April 2016
Interview

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Babel Buster Network Gateways: Big Features. Small Price.
Control Solutions, Inc. - Minnesota

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Matthew ScheffelEMAIL INTERVIEWMatthew Scheffel and Ken Sinclair

Matthew Scheffel, Controls Course

Matt is a programming and microelectronics hobbyist with five years of field experience in commercial automation. He is passionate about systems networking and security and focuses on those aspects of automation.



Controls Course

A resource for technicians wanting to deepen their understanding of how automation equipment communicates and how to fix it when it doesn't.


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SinclairWhat's Controls Course?

Scheffel:  It's a resource for technicians wanting to deepen their understanding of how automation equipment communicates and how to fix it when it doesn't. My main focus is with protocols, networking, and bus topology. There's a lot of information available out there for this niche, but it's usually aimed at electrical engineers building new controllers and is unhelpfully general. I'd like to make that kind of understanding available to those in the field and provide them with tools for working more effectively in real-world situations.

SinclairIs your content free?

Scheffel:  Almost all of my content is and will continue to be free. I will be publishing a few handbooks and guides on best practices but these will be collections and expansions of existing content I have already published for free. I'll also be producing some software tools, some free and others for purchase depending on how much work it takes to make them and the value they provide.

SinclairIs there enough content to cover in the general field of communication for automation equipment?

Scheffel:  Absolutely! A technician these days can be expected to understand OPC, Modbus (TCP and serial based), BACnet (UDP and serial based),  Lonworks (TCP/UDP and FT10/XF1250), the pet propriety protocol of the company they work for, and all of the intricacies of TCP/IP networking in a virtual corporate environment run with an iron first by an IT department. Not to mention the recent addition of devices that communicate via Wireless USB, Zigbee, and other wireless protocols.

SinclairWhat's next for communication in automation?

Scheffel:  The Internet of Things has slowly been expanding its scope across the globe and I fear that the companies producing the equipment are primarily concerned with rushing to market and are less concerned with hardening their devices against motivated attacks. Security for the Internet of Things will either become important by necessity after events force us to take it seriously or because we learn from the past and proactively protect against intrusion.

Reliable Controls SinclairWhat's next for Controls Course?

Scheffel:  I'm going to leverage my experience as a programmer to make better tools for common tasks that automation front-ends don't provide for. We're using open protocols these days, there's no reason we can't have tools that take advantage of that. For example most BACnet clients on the market today are primitive and offer little beyond basic discovery and command; I would like more powerful tools and I don't think I am alone. I'd like to export all of the manual overrides in a building and then selectively deploy them back later, for example. It would also be nice to be able to mass-command points across a system when similar equipment is involved.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

If you have any questions, comments, or otherwise, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Regards,

Matt



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