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Monday, September 22, 2014

Digital Signage for the Automotive Industry

Compunet Automation creates a solution for the automotive industry with an innovative mix of open source technology, Raspberry Pi, 3D printing and InduSoft Web Studio.

  • Compunet Automation created a digital signage solution for the automotive industry in South Africa using Raspberry Pi computers, 3D printing, and InduSoft Web Studio.

  • The Raspberry Pi computers are configured in a Kiosk mode which allows the unit to automatically log in and open the HTML 5 compatible web browser. The browser is pointed to the server, which runs InduSoft Web Studio.

  • Adding new displays is very simple, thanks to Studio Mobile Access. Compunet Automation only has to design a new screen in Indusoft, publish the screen as HTML, and configure the Raspberry PI to point to the new screen.

Figure 1: Compunet Automation can quickly display process information on large format screens using Raspberry Pi computers connected to a web browser that accesses the InduSoft Web Studio application on a browser.



Real-time information has long helped industries manage the increasingly large amounts of data they depend upon for agile decision-making. Large format displays have proven an excellent tool for making data prominent and actionable. They are ubiquitous in modern society, and can be seen in airports, train stations, shopping centers and production. 

Previously, these displays were very limited in the way that the information could be displayed. The first commercially available production displays were LED segment display units. The LED displays were soon replaced with one color, then multi-colored LEDs. These allowed for a very minimalistic display of characters, and visualization of equipment or images was highly impractical. Communication to the LED displays was mostly done via serial RS232 or RS485 protocols, and made for rather slow update rates compared to Ethernet based communications.  

In recent years the traditional LED boards have been replaced by large format displays in many applications. These large format displays offer image quality most would associate with commercial televisions, often in excess of sixty inches. This has enabled rich media content to be streamed to the display boards. Now video and the use of color graphics have further enhanced the information that is capable of being displayed on large format digital display boards. 

Most of the large format screens currently run custom applications written in various programming languages to display the data to the end user. In the industrial automation field this often requires the use of custom drivers or OPC servers on every PC that drives a display. The cost involved in installing a PC and OPC server with a custom application on each and every display client quickly adds up to a cost prohibitive amount for many applications.

Compunet Automation is an InduSoft Certified System Integrator based in South Africa. The automotive industry is one of the largest in the country, and South Africa serves as a hub for manufacturing components and assembled vehicles for local and international markets. The automotive sector accounts for about 10% of South Africa's manufacturing exports, and is projected to grow to production of 1.2 million units by 2020. This growth means increased demand for skilled system integrators like Compunet Automation that are capable of designing cutting-edge systems that will further increase the efficiency and production capabilities of South Africa's auto manufacturers. 

Figure 2: The Raspberry Pi computer is housed in a special casing designed with 3D printing technology.

The Challenge

Compunet Automation’s clients in the automotive industry tasked them with developing a cost effective way of displaying real-time data on large screen displays. The system needed to collect data from various PLC systems and display build performance, data, and cycle times to the production managers and operators in real time, using intuitive dashboards that would be easy to read at a glance. 

Compunet Automation investigated writing a custom REST / AJAX application because of their familiarity in using it for other projects, but soon realized that the time to develop and deploy such a system would very quickly push the project behind schedule and add unnecessary development costs from the outset. 

Because Compunet Automation is a Certified Indusoft System Integrator, they knew that the release of InduSoft  Web Studio Service Pack Three offered the ability to develop an application quickly and deploy it on any device. Because no additional time would be required for integration of the low level drivers and server applications, developing the solution using InduSoft Web Studio would save large amounts of time and keep the project within the budget. 

To display production data, Compunet Automation decided to use Raspberry Pi computers connected to large displays. This choice had its own challenges as Raspberry Pi computers run a Linux based operating system and canít currently natively communicate directly to Indusoft. However, as this capability will be available in the future, Raspberry Pi still provided an attractive solution for this application.

The single board Raspberry's didn't have any industrial type enclosures to plug in an IEC power cord, Ethernet cable and HDMI cable for the screen. Compunet Automation didn't want to expose the USB, sound and RCA connectors, and needed an internal 220VAC - 5VDC supply to power the system.  

A solution to this problem came in the form of an enclosure to fit the criteria, printed in the office on a 3D printer. The initial enclosures were all 3D printed, and Compunet Automation is in the process of designing a mold to have these enclosures injection molded.


Figure 3: The application measures equipment efficiency and displays key information on a large screen.

The Solution

The Raspberry Pi computers are configured in a Kiosk mode which allows the unit to automatically log in and open the HTML 5 compatible web browser. The browser is pointed to the server where InduSoft Web Studio is installed, which runs an IIS web server. 

Compunet Automation’s clients required that some displays be installed in landscape and others in portrait view. This was accomplished easily by changing the display orientation on the Raspberry Pi and setting the individual screens in InduSoft Web Studio to reflect the same orientation. 

Another challenge Compunet Automation faced with the remote displays was giving the end user the capability to remotely reboot the displays, as they are often mounted at a height where accessing the screens requires the use of personal lifting equipment. Compunet Automation used InduSoft Web Studio’s capability to execute command line scripts, and opened a SSH (secure channel) to the individual screen to enable operators to remotely reboot the screens in the event that configuration changes were needed or the screen became unresponsive. 

The complete system incorporates the data from the PLC network layer. Data is collected by InduSoft Web Studio via an OPC server. Screen data is then updated to the IIS server installed on the same hardware as the OPC server. All the remote Raspberry Pi computers connect via Studio Mobile Access to display the data on the displays in the factory.



The Results

The system is completely Ethernet based, which means that there are no slow, costly serial displays. The hardware Compunet Automation uses is also readily available off the shelf. A large supply of affordable displays enables a very cost effective system overall, and using the Raspberry PI is very efficient compared to a serial display, or a display using a PC. Adding new displays is also a simple process. Thanks to the ease of configuring Studio Mobile Access, Compunet Automation only has to design a new screen in Indusoft, publish the screen as HTML, and configure the Raspberry PI to point to the new screen. 

Compunet Automation is currently investigating a system where the end user can take a new Raspberry PI and configure the new unit remotely using InduSoft Web Studio to add new displays to the system.

Figure 4: Strategic use of color and limited information makes the dashboards easy to read at a glance.

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