Control for Every Project: Spanning the Gap Between I/O and Cloud

November 23, 2022 by David Peterson

Technology developer OnLogic announces the release of a new machine controller powered by a low-cost development board equipped with digital and analog I/O control for local, edge, or cloud computing.

Industrial technology has become a buzz of new terms and topics over the past half decade. Among the most common of these phrases is the inclusion of ‘edge’ and ‘cloud’ capabilities for industrial control systems. But the big questions remain: What does this mean for my own systems? What steps would I take to implement this new technology?

To answer those questions, we investigate the release of OnLogic’s latest generation of industrial control systems, the Factor 202, announced at Electronica 2022.


EETech's Director of Engineering and OnLogic's Factor 202

EETech’s own Director of Engineering, Dale Wilson, explores the Factor 202 with OnLogic’s Julian Kjaer on the floor at Electronica 2022 in Munich, Germany.


Industrial Gateway vs Industrial Controller

This announcement from OnLogic comes on the heels of a recent release of the IGN800, a gateway device that connects shop-floor machine data with the outside world, allowing an engineer to carefully choose what data is transferred to external networks.

Many gateway devices can also function with controller abilities, performing the logical instructions that can drive a small machine center. However, two distinct challenges remain that are addressed with the release of the Factor 202.

These challenges are the connection to local digital and analog I/O devices, and the ability to interface with the controller directly, without the need for an external PC connection.


Factor 202 Local I/O

When we say ‘local’ I/O, this is in contrast to 'distributed', or 'remote', I/O in which a network protocol such as Ethernet or Modbus allows a controller to communicate with a module in a remote location; this remote module actually sends the on/off instructions with the valves, buttons, and contactors that drive the machine. 

Certainly, this remote I/O strategy is useful in many circumstances. A truly capable machine controller, however, is likely to include these remote network protocols but also be equipped with connections of its own. With such terminals, a decent number of input and output devices can be monitored without the need of those extra remote devices. This saves cost, footprint, and power consumption.


Factor 2020 with 16x digital inputs and 16x digital outputs

The Factor 202 includes 16x digital inputs (split between two removable headers) and 16x digital outputs (also split between headers). Image used courtesy of OnLogic


The Factor 202 includes 16x digital input and 16x digital output terminals, each with a 12-24 volt range. The 4x digital input groups are configurable to be either sourcing or sinking, allowing connection with both NPN and PNP sensors. The digital outputs allow up to 0.5 amps each and are also configurable to be either sourcing or sinking in groups of four.

The analog inputs included on the Factor 202 are designed for many connection types, providing voltage inputs of range from 0 to 5 volts, all the way to -10 to 10 volts. For current inputs, the typical 0-20 and 4-20 mA, as well as 4-24 mA are all configurable. The module can accept up to 4x analog input channels or 2x temperature inputs.

With sufficient onboard I/O, this device resembles a typical machine control PLC, however, the functionality of the embedded operating system seems to provide additional capabilities. We asked Dave Block, Electrical Engineer from OnLogic, about the context of this device in a traditional basic machine control environment: "The capabilities of the Factor 202 lend themselves well to providing not only basic control, but on-site computation, which could offer benefits in terms of reducing the number of devices required to accomplish a wide range of automation tasks. The system's PoE-PD capabilities also provide for single-cable installation."


On-Board Human Machine Interface (HMI)

Most industrial controllers require the connection of a PC to monitor complex logic structures and I/O statuses. However, they do typically include a graphical user interface on the front of the module with basic network, fault, and status indications. Such capabilities can allow an operator to more quickly diagnose problems.

The Factor 202 includes a capacitive touchscreen—small but with interesting capabilities. It comes out of the box with the standard operating system and is availible with a variety of diagnostic information. The screen is configurable to create any application that might also be seen on the desktop of the embedded computer (allowing, of course, for the small size, so care must be taken to ensure the screen images are readable). This customization means that a variety of applications can be designed, from troubleshooting to actual control like a standard small HMI.


Factor 202 with 2.7 inch touch screen HMI

The front view of the Factor 202 shows the 2.7” display with touchscreen capability that can show diagnostics or run customizable apps for advanced control. Image used courtesy of OnLogic


Additional Capabilities of the Factor 202

Like its predecessor, the Factor 202 includes a variety of network interfaces and protocols for networked devices and to provide gateway functionality for cloud computing. With the standard embedded operating system, advanced analytics can be performed right at the shop-floor level, including AI, vision, and ML applications, depending on the needs of the project.

To further illustrate the advantages of such a device in a control system environment, we again turned to Dave Block on the engineering team, who provided key input.

It comes down to flexibility - of both the hardware and potential software architectures. Traditional industrial controllers are frequently designed for specific, often very basic control applications. We built the Factor 200 Series to do more. Ultimately, if there's a capability that a particular client needs, we can help make it happen.

On the software side, we work with partners like AWS, Red Hat and Inductive Automation to help connect the dots and build out full solutions to any number of technology challenges. The Factor 202 was built to be a platform that users can customize to their needs. The DIO and analog inputs are a great example of that flexibility, by allowing users to program the device to act as a controller, gateway or standalone edge computer. We also assist many of our customers with additional features like branding, packaging or labeling, as well as firmware and BIOS customization.

Every IoT and Edge project is different, and every user has a particular set of capabilities they need. We want to give them a platform that they can both easily develop on and effectively deploy in the field, and we think the Factor 200 Series does that.

All of this functionality is powered by the Raspberry Pi compute module, making it an ideal device for the entire project scope, from prototype development to implementation and final installation. Leveraging these smaller, more flexible options yields a place for even the smallest companies and individual developers to create solutions to some of the automation industry’s most complex challenges.