WEB INTERFACE TO A PROGRAMMABLE
Applicants' invention relates generally to the field of programmable controllers and more particularly to a system for coupling a network of programmable controllers through an internetwork to a monitoring and control device.
RELATED APPLICATIONS 10
This application is related to the following, commonly assigned application filed concurrently herewith, entitled "Apparatus for Controlling Internetwork Communications" (Application Ser. No. 08/926,837). The contents of these 15 Applications are expressly incorporated herein by reference.
Remote monitoring and control of systems and processes have taken many forms. In the past, dedicated lines became 20 the most common form of communication between a control system and a remote location. This has limited application since the control system was not accessible from multiple locations. Modems have made it possible to access the control system from different locations, but these types of systems are generally restricted to downloading and uploading data files. Providing any type of control function between locations is rather limited in this type of environment. Further, an end user generally required a customized interface to access the control system.
With the growth of Internet, and its World Wide Web providing a delivery platform for organizing Internet data through hypertext links, a client server system can be designed that will give each end user the same type of a user 35 friendly interface with the same universal access to services on the Web. The Web is a network of documents called sites or pages stored on server computers throughout the world. Each page will usually contain text, some type of multimedia offerings such as graphic images, video, or audio, and 4Q possible hypertext links to other documents. A browser allows a user to read the pages and interact with the choices associated with it. The browser is a graphical software program that sends commands to the Internet Web site and displays whatever information is available on the page. 45 Various browser programs are commercially available from different manufacturers.
The Internet network employs methods designed to handle thousands of general purpose computers sharing a single cable, and therefore has no ability to differentiate 50 traffic in terms of its purpose or the criticality of its data. The Internet is no longer a network of computers sharing a single cable, but rather a web of interconnected point to point links involving both general purpose stations and specialized infrastructure components such as routers and firewalls. 55
The type of personal computer or work station used by the end user to connect to the Web is of no regard. Communication over the Internet and other networks requires one of several types of protocols. Protocols such as Internet Protocol (IP) provide for file transfers, electronic mail, and 60 other services. ASun Microsystem's programming language known as Java, along with Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) used in designing layouts and graphics for a Web site or page has extended Internet technology such that a Web site can be used for dynamic applications, commonly 65 called applets, that can be downloaded and run by the end user. These applets are interpreted and run within a Web
browser and have been generally restricted to word processing and similar uses. Downloading and running applets can be slow in comparison to other types of complied languages. Security rules imposed on a browser and enforced by the underlying JAVA language prevent applets from obtaining certain data from any other device other than the Web server itself.
Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) are widely used in industry and process control. Many manufacturers provide factory automation information using Microsoft Windows and other types of communication networking environments. These networks are usually slow, are not universally accessible and are limited to monitoring and data exchange. Control may be implemented, but since the communication networks are non-deterministic, control is not real time. Specialized industrial networks using proprietary fieldbus alternatives can be very expensive. Conversion products are required to allow information carried over those networks to be visible on a general purpose network. There are significant installation and other deployment costs associated with the existence of such intermediate devices. Firewalls between the Web server and the application are designed to solve problems of security and are not designed for high performance.
It would be desirable to develop an automation control system whereby an user could use general, commercial networks such as the Internet in place of specialized industrial networks to remotely monitor automation control devices such as PLCs.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Accordingly, the principal object of the present invention is to provide an interface between an industrial control system and a Web browser coupled to a connectionless network such as Internet.
Another object of the present invention is to provide remote access through a Web browser to information and data contained in an industrial control system having a Programmable Logic Controller.
In the preferred embodiment of the invention, the invention allows for easy access over a commercial network such as Internet to information within a programmable logic controller (PLC). Access can be made locally or worldwide using a commercial Web browser. The invention is comprised of a control system of essential elements including, but not limited to a Web interface, a local network, and a network interface to at least one PLC control system running an application program for controlling output devices in response to status of input devices. The Web interface runs Web pages from an Ethernet board coupled directly to the PLC back plane and includes an HTTP protocol interpreter, a PLC back plane driver, a TCP/IP stack, and an Ethernet board kernel. The Web interface provides access to the PLC back plane by a user at a remote location through the Internet. The interface translates the industry standard Ethernet, TCP/IP and HTTP protocols used on the Internet into data recognizable to the PLC. Using this interface, the user can retrieve all pertinent data regarding the operation of the PLC, including PLC configuration, I/O and register status, operating statistics, diagnostics, and distributed I/O configurations. Updates to operating software can also be downloaded through the Internet access.
Other features and advantages of the invention, which are believed to be novel and nonobvious, will be apparent from the following specification taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings in which there is shown a preferred