A Built-for-Purpose PLC to Database Connectivity Solution

When it comes to programmable logic controller (PLC) projects and PLC connectivity solutions, it’s common for systems integrators to create custom solutions. After all, custom solutions are your specialty. For example, many project applications, such as track and trace, quality monitoring, production metrics monitoring or high-speed sorting, involve connecting a PLC at the plant floor — which is where the data originates — to SQL databases or cloud — which is where the data will be stored or manipulated.

But how does the data get from the PLC to the cloud or database? That’s usually where the PC comes in, where the code is written, where the protocol translations are happening and where you find yourself knee-deep in systems integration.

When you step back from this situation and look at the big picture, you have three important things to consider

  1. The added value for your customer. Your added value should be the deliverable once the systems are integrated — not the act of integration itself. The more time you spend on the project after integration, the more value you’ll provide to your customer.
  2. Project estimation. Your job is to quote the project accurately, reduce risk, remain competitive, make money and help your customer make money. Writing code, adding PCs and implementing protocol translations is tough to quote, introduces risk and has the potential to cost you time or money.
  3. Solution quality. How scalable and supportable is your solution — especially if your customer wants you to come back and make changes or additions in the future? How stable is the solution? Does the solution crash, or can it tolerate network outages? Does it have failover capabilities? What about the tags or emails that let you know when communication is happening? All these aspects increase the quality of your installation.

System integration using a PC and custom code can come with a lot of errors in project estimation, increase risk, cost money and possibly even put your customer at risk. Fortunately, there are built-for-purpose integration solutions that eliminate the PC, eliminate custom code, and eliminate protocol conversion for PLC-to-database and cloud integration projects. This built-for-purpose connectivity solution lets you focus on the added value for your customer and enables you to more accurately estimate projects by avoiding integration via custom coding.

Reducing Risk When Connecting PLCs to IT Business Systems

One way to improve consistency — the amount of “knowns” — is to deploy an in-chassis programmable logic controller (PLC) transaction manager that can “standardize” IT/OT data integration — a process that has traditionally involved developing custom software or configuring databases. Let’s take a closer look at how the Softing tManager® Enterprise Appliance Transaction Module can help you minimize project risk.

In the past, the challenge  to connectivity between the PLC and SQL database was the PC server, along with custom software and OPC protocol translation. What you might not be aware of is that Rockwell has eliminated the need for all three of these challenges with tManager. This in-chassis PLC module enables bidirectional data exchange between enterprise systems and ControlLogix® and CompactLogix™ PLCs, eliminating the PC in the middle, eliminating custom coding and eliminating protocol translation.

Addressing the Challenges Systems Integrators Face

As a Rockwell in-chassis solution, tManager overcomes many of the challenges that come with traditional PC solutions. Fortunately, we’re beginning to see systems integrators rethinking the PC approach for many reasons. For one, connectivity is not where systems integrators can add value. Rather, their value comes from what can be done with the data after everything is connected. There are also many pitfalls that come with building custom connectivity solutions.

For example:

  • Accurate project scoping and quoting adds project risk.
  • When it comes to custom solutions, accurately predicting project delivery is difficult.
  • Connectivity needs may be missing for each project — e.g., redundancy, failover, store and forward, transaction status, transaction triggers, etc.
  • Supporting, improving, scaling or making changes to custom solutions several years later is anything but easy.

How tManager Works

Here’s how tManager overcomes the above challenges and “standardizes” IT/OT data integration. Once you insert it into the PLC rack, the module automatically enumerates PLC and database tags and structures without requiring any software coding or scripting. Because it’s part of the Rockwell Automation Technology Partner program, tManager can directly access backplane data and control tags. In addition to moving plant floor data between enterprise systems and PLCs, the module lets you connect PLCs to your preferred Cloud application, analytics app or dashboard — all in 10 minutes or less. And, it’s compatible with a wide range of databases including Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle Database, MySQL, AWS IoT SiteWise and Azure Cloud.

Unlocking Benefits for Systems Integrators

Developed and refined over 15 years, tManager eliminates the PC server, software or scripting often used to orchestrate transactions between the PLC and database. Using this device to handle transactions also decreases project risk, overcoming many of the challenges systems integrators face:

  • Changing requirements. tManager is simple to operate and maintain, with all database commands handled via drop-down menus. It also makes configuration changes and additions quick and easy.
  • Coding errors and debugging. tManager eliminates custom coding and debugging from your project scope. Configuration screens guide you through setup, status tags provide real-time feedback of transactions and log files help you capture data and network information and troubleshoot.
  • Network or security issues. Because tManager uses the existing network infrastructure, it doesn’t create the security holes that gateways often do. By eliminating the PC, it is also a virus-resistant module and doesn’t need any anti-virus updates or on-going security patches.
  • Lengthy computer and software configurations. The tManager hardware and software don’t require the kind of extensive setup or configuration processes that computers or operating systems often need.
  • Learning curve for new products. A user-friendly system, tManager is up and running in 10 minutes — and it can be reused over and over. It also comes with extensive online help and unlimited installations of the configuration software.
  • Scalable. The tManager in-chassis module not only accesses tags on the backplane to send to SQL databases, it can connect to up to 16 other PLCs on the network, collect their tags and send those tags to the SQL database as well.

To learn more about how tManager can reduce your errors and commissioning time while improving your profit margins, visit the product page. 


Softing Inc.