IEN EUROPE: Unitronics is a name that is gaining considerable industry recognition. How old is the company? What were the first products and how did it develop?
Benny Magrafta: I joined Unitronics the same year the company was founded, in 1989. Our original goal was to execute turn-key automation projects using PLCs manufactured in-house. Each project has its requirements – and its problems. We were a young, creative startup, and so we believed in the ‘think outside the box’ approach. This creativity is embedded in the company’s DNA. It is why Unitronics has developed groundbreaking, award-winning products in the realms of both hardware and software, and why we have a reputation as innovators in the field of industrial automation.
I am proud to be a part of Unitronics – today, our controllers are marketed via a global distribution network of over 160 distributors in over 50 countries. Our Logistics Solutions division serves well-known companies such as Teva pharmaceuticals, and our new, “green” sector: automated parking technology, served by Unitronics’ award-winning Parking Solutions division.
IEN EUROPE: Judging by appearance alone, Unitronics products do not seem to be typical PLCs. Your new UniStream 5” is a good example. What is the concept behind this?
Benny Magrafta: True – our controllers are not typical in appearance, and this is the story behind it: In those early years, an HMI was a few buttons and maybe a single-line text display. It was clear to us that the HMI was the window into the soul of the application, the absolutely best way to improve operational efficiency. And so we created what we called the “OPLC” (Operator Panel + Programmable Logic Controller).
Today, we call them All-in-One PLC + HMI controllers. As far as I know, Unitronics was the very first company to create and manufacture such programmable controllers. Our products are based on this concept, and so they do not ‘look’ like typical PLCs – the front contains the HMI panel, the rear the PLC, and our controllers generally offer either built-in or snap-on I/Os. Today, of course, the HMI is generally a color, resistive touch-screen.
Our new UniStream 5”, like most Unitronics controllers, is a single, convenient, integrated device that you install to serve as both operating panel and PLC – that means reduced wiring, and eliminates the hassle of programming to establish PLC-to-Panel communication.
IEN EUROPE: How does the UniStream 5” compare in terms of functionality?
Benny Magrafta: Don’t be fooled by the compact size! UniStream 5” is a member of our UniStream series – powerful PLCS, powerful HMIs, embedded with multi-processors and multi-O/S (LINUX & RTOS). They differ in HMI screen size, 15.6”, 10.4”, 7” and now 5” – but all offer a rich range of built-in functionality.
Let’s look, for example, at our set of advanced Data Tools. The Data Sampler records dynamic application data, say, tracking multiple temperature values, which UniStream regulates via embedded, auto-tuned PID. You can display the running values on the HMI screen using Trend – or Gauge – widgets. You can easily log those values into Data Tables, where you can organize and manipulate data via Ladder, or let the user do it via HMI. The PLC can export them to Excel, attach them to an email and send it – or export the values into Data Recipes, to control dynamic, complex production processes.
Did I say HMI? You can do the same via your web browser – UniStream includes an embedded Web Server. Or, use your favorite VNC app to view and operate the HMI program remotely. Or take Alarms, easily configurable, multi-level Alarm displays that are compliant with the ISA standard, ANSI/ISA-18.2-2009, or UAC – multi-level User Access Control – that prevents unauthorized access.
IEN EUROPE: Software is always an important factor. What would you tell a potential user, who is not familiar with your products, about the concepts guiding your software development?
Benny Magrafta: As the head of Software R&D, my guiding concept is Keep It Simple. Unitronics software is All-in-One, to match our controllers. You build your control program, design HMI screens, configure hardware and implement communications in one simple environment.
UniLogic, the software for UniStream, is designed to slash development time in half. Here are some features that make it a true time-saver:
Design and Re-Use Paradigm: You build Ladder and C functions, design HMI screens, create Web pages, and save them in a Library to reuse in other projects.
Tag Database + Structs: In addition to user-created tags, UniLogic automatically creates structs – data tags of different types organized into a single unit – to simplify configuring and managing hardware, communication, and complex functions such as PID.
Drag-and-drop Ladder: Elements snap into place for quick programming, aided by Intellisense; typing a few characters rapidly locates elements and assigns tags.
Drag-and-drop Graphics Library, User Controls, Widgets: Drag and drop elements to easily design attractive HMI screens and complex Web pages. Media widgets make it simple to display .pdf files or run videos on the HMI.
Multi-language support: it is simple to integrate translated languages, and the HMI display language can be switched in an instant – we support Asian languages such as Chinese.
Communication via configuration, not programming: for protocols such as MODBUS, CANopen, and EtherNet/IP, plus the Message Composer that enables communications with devices such as frequency converters, bar-code readers, and printers via Ethernet, CANbus or serial 3rd-party protocol.
IEN EUROPE: What industrial sectors do your products serve? How about special requirements, e.g. for robustness under environmental conditions?
Benny Magrafta: Our controllers target a broad range of sectors: water technologies, pumps, oil & gas, power and energy, packaging, F&B – they have even been integrated into Data Centers. Many of our products are certified for hazardous environment standards, CFR-21.11, and F&B spray-and-wipe industry standards.
IEN EUROPE: Industry 4.0 is an important issue, growing in importance every day. Which functionalities are built into your product range to support your customers in the age of 4.0?
Benny Magrafta: UniStream supports Industry 4.0 via its advanced communication features. Since the controller supports SQL Client, it can communicate via existing Ethernet infrastructure to interface with factory ERP/MRP servers. You can run tag, struct, array, and complete table queries.
You can also access your controller via VNC – or web browser – and control it from a remote location. Ethernet interfaces and TCP/IP support also provide access to the PLC for file transfers (FTP) and email support, so that the PLC can send messages directly to personnel. SNMP support enables you to integrate UniStream into the IT infrastructure, and manage it as an IT asset.
We have more features under development – this is a major focus of activity!
IEN EUROPE: The issue of Customer Support plays an important role in selecting new products. What is your philosophy in this field?
Benny Magrafta: Our R&D team works hand-in-hand with our support team to implement Unitronics policy of customer care. We provide personalized support, delivered by actual people – our customers never go through a maze of automated answers. Call us by phone, send us an email, or post a question in our lively Tech Support forum – your questions are answered by a member of the Unitronics team.
IEN EUROPE: Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?
Benny Magrafta: I cannot stress this enough: selecting the manufacturer that stands behind a brand of controllers is a major decision. It is every bit as important as your CPU and I/O requirements. Your selected brand must have a complete, full product range that can meet the requirements of your customers, and meet the standards applicable to their sector. Check that the manufacturer provides a high level of customer care, that support, whether technical or sales, is easily available and prompt.
When you purchase a PLC, remember that you are also selecting the company that stands behind that PLC – and that this decision, over the long run, can have a major impact on your success in industrial automation projects.