November 3, 2011
A ProFicient Hidden Jewel: Serial to File Utility
If you have been using ProFicient’s COM port integration with Gage Server then you are probably like most users who have locally-connected devices from which data is read into your Data Entry Configurations in real-time.
The following is a common scenario: You are running a job-shop and parts are being inspected by wireless calipers. The operator clicks the toolbar icon to begin data collection. From the data entry window, measurement values are sent to the screen via the send button on the device. What if your device takes time to produce a result?
Here’s another scenario: You are running ProFicient in a lab environment. The lab performs a number of tests on in-process products – say pH, temperature, and percent solids. The pH and temperature readings are instantaneous and gage information can be passed in real-time during data entry. However, the solids analyzer takes about 10 minutes.
As with all data collection scenarios, ProFicient gives you a number of options. You could bunch all tests into the same data entry configuration. When the technician goes to enter data he will be prompted to enter descriptor information and then each test one at a time – pH, temperature and then percent solids. The problem is that the technician will have to leave the data entry window open as he waits for the solids analyzer to complete its test.
This can be an issue for a number of reasons. First, if the sequence of checks is time sensitive then, even though the first two checks were completed on time, the subgroup is held up by the solids analyzer. You ProFicient gurus out there are asking, “Well, why not just make subgroup save time as the subgroup timestamp?” This is an option but may not be best case. Also, remember that the technician will be holding up the workstation with the data entry window idling.
Option two: you can separate each test into separate data entry configurations. When the technician goes to enter data he will have to select a separate toolbar button for each test and re-enter, or use the cascading feature, to capture descriptor information. This may suffice if you do not need the tests to reside in the same subgroup.
Option three: Use one of ProFicient hidden jewels – Serial To File. With Serial To File you can configure any Gage Server device to output to a text file. This text file (or buffer file) can be linked to any descriptors or tests within a data entry configuration. You can simply set your solids analyzer to output to a text file as soon as the sample is finished with its test and the value will sit and wait for the technician to perform a routine check – hence “buffer” file.
So how do you configure Serial2File? Look in your InfinityQS shortcuts in the Start menu. Serial To File should be located under Utilities. If you are using an older version of ProFicient (pre 4.4) check the Application directory (usually C:\Program Files\InfinityQS International\ProFicient\Applications) and look for iiSerial2File.exe. If you still do not see it you will have to perform a modify install. Once it is installed it is quite simple to configure. When you execute the utility it will appear in the Windows Task Bar. Double click on it to open the configuration window.
First, you will notice the 32 tabs. You can configure up to 32 gages! Select tab number 1, if it is not already selected, and click the […] button next to Communication Port. Here you will have to specify your devices communication settings. Next, select an output file. I recommend creating a new folder in your InfinityQS public directory – call it “buffer files”. Create a text file in here with a logical name – “solids analyzer1.txt”. Select this new file as your output file. Now, test your gage. Hit the send button on the device to make sure the output displays in the window and in your buffer file. You now have Serial To File configured.
Now on to configuring your buffer file. Open the data entry configuration that will be reading the gage output. Click the Optional Items tabs. Click the […] button next to Special Acquisition Driver, highlight Buffer File and then click Setup. Here you will choose the file you have just created. By default, ProFicient will delete the gage output once it reads into the descriptor or test value field so be sure to specify a backup file if you need. Once you tailor the gage’s output stream you are ready to go. Within the data entry configuration’s test and descriptor options you will notice an additional option under the heading Data Entry Method called Installable equipment driver +. This is what you will use to specify your buffer file.
Here’s another handy use for the Serial To File: Say you are hosting your ProFicient software in a remote environment that does not support COM port pass-through or you simply do not want to allow COM port pass-through. You can use Serial To File to send output from local gages to the remotely-hosted application. The setup is very similar to a local-installed application. The only difference is that you will have to install and configure Serial To File on any PC you wish to send gage output from. You must also ensure that the PC and server can read/write to/from a common network directory. As long as the PC has a strong connection to the server, gage output will be sent seamlessly.