temperature oven, a oil well pump or a waste water treatment facility.  Do you want to get alarm information in the right hands without delay or miscommunication? Maybe you have eliminated weekend guard service and want to know if a heater fails in January, the A/C unit for your server room trips-out in August, the power flickers during a weekend thunderstorm shutting off operating equipment, etc.  Or in order to reduce maintenance costs, you want a signal of when service is required verses routine inspections.

In this issue, you will learn about some technologies that when implemented can ease your mind and save you time and money.

About the technology

Today’s connected world is spreading into all facets of business.  The following technologies can now be applied to connect the production floor (and field) for costs lower than you might think:

  •  SMS.   A few PLC platforms now have the option for a GSM /GPRS modem.  With a cell phone plan and a SIM card, text messages can be automatically sent to personnel to provide them accurate and timely alarm information.  Two-way communication is possible thus enabling remote resets and re-starts.  This option requires a texting plan and cell service, but does not require an Ethernet or phone connection.  
  •  E-mail.   Many PLCs are now equipped with Ethernet ports and messaging functions to enable e-mail communication.  This option requires an Ethernet connection and someone to be in front their computer to receive timely information.  Although, sometimes e-mails can be automatically forwarded to cell phones as text messages.      
  • Autodialers.  An autodialer has a limited number of inputs that can trigger voice calls using pre-recorded messages.  This option requires a phone connection and is more limited in capability compared to the other options (but with comparable costs).  

Some terminology

SMS or Short Message Service is another name for text messaging and is limited to 160 characters.

GSM or Global System for Mobiles is a type of cell phone network developed to replace the original 1G network.  It is used by US carriers AT&T and T-Mobile and is the standard in Europe. GSM was developed by an industry consortium.

SIM or Subscriber Identity Module is a detachable smart card used by GSM carriers and contains the user’s subscription information and contact list.

CDMA or Code Division Multiple Access is a type of cell phone network used by many US carriers including Verizon and Sprint.  The technology is owned by chip-maker Qualcomm. 

M2M or Machine-to-Machine is a common acronym for the subject technology.