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Giving old equipment a face lift

Giving old equipment a face liftGiving old equipment a face lift
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There are many examples of industrial equipment that were designed may be 20 or 30 years ago that work perfectly well and do the job they were intended for efficiently but on which the user interface is very dated.

In today’s world of smartphones and tablets most people expect a certain ‘look and feel’ when it comes to user interfaces and the old-fashioned buttons and 2 line LCD display just doesn’t really cut it.

This was exactly the situation for one of our customers recently, they had a world leading industrial product but the controller used to set it up and maintain it was very antiquated to say the least.

What they wanted was to bring that user interface right up to date and use a smartphone/tablet to manage all the settings and maintenance functions but as the old controller used a RS485 serial connection between controller and main unit this didn’t seem very feasible.

The customer originally thought about adding a WiFi connection to the main unit but having to associate the unit with WiFi networks on different sites was not feasible.

Having seen the units in action here at NFS we realised that by adding a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) capability to the main unit it opened up the possibility of creating a mobile app to do all the setup and maintenance functions through a modern user interface. This could give the whole solution a new lease of life.

Here at NFS we designed an interface PCB with Bluetooth capabilities that connected into the original RS485 connection in a very simple way that could either be built into new products or potentially retro-fitted into existing installations. We created Bluetooth firmware to provide a dedicated BLE service so that we could fully use the capabilities of BLE to provide the best possible user experience rather than simply using a Serial Port Profile (SPP) ‘virtual cable’ which would have meant having some limitations and hence not the best performance.

By working with app development partners NFS were able to offer an upgrade to this solution which brought it out of the 90’s and into the 21st century and thereby extending the life of the solution.

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