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The Key To Extending the Life of Legacy Devices

June 6, 2022
Solutions that bridge different connection interfaces between serial devices and modern systems help save the cost of replacing older assets.

If serial-based industrial devices have been running for decades and have helped the business succeed, a facility manager might rightfully worry about how long they can be relied upon before making costly replacements.

Of course, most computers today are not equipped with serial ports, and operating systems are being updated much more frequently than in the past. Also, forward-thinking companies are increasingly managing machinery online to get production data in real time, minimizing the response duration needed to glean business insights.

All these developments relate back to the connectivity, or rather a lack of it, of serial devices.

In these types of situations, two questions immediately arise:

  1. How can serial devices connect to modern systems if serial ports are no longer the standard interface on computers?
  2. How can devices be managed remotely if they cannot connect to Ethernet interfaces?

Keeping serial devices alive protects valuable investments by maintaining and enhancing the devices’ capabilities. Thankfully, a variety of serial connectivity solutions are available that allow for simple and affordable upgrades to bridge serial devices into today's networking. This is especially important since the majority of today's production machinery and monitoring sensors are modernized with Ethernet interfaces.

To help managers, here are three major challenges faced when enabling serial connectivity between legacy devices and modern systems and protocols.

1. Fewer Serial Interfaces on Computers

Computers are commonly used in industrial applications to interact with devices.

However, RS-232, RS-422, and RS-485 interfaces are rarely found on new computers, making it difficult to connect serial devices at field sites to control centers.

Luckily, the issue can be fixed via an expansion card on motherboard-level connections such as PCI, PCIe, or mini-PCIe, to provide or increase the number of serial ports on an industrial PC.

Alternatively, as universal serial bus (USB) interfaces are standard on today’s computers or laptop PCs, USB-to-serial converters are also an option to solve the headache of insufficient connectivity.

2. Difficulties in Achieving Remote Monitoring

When applications reach a certain scale, remote communication becomes more important from a management point of view. Ethernet communication is very popular to realize remote monitoring applications, therefore making serial-to-Ethernet converters a cost-effective option to enable Ethernet connectivity for remote serial devices.

However, converting serial communication data to an Ethernet format might not always be so straightforward. The network structure and software architecture may face compatibility issues.

Often, the original serial communication program will need to be redesigned to adapt to a new communication interface and data interpretation, such as creating virtual COM ports to access serial devices through TCP/IP-based networks. Also, converting serial communication protocols such as Modbus RTU to Ethernet communication protocols requires extra effort.

When integrating serial devices into Ethernet-based systems, choose a serial-to-Ethernet converter that will minimize dealing with communication settings. In addition, make sure the serial-to-Ethernet converter comes with the driver support that fits the preferred OS, whether it's Windows, Linux or macOS.

3. Uncertain Availability of Serial Components

As technology develops, so do problems. So the supplier's serial connectivity solutions also need to evolve.

For example, because the rise of cyberattacks is a major concern in connected applications, security has become a critical feature in devices that have network interfaces. Serial-to-Ethernet solutions today can incorporate IEC 62443-4-2 standards, along with a variety of embedded functions to enhance security for connected serial devices.

A supplier's commitment to serial connectivity solutions—one that encompasses availability and advancement—will provide peace of mind for any business looking to maximize long-term return on serial-based device investments.

Managers today are questioning how long they can run serial-based equipment since Ethernet communication is now key to realizing convergence, along with USB, fiber, and wireless connectivity options. Fortunately, solutions are available to bridge serial equipment to these interfaces, easily and inexpensively.