Plug and play to counter obsolescence … no longer stocked

This sentence represents a horror scenario for every device manufacturer. It marks the start of the search for replacements. If none can be found, this means a time-consuming and expensive redesign, lost time in production and perhaps even a delivery stoppage. The following example describes the discontinuation of an HMI that the company Feutron had integrated into its test and climate cabinets. They found a substitute with the specialists for embedded HMIs and micro-controllers, Garz und Fricke, who adapted a modern HMI to the features of the existing product at short notice, thus integrating what was practically a Plug&Play solution. Feutron produces testing chambers of all sizes for a wide range of climate simulations. The aim here is to investigate the aging behaviour of test samples under defined conditions, with the chambers being employed in research, development and industry. The climate and testing chambers are produced to customer specification. At the same time, Feutron stands primarily for remarkable ease of operation and a high level of reliability.

An HMI for climate simulation chambers

The climate simulation chambers are operated via an HMI. However, the product that had always been used previously was no longer stocked. The manufacturer offered no successor product or suitable replacement. Consequently, the company went in search of a manufacturer for human machine interfaces (HMI) that would be capable of meeting all the requirements of the “old” HMI and be available over the long term. This was taken as an opportunity to “modernize” the operating system so that it would also be fit for the future and compliant with Industry 4.0. The company found what is was looking for with Garz und Fricke who offered individually adapted standard solutions that met all the requirements.

Requirements

One condition was that the previous HMI should be capable of replacement without any complications. Consequently, it was necessary to meet all the requirements of the “old” HMI. There was also a wish to exploit the properties of present-day HMIs such as modern design, intuitive and user-friendly operation, current-saving processors, higher performance and the number of interfaces, etc. Among the properties requested were the selection of different programmes, the configuration or input of the necessary parameters and a workflow as a means of user guidance. In addition, the recorded measuring data were to be presented in a clear form and be capable of transmission to other devices, a PC or the cloud. Communication was considered a particular requirement. As the systems can be controlled via CANopen, the HMI had to be able to process this protocol.

Powerful and touch-sensitive: Santino 7.0

After in-depth consultation and having considered all the requirements of Feutron, Garz und Fricke opted for the Santino 7.0. Thanks to its ARM i.MX6 Cortex A9 processor, the HMI consisting of an embedded system and a 7-inch display with capacitive touch sensors offers a high level of computing power and good graphics performance while simultaneously supporting Ethernet, USB and optional Wi-Fi interfaces – and of course CANopen. It was possible to use a standard product, which could be integrated directly with only few adaptations.

CANopen as a challenge

CANopen proved to be a challenge because the Linux operating system with its Yocto model was not compatible with CANopen. This is where the partner company SYS TEC electronic came into the picture. In cooperation with Garz und Fricke, it developed a customer-specific Yocto for the Santino. The communications interface OPC UA was integrated as a highlight and makes the Santino Industry 4.0-capable. Machine data can thus be read and further processed without any difficulty. OPC UA is the new standard that enables data to be exchanged between devices from a wide range of manufacturers.

"What the project leader says: “We were able to equip the existing system with the new HMI while entirely avoiding a redesign. The solution that has now emerged for Feutron will remain in our portfolio for at least seven years, or for as long as the chip manufacturer continues to sell its CPU and provide it with drivers."

Daniel Höser, Field Sales Engineer, Garz und Fricke

Highly flexible and highly adapted: The Yocto-based embedded Linux

The Yocto offshoot from Garz und Fricke gives developers full freedom in programming. Yocto itself is very flexible and powerful although, strictly speaking, it is not a separate Linux distribution but more of a modular system from which developers can help themselves. Yocto stands out particularly due to its standardized architecture and high level of adaptability. The Yocto specially optimized by Garz und Fricke to match the board and specific purpose includes the QT graphics framework. Version 5, which is used here, can be programmed on the basis of QML and in some cases even on HTML, which facilitates the creation of applications considerably. The good adaptability and full documentation made work easier for SYS TEC electronic, the development partner. It thus enabled the developers to track the process states at all time. Debugging also became a straightforward possibility, and porting was comparatively easy as a result.

Adaptation becomes the standard implementation

At the end of the day, the porting process for Feutron resulted in a standard implementation, that Garz und Fricke will continue to use. The stack can now also be made accessible for other customers. For a number of years, the company has been adopting adaptations and experience from its project work into its standard solutions so that a large number of options are already present. A customer survey determines the solution that matches best. As a result, it is frequently only necessary to carry out minor adaptations, which significantly reduces costs. Furthermore, the product remains available for a long time in this way. And this fits in well with the company’s obsolescence management strategy.

Long-term secure product supply based on strategy

This is precisely what is so important for many customers of the Hamburg-based display and micro-controller specialist: products and their lines should be available from the partner company in the long term. After all, if modules disappear from the market and are replaced by completely different versions, companies may face the problem that their own products which have been designed over many decades of service life have to undergo time-consuming replanning measures. Fortunately, Feutron was saved from this fate. “We were able to equip the existing system with the new HMI entirely without the need for a redesign”, said Daniel Höser, Key Account Manager and Field Sales Engineer with Garz und Fricke when describing the supply process.

Purchasing with a future

Garz und Fricke generally checks on product life cycle management and durability during the purchasing process to make sure that components and assemblies will remain in stock over the long term and that they originate from certified companies. This enables time-consuming redesigns and uncertain or excessively expensive component sources to be avoided- Alexander Stade, Sales Engineer at Garz und Fricke, promised: “If we do, however, withdraw a product from the range, there will always be a successor product that is just as good a match and is similarly easy to integrate – in the sense of form, fit and function.” His colleague Daniel Höser had this to add: “The solution that has now emerged for Feutron will remain in our portfolio for at least seven years, or for as long as the chip manufacturer continues to sell its CPU and provide it with drivers.”

An inspired solution

As a result, Feutron can now equip its climate and vibration-test cooling chambers for the future with powerful and modern HMIs providing highly flexible configuration options. This inspired solution is the result of an effective collaboration involving Feutron, Garz und Fricke and SYS TEC electronic. This project provided the trigger for Garz und Fricke to further increase its cooperation with SYS TEC electronic and to meet demanding and sophisticated customer demands with concentrated expertise.