Unitronics PLC – UniStream™ – A New Generation of Process Controllers

UniStream® is the new advanced Unitronics PLC with integrated HMI, offering all the benefits of an integrated touch screen PLC but with greater power and flexibility. Described as being a new generation of process controllers, we take a look at the features of the UniStream system and find out how it builds on the already powerful Unitronics PLC range.


The Current Unitronics PLC Range

The current range of Unitronics PLCs available from Tecnologic (Jazz, Samba, Vision 350, Vision 430, Vision 700 and Vision 1210) have a CPU, touch screen HMI, I/O and comms modules, all integrated into a single unit (although the V350 is available with or without built in I/Os).

This approach has proven to be increasingly popular with manufacturers who have embraced features such as reduced integration costs, ease of expansion using snap-in modules, improved HMI creation capability and free software tools and support. These capabilities have greatly enhanced the ability to design and create applications for industrial and consumer projects more quickly and more cost-effectively.

As manufacturers’ creativity has expanded to take account of these capabilities, so have their PLC requirements. Today’s manufacturers want not just accurate process control and a wide range of I/Os, but the ability to support increasingly complex, user friendly applications, which all make much greater demands on CPU speed and memory.

At the same time, manufacturers are moving towards remote software updates and fault diagnosis, as a more cost-effective way of upgrading and maintaining large numbers of devices, so communications features are becoming more important. While all the PLCs in the Vision range offer remote access and some built in comms ports (the Vision 700 and Vision 1210 can be provided with an additional comms port if required) some manufacturers may need more comms provision than is provided natively on these PLCs.

In terms of user experience, the Unitronics PLC range provides excellent graphics capability, especially the Vision 700 and Vision 1210 – but what they are unable to provide is any audio element, limiting the ability of an application to, for instance, provide audible alerts or provide voice guidance.

UniStream addresses these developments, enabling it to satisfy a wider range of requirements, while maintaining all the benefits of an integrated PLC with HMI.


UniStream® HMI Display Options

UniStream is currently available with four HMI display options:

  • UniStream 5″ – 5 inch display with 800 x 480 pixels and widescreen format

  • UniStream 7″ – 7 inch display with 800×480 pixels and widescreen format

  • UniStream 10.4″ – 10.4 inch display with 800 x 600 pixels and 4:3 format

  • UniStream 15.6″ – 15.6 inch display with 1366 x 768 pixels and widescreen format

Unlike any of the Vision PLCs, the UniStream display panels include an onboard speaker and a 3.5mm Audio Out jack which can be connected to external loudspeakers as required. This allows the HMI to be programmed to play MP3 files, either as background sound effects, or in response to different events, enabling a new dimension of feedback to users and generally providing a much richer user experience.

While they have the appearance of a home tablet or touch screen, these are industrial quality components with IP ratings of IP65 (or IP66 if an audio seal is installed).


UniStream Modular and UniStream Built-in

UniStream controllers are available in two flavours: UniStream Built-in and UniStream Modular:


UniStream Built-in

UniStream Built-in includes the Unistream 5” and Unistream 5” Pro units which contain PLC, display panel and I/Os within a single unit. There is a wide range of built-in I/O configurations to choose from depending on your application.

The Unistream 5” has just as much control capability as the modular units – 48 PID loops and the ability to expand up to 2,048 I/Os – making this an incredibly powerful PLC in relation to its compact screen size.


UniStream Modular

UniStream Modular includes the UniStream 7″, 10.4″ and 15.6″ units. These units take the idea of snap-in I/O and COM modules, present on some Vision PLCs as a way of extending the built-in capability of the controller, one step further. In these units, all processing elements are snap-in modules, including the CPU itself, giving manufacturers complete control over the functionality of the PLC, while avoiding any bespoke integration costs.

This approach also allows a separation between the size of display screen and the overall capacity of the PLC behind it, giving greater flexibility to manufacturers. For instance, a manufacturer may prefer a 10 inch display in order to meet HMI requirements, but require only a CPU and one I/O module in terms of control complexity. Similarly, a developer may have a complex control application requiring several I/O modules, but for which a 7 inch screen is perfectly adequate.

All modules, including the CPU, snap on to back of the screen and are powered via the panel itself, resulting in a very tidy arrangement and no requirement for an additional power supply. It also means that as and when Unitronics upgrade their CPUs it will be very easy to upgrade the CPU independently, without having to replace the entire PLC unit. The CPU makes UniStream one of the highest capacity process controllers available, able to control up to 48 independent loops using high accuracy auto-tune PID and up to 2048 I/O’s – double the capacity of the Vision 700 and 1210.

I/O and COM modules can also be added next to the CPU module (up to three modules for the 7 inch panel and up to five for the 10 inch panel). Once in place, any module can be removed and replaced independently of the others, making maintenance much easier. There is a wide choice of I/O modules (currently 6 digital and 1 analogue), enabling manufacturers to choose exactly the number and type of I/O’s needed for a specific application – and the range is expected to expand over time. If more I/O modules are required, a local Expansion Adaptor can be attached to the CPU, enabling up to 16 more modules to be incorporated. Yet more I/O modules can be connected either locally or remotely using up to 8 EX-RC1 expansion adapters, each of which supports up to 8 I/O modules.

This overall increase in process control capacity and choice of configurations means that the UniStream will fit a larger range of applications and with a greater level of future proofing for manufacturers.


Compatibility with the Vision Range

UniStream is designed to complement and work with the existing Vision range rather than replace it. UniStream is fully compatible with all units in the Vision range. As well as easing the upgrade path from an existing Vision product to UniStream, this means that a complex application requiring multiple units in different places can use both UniStream and Vision products together to meet requirements. In particular, UniStream can be used to control a number of Vision units up to 1km away.


Improved Communications

Process controllers are increasingly required to communicate freely with other devices, either as part of a network of process controllers, or to provide remote access, to allow the download of software updates, to perform diagnostics, or to upload system data for analysis or backup. UniStream includes a greater number and variety of communications options compared to the Vision range.

On the UniStream Built-in units (5” and 5” Pro) there is 1 Ethernet port, 1 host USB and 1 USB device for programming. Depending on your choice of model, you can also opt for a built-in RS232, RS485 or CANbus port.

On the UniStream Modular units there are 2 Ethernet ports, 1 programming USB, and 2 device USBs (Vision 1210 has 1 Ethernet and 1 programming USB), while each CPU unit includes 1 CANBus and 1 RS485 port. The provision of 2 Ethernet ports in particular allows multiple PLCs to be “daisy- chained” together (e.g. to pass information about one process to another) without having to control multiple PLC’s centrally.

In terms of available protocols, Modbus and CANopen are both supported as standard, as they are on the Vision range. New to UniStream however is the UniLogic Message Composer which can adapt to simple 3rdparty protocols, giving developers greater flexibility to integrate UniStream with existing systems.

These communications facilities greatly enhance the ability to integrate the PLC within a wider system, either using other Unitronics PLC units, or third party devices.


Reduced Development Time with UniLogic

UniStream not only effectively eliminates physical integration costs, but software development time is significantly reduced as a result of the UniLogic programming environment, which provides an intuitive, visual development environment for both process control logic and HMI – which we will look at in our next article. The UniLogic software, and the technical support that goes with it, are provided free, further supporting the development process.


Explore the range of UniStream controllers here – or find out more about how UniStream can be applied to your project, by calling our team on 01252 377 600.

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