US Army Corps of Engineers – Hydroelectric Design Center

SoftPLC selected as Unit Controller Standard for large Hydro-Electric Power Plants

The USACE-HDC conducted extensive product reviews followed by a lengthy product testing process. All major proprietary hardware PLC’s and open architecture PC based control products were reviewed and tested. Due to the mission critical nature of the application, the process also included stress testing to determine the robustness and reliability of each product.

SoftPLC was ultimately selected over all other alternatives because it offered a flexible, open architecture system for applications today and into the future. Additionally, SoftPLC was also most suited for the mission critical nature of turbine generator control, proven by the testing to be an extremely reliable product.

The turbine generator control project has proven extremely successful, with the first turbine generator units under SoftPLC control since 1999. This success led to hundreds of other applications for SoftPLC into the hydro plants such as turbine blade control, fish way and screen automation, powerhouse mux control, orifice gate control, annunciators and others.

This application success story is from SoftPLC
Tri-Phase Automation is a SoftPLC distributor in Wisconsin.
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Sugar Ethanol Plant Controls

Dracena Obra, an ethanol producer in Brazil, selected Mitre Engenharia Ltd. to implement the automation for their entire plant. Since 1998, Mitre has provided open architecture control systems using SoftPLC® Programmable Automation Controllers (PAC), Profibus I/O, and Mitre’s SCADA software called PlantJar.  SoftPLC was chosen as the controller for a number of reasons. SoftPLC is an open architecture PAC that provides capacity, processing power, and flexibility unmatched in other systems – at a much lower price. SoftPLC provides virtually unlimited user application memory, versatile PID control and floating point calculations. Extremely fast update times allow fast response I/O to be handled even with significant calculations being performed.

This application success story is from SoftPLC
Tri-Phase Automation is a SoftPLC distributor in Wisconsin.
Contact Tri-Phase Sales or Get A Quote

The Power in the Wind

Identification of permanent sensor bolts. An application success story from Cognex

Larger and larger wind power turbines are bringing the forces of nature under control. The main structures, the powerful tower and rotors, are supported by parts that play a less obvious, but no less important role: bolts. As simple as it may look, precision tightening of bolts is an art form of its own. Intellifast GmbH is now ensuring perfect support in any weather using ultrasound permanent sensors and Data Matrix codes and reading the codes with the DataMan® 100 from Cognex.

The Challenge
At first glance, all bolts look the same. But, when measured by ultrasound, each bolt reveals its individual inner life and a characteristic surface. It may only be in the µ range, but no two bolts are exactly the same in shape or length. Scattered friction values in the thread and under the head make it a real challenge to tighten bolts with precision. As a result, tightening factors of 1.8 to 2.0 (twice the maximum force actually required for pretension) are generally used for torque-controlled assembly for safety precautions.

Application Solution
Pre-tension instead of torque Bolts can be tightened much more precisely if the target variable pre-tension is used as a reference variable instead of torque. Compared to the “force times lever arm“ of torque, which only takes into account the force required to adequately pre-tension a bolt regardless of friction values. Ultrasound measures the pre-tension of the bolt as it is being tightened. People have been working with ultrasound technology for decades to enable this real target variable to be applied accurately, however, there has always remained a potential source of measured value errors with this method: the transmission medium. Intellifast GmbH from Speyer developed permanent sensors for bolts to eliminate this type of error. Bolted to a specification To be absolutely certain that the bolts have the optimum dimensions, Intellifast GmbH relies on the “digifast®” track-and-trace solution. This process uses lasers to apply an individual Data Matrix code to bolt heads or ends to indicate their ultrasound measurement. At the assembly location, the DataMan® 100 ID reader from Cognex® recognizes the individual bolt by reading the Data Matrix code. In the next step, the bolt’s data is passed to the Intellifast LP 3000B measuring device that assigns the hydraulic tool with the exact pre-tension required for assembly. The process is fully automatic. The simple control and rapid check by the permanent sensor system optimizes the bolting process. Once in the bolted state, the Intellifast LP 3000B measuring system can also measure the bolt to make sure the pre-tension is correct as a doublecheck.

Connecting elements can thus be bolted together at the exact assembly pre-tension required with an accuracy of +/- 3%. The result: lighter-weight, smaller, and cheaper bolts and connecting elements, such as flanges, can be used. Incorporating DataMan 100 within digifast gave the manufacturer the smallest and highest-performing industrial ID reading device in the world.

Tri-Phase Automation is a Cognex distributor in Wisconsin. We offer evaluations and technical support to help our customers solve their applications.

Wind Energy Control System

advantechwind2Distributed Energy Resource (DER) systems are small-scale power generation technologies (typically in the range of 3 kW to 10,000 kW) used to provide an alternative to or an enhancement of traditional electric power systems. Wind energy is one of the major power sources for DER, especially for standalone power generators within a smart grid system. One of Taiwan’s leading smart grid projects is working to integrate wind energy systems to develop a complete system with an excellent cost/performance ratio. They turned to Advantech for a solution which could deliver pitch control, hydraulic system monitoring and wind turbine control.

APAX-5521KW combined with APAX I/O modules were integrated into the wind control system to provide optimum control. As a powerful PAC controller with embedded KW SoftLogic, APAX-5521KW is the best platform to provide real-time deterministic execution of complicated pitch control application. Furthermore, it takes advantage of one CANopen interface and one LAN port to offer communication ability with other devices. The APAX-5080PEC high-speedcounter module provides accurately encoded A/B/Z signals from wind yaw and rotor blades. Through APAX-5060, 12 channel relay output can be connected to the hydraulic system to control the yaw and rotor blades.

Tri-Phase Automation is a distributor of Advantech in Wisconsin.

Red Lion Wind Energy

An application brief from Red Lion

A leading Power Company with 10,000 employees and annual revenues $15 billion that supplies over 40,000 megawatts of energy to millions of users across the USA and Canada.

Project Scope
With over 7,500 megawatts of renewable energy being generated from 9,000 wind turbines located at 75 sites across North America, the Power Company needed a more optimal networking communication solution to improve wind farm operations and avoid costly downtime. Its current SCADA system was utilizing a serial multi-drop string network that not only had data limitations, but was also experiencing reliability issues during temperature fluctuations.

The Power Company’s mission was to update its wind farm communication system, which included fiber optics, serial servers and Ethernet switch. After evaluating a number of different options, Red Lions’ Sixnet SLX series of industrial Ethernet switch was selected for its rugged reliability.  The project was completed in two phases with new hardware being installed followed by the transition for old equipment to the new communication system.  Deployed at the cored of the wind turbine-to -SCADA communication system, the Red Lion’s Sixnet Ethernet switches manage and process control signaling, condition-based monitoring and data collections. The industrial switches also allow IP-enable devices to be used throughout the turbine with fiber optic network providing noise suppression.

Located in environments subject to extreme temperatures, humidity, vibration, dust and electromagnetic interference from rotating generators and radio transmitters, wind turbines require industrial-grade equipment. Sixnet switches – tested to comply with the most demanding industrial standards – provide the rugged reliability and high performance vital to meeting wind farm conditions. Designed for fault tolerance, the switches use dual-independent power supplies and are fully compatible with fiber optic ring network topologies. Built-in redundancy ensures wind farm data automatically gets rerouted should equipment fail.  In fact, switch performance under electrical transient fault conditions makes it one of the most reliable elements in the wind turbines. Compatible with both multimode and single-mode fiber, the switches offer plug-and play simplicity when interfacing between the ring network and a SCADA system. The use of ring technology also enables turbine maintenance to be performed without communication loss. Additionally, new turbines can be seamlessly networked without downtime. This scalability coupled with ease of use enables the Power Company to benefit from real-time deterministic performance and around-the-clock security without downtime. This scalability coupled with ease of use enables the Power Company to benefit from real-time deterministic performance and around-the-clock security.

Tri-Phase Automation is a distributor of Red Lion products in Wisconsin.

Windwatcher uses eWON products to increase performance of Artic wind turbines from Colorado office

Tri-Phase Automation is a distributor of eWon/HMS in Wisconsin and northern Illinois.  Contact Tri-Phase Sales or Get A Quote

Welcewon-windwatcher-appome to Tuntutuliak, Alaska. In this rugged land of subzero chills and eternal winter darkness, the residents of Tuntutuliak place a high value on their electrical service. And, here in lies a success story from eWon worth telling.

Remote power systems

Nearly 4,000 miles away, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, sits the home of Windwatcher Systems, a manufacturer of wind turbine controls. Tom Ellis, Windwatcher Systems President, has created a solution for turbine controls located in remote power systems. According to Ellis, “These remote villages have traditionally used diesel generators to produce their power. And, with the combination of the rising price of diesel and high transportation costs, this power runs about $0.65 per kWh. The cost to the village is more than just high, it’s astronomical.”

Monitoring and remote control system

Tom’s organization produces a control system that not only matches the output of the wind turbine with the diesel generator, it controls factors not found in your typical wind farm application. “In the artic, the temperatures can drop to 30 and even 40 below zero. At those extremes in temperature, air is much denser than in normal situations. Because of this phenomenon turbines can over produce. With this factor in mind, the Windwatcher control system was designed to be scaled for these conditions.”, again per Mr. Ellis. Here’s the crux of the story. Windwatcher Systems must have the ability to remotely monitor their systems in the field.

Reliable remote system to monitor

After searching the market for a reliable remote system to monitor and tweak their control systems, Windwatcher discovered the eWON device. Here are their words, “We looked into a number of systems for monitoring but we knew that we had come on something much different as we made some final tests. Our system was being assembled in a panel shop about 100 miles away and we decided to run a test rather than make the drive. We asked the shop to turn on power and we made the connection. The rest fell into place like magic.”

Remote programming, trouble shooting and monitoring

The eWON system allows for remote programming, trouble shooting and monitoring like nothing else on the market. “The eWON system just takes the stress out of shipping our systems to the far corners of the globe. For example, just last week we were able to update and test seven systems in a single day; all from the comfort of our office. Nothing else on the market allows that kind of flexibility.”

Data collection

eWON also allows collection of data to be resident on their devise. This allows for monitoring even when the device is not online do to network outages. And, because the eWON system operates using Ethernet, other non-control devices can easily piggyback onto the architecture. Just imagine the power of not only control system monitoring but also connection to video streams for a quick “visual inspection” of the environment.

The importance of the eWON system came through loud and clear when Windwatcher President Tom Ellis made one final statement.

“Without the eWON device our whole business model comes to a screeching halt. We couldn’t do what we do without the remote monitoring provided by eWON. The eWON products open up a new paradigm where distance, travel, and lack of expertise in the remote villages is no longer a deal breaker. We can improve the quality of life for the residents of remote villages and deliver world class service anywhere on the planet. Simply put, the numbers just don’t add up without eWON.”


  • 4000 miles away Colorado/Alaska
  • Perform turbine startup from office
  • New service made possible with eWON remote access
  • Quick “visual inspection” of the environment using video streams
  • Deliver world class service anywhere on the planet

eWON router monitors wind turbines on Bali and Sint Helena

ewon-router-wind-turbine-baliA solution story from eWon.

Wind Energy Solutions (WES) is based in Holland. Wind turbines built by this company stand today on islands in Indonesia, in the far reaches of Canada, and on Caribbean islands. Thanks to eWON routers and Internet links, WES remains in constant contact with its wind turbines so it can provide immediate help in case of problems.

Frank Hoogers, managing director of WES: “Our wind turbines are located at distant sites. Of course, we always use local installation companies, but we also have to support these companies.

Especially right after a wind turbine has been installed; we maintain frequent contact with the control system in the turbine from our site in Opmeer. We equip 90% of our wind turbines with an eWON router, which is connected directly to the turbine control system. In the outward direction, the router makes contact via a fixed cable connection or via GSM with GPRS.”

Event and data analysis

The WES company primarily retrieves the history of alarms and events from the system.

“We can log all sorts of data about the operation of the wind turbine and then upload it. We can also display this data in graphic form and use this to analyse a logged series of events.

This information is very important as an aid to support the local user. If the wind turbine has just been put into service, we can use the analyses to carry out remote fine tuning. Sometimes you have to readjust the settings, and we can do this ourselves from here over a very wide range. We can also update the software in the IPC and the inverters of the wind turbine from here.

The local installer can also upload data directly using the eWON router, and so can the end user (the electricity company). However, every access is protected by a password, and we distinguish different types of users, so they don’t all have the same privileges.”

eWON perfect compatibility

The eWON 2101 router used by WES is an industrial modem router and a member of a large family of routers. An important feature of this router is that it has several modems, which enables it to support conventional dialup connections such as PSTN, ISDN, GSM, GPRS, EDGE, and 3G/UMTS. Connections of this sort are initiated by an administrator or an employee of the maintenance department. However, the modem can also independently take the initiative to send a message via GPRS.

The router also has various ports for local Ethernet, local serial or MPI/Profibus networks and Modbus RTU. This wide variety of options is important. There aren’t many competitive industrial routers that can handle the combination of Ethernet and a serial, Modbus RTU or Profibus network. With its ability to let users access « old » and « new » controllers at the same time, the router is also a choice in situations where different types of control interfaces are used, which occurs in a lot of companies.

Another advantage is that the customer is directly prepared for the future. A customer who has an existing Profibus controller and switches to Ethernet or Profinet can continue to use the same modem. An attractive supplementary advantage of the eWON router is that it can communicate with all major brands of PLCs and IPCs.

“Actually, this is all possible thanks to the advent of the Internet. That also applies to the success of our company. Ten years ago, none of this would have been possible. Without the Internet, I would never have sold so many wind turbines, and without the Internet I wouldn’t be able to support them.”

Tri-Phase Automation is a eWon/HMS distributor in Wisconsin.

Contact Tri-Phase Sales or Get A Quote

Solar Panel Production: Mondragon found the right solution with In-Sight vision

cognex-mondragonMondragon Assembly in Spain designs and manufactures systems and equipment for automation and robotic guided assembly processes in the solar sector. They needed a reliable solution for their solar cell manufacturing equipment in order to ensure the quality inspection of solar cell panels while in production. A powerful vision solution was required that could handle high-speed production while performing different inspection tasks all the while ensuring that the delicate product remained intact. In-Sight® vision systems from Cognex are now performing the inspection tasks ensuring zero fault production.

Tackling the alignment issue

Solar cell production is expensive and involves a high level of automation in large volumes. Therefore, quality is critical to maintain a competitive advantage and solar cell alignment has been a great challenge. In addition to centering the solar cell properly, the system performs defect checks, such as inspecting for broken edges or cracks, verifying dimensions, positioning in relation to the edges, etc.

Machinery for assembling and handling solar cells and panels requires high precision inspection and positioning systems. Mondragon Assembly inspection applications increasingly require stability, robustness and greater flexibility in their machines. Cognex In-Sight vision systems offer flexible programming capacity for machine operation. This flexibility, coupled with robust In-Sight hardware, afforded Mondragon the necessary stability they sought. The first systems were developed and integrated with the support of local Cognex partner integrator Ikusmen Artificial Visión, S.L..

Vision systems bring flexibility in the guiding and handling of solar cells and panels with high precision. Vision systems consistently detect extremely small defects in damaged or badly soldered cells for nearly 100% quality control.

In-Sight brings ease of use

In-Sight offered advantages such as ease of connection and configuration as well as the programming power of the “spreadsheet”. Vision also controls the positioning of the cell and with adequate calibration, indicates its position by a robotic arm. Furthermore, Cognex innovation ensures that regular improvements, software updates and the latest vision tools are available for In-Sight systems. The powerful, patented PatMax® tool is the innovative industry standard part location algorithm from Cognex that provides accurate and reliable location of parts significantly reducing or eliminating fixturing requirements and costs. With such innovation, Mondragon can be assured that the solar cells being produced in their machines are 100% quality inspected.

The best vision system for the task

“We were able to find the solution to the problem,” confirmed Jean Philippe Aguerre, Project Leader for Robotics at Mondragon. “The Cognex In-Sight system’s technical capacities such as the Ethernet port, real-time remote operation, fast processing, and In-Sight Explorer software were fundamental to solving the problems we were confronted with. The software is easy to use and has an optimum adjustment range. At the end of the day, the price was not what mattered most, but rather the quality and expert support.”

Motivated by their success with the Cognex In-Sight, the engineers at Mondragon continue to place their trust in the quality of Cognex products for other production lines.

Tri-Phase Automation is a Cognex distributor in Wisconsin. We offer machine vision evaluations and technical support to help our customers solve their applications.

Simplicity is not sacrificed in demanding a vision system for high quality production

S2bgtrengthened by their initial experience in the automotive sector, 2BG needed to explore new opportunities to develop their business activities. Taking into account their automotive experience and considering market trends for the development of new sources of clean energy, 2BG decided to start producing machines for the manufacture of solar cells.

The first tabbing machines for the production of solar cell panels used a mechanical alignment and centralizing system was difficult to calibrate. In addition, the direct mechanical contact of this process risked damaging the cells themselves. Therefore, the solar panels could potentially have tiny surface defects at the end of the production and were not well aligned.

The research and development team at 2BG decided to investigate innovative technological systems that could improve their already high standards of quality control and eliminate all potential defects during production.

2BG decided to test  Cognex In-Sight vision systems. The application was rapidly planned and installed by the 2BG team on a first prototype and the final result was excellent.

The In-Sight family of vision systems is indispensable for 2BG because it guarantees such high quality production. For 2BG, it’s impossible to imagine their machines without Cognex systems; “Cognex total reliability, the most innovative technology and top order service allows us to satisfy our own high quality standards every time, as well as being able to efficiently plan our business. Another advantage is the fact that In-Sight operates in a simple and efficient manner.”

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Simplicity is not sacrificed in demanding a vision system for high quality production

Cognex In-Sight 5100 shortening cycle times, ensuring quality

An application Solution featuring Cognex In-Sight


Manufacturers of photovoltaic (PV) modules are increasingly turning to automation as a competitive factor. Perfectly soldered joints contribute to the efficiency of PV modules. Consistently high product quality and shorter cycle times lead to a permanent reduction in costs. As in other industrial sectors, image processing is becoming an important function for more and more companies. In a fully automated soldering system from Mondragon Assembly of Stockach, Germany, the intelligent vision system Cognex In-Sight® 5100 optimizes the process of soldering the cross-links between photovoltaic modules. Important factors in creating a perfect soldered joint are the largest possible contact area, the high strength of the compound and a small contact resistance. Together, these three criteria largely determine the conductivity and current flow, thus ensuring a high degree of efficiency in the completed solar module.

Parallel workflow saves time

Before the In-Sight 5100 can set the precise positioning of the soldered joints, the cross-links made of galvanized copper are inserted into the system as approximately 5 mm wide strips. A stretching station prevents the formation of wave-shaped and crescent-shaped deformations. Using a pneumatic string cutter, they are cut down to match the typical product specifications. A vacuum pad gripper then successively places the cross-link strips individually on a clipboard, until they form the completed connection diagram of the circuits. Then the cross-links as a whole are in turn transferred by means of pneumatic grippers to the photovoltaic module. This approach offers the advantage of parallel soldering and positioning and thus saves even more time.

Soldered jointly reliably detected

The entire process takes place simultaneously on the front and back of the module. On each side, two induction soldering heads equipped with the In-Sight 5100 intelligent vision system move over the work areas. Supported by red dome lighting, they recognize the predefined soldered joints. Simultaneously, the vision systems inspect the individual target positions which are stored in type-specific recipes. The actual and target positions are compared and the deviation is transmitted to the control. If the tolerance limits have been complied with, the flux material is sprayed on and soldered, whereas rejected sites are reworked manually. The quality inspection of the soldered joints themselves is performed by the automated soldering machine.

Vision system accelerates production

The In-Sight vision system creates significant time saving compared to manual production. Mondragon Assembly achieved cycle times of only 80 seconds for cells with three busbars and modules with six strings. In addition to the rapid functioning as a standalone system, the easy handling of the compact In-Sight 5100 image processing system speeds up the use of the equipment. Even without detailed knowledge in the field of image processing or programming, it can be configured easily and quickly for pending tasks in production. Using its spreadsheet interface, the implementation of simpler applications can be done especially quickly. Complex applications are solved by powerful vision tools. A wide range of development, management and monitoring tools is offered by the graphical development platform In-Sight Explorer. Based on the familiar Windows® environment, it provides for shorter development cycles for vision applications, increased functional reliability and high system flexibility.

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Cognex In-Sight 5100 shortening cycle times, ensuring quality