Newsletter Insert January 2015

Drew’s Automation Insert

Drew Baryenbruch

It’s Not So Bad to be the Little Guy

2014 is gone and if you’re like me you took a least a few minutes to do the annual self-reflection. Who am I? Where am I? Would my 6 year old self be impressed with what I have become? I turned 30 and got married in 2014 so the reflection was a bit more thoughtful than a run of the mill year.

I haven’t cured cancer or run a marathon (the cancer cure might be the more likely of the two) but I am a happy and fortunate guy. Without question, and with a strong need to turn this into a business flavored article, some of that happiness is due to the fact I work for small engineering company. With that thought I give you:

Drew’s Top 6 Reasons You Should Consider Working for a Small Company

1) Opportunity: There is a prevalent idea that working for a small company is energizing and exciting but you sacrifice the chance at a big company pay check. Generally there is probably some truth to it but I think it’s far from the rule. At a small company you have the opportunity to create meaningful results on personal level. Could any 1 person at a fortune 500 increase sales, profits, or savings by 10-20% in a year? At a small company you have the ability to create your own opportunity. If you provide results, negotiating comparable pay should not be a problem. It’s entrepreneurial but you can create your own success.

2) Insight: Driven by necessity, you are exposed to all aspects of making a business work. This can be as seemingly mundane as helping program and ship goods on a busy day or as exotic as flying across the globe to Singapore with the owner on a few days’ notice to close a sale. You are exposed to, learn and have to make decisions on a broad range of business activities.

3) Responsibility: Your actions carry more weight. If you mess up and it costs the company $5,000 dollars, it really costs the company $5,000 dollars. Money is still measured in normal people terms. Don’t get me wrong, it would be nice to be a billion dollar company who treats thousands like you and I treat pocket change. But it is also nice to be able to internalize your impact good or bad at an understandable level. You become much more aware and vigilant of your actions.

4) Ownership: Ownership doesn’t come in the form of a company stock option. Ownership is meaningfully seeing your impact. You take a project from idea to full execution. There is often no hand off. You have to learn the skills to make a project successful. You raise the baby and then send it off to market. If you like getting your hands dirty this can be very rewarding.

5) Diversity: Big business can create amazing results through specialized efficiencies. Product line specific development teams and sales teams have a laser focus. Heck, many have departments in HR dedicated to diversity!

Small companies don’t have those same luxuries. So there is a lot of diversity in the work you do. You wear many hats and get exposed to many markets, products and people. You have to be agile. If agility is in your blood then the broad spectrum of needs a small company brings can be very appealing.

6) Family: This is admittedly the most touch-feely point on my list, but it is important. Work is not a replacement for true family, but for 5 days a week we all spend more time with our coworkers than our real families (I don’t consider sleep family time). Working in an environment where everyone’s contribution matters means you end up much closer to your coworkers. This isn’t a life or death band of brother type bond but there is reliance on one another that runs a bit deeper.


N2 Primer

If you are a building automation engineer with a bit of salt and pepper in your beard, N2 is probably an old, slightly cantankerous, but familiar friend. If you don’t have the benefit of enough experience to share that nostalgic sentiment, N2 can be an extremely mysterious and frustrating protocol to deal with. The goal here will be give you enough background to put future N2 conversation into context.

Why is it So Hard to Find Information on N2?

First, N2 is not an open protocol. Second it’s old. N2 is actually a family of protocols created by Johnson Controls. While as a vendor you can request the device side specification, you have to sign an agreement and promise not to redistribute it. There is no cost involved in these rights. That might classify the protocol as pseudo-open, but that is a long way from being an open protocol. There is no trade group pushing this protocol. You literally have to find a guy, that knows a guy, that know’ s how to request those rights. I know because we went through it. Johnson accepted the market required 3rd party solutions but they are not interested in keeping the protocol on life support.

So What Do I Do with my (or my Customers) Existing N2 Network?

There are some wonderful 3rd party tools available to help you prolong the useful life of your N2 network, but these are stop gap solutions giving you time to replace your devices and systems. RTA recently partnered with the S4 group to resell their N2 to BACnet/IP and OPC routers. S4 has a great tool to help you manage the transition from a N2 system to a modern BACnet based system.

The key to keep in mind is that any conversation surrounding the integration of N2 devices and networks needs to include a conversation about their eventual replacement. These devices are, for the most part, already on borrowed time. N2 should not be part of your long term building automation plan.

What Kind Protocol is N2?

N2 is a legacy serial fieldbus. It has a standard Master/Slave relationship common to RS-485 serial fieldbuses, and as reference, is loosely based around the Opto-22 specification. A unique part of N2 was support for change of state where the master utilizes idle time on the N2 bus to ask N2 devices to report any changes in order to minimize bus utilization. That is extremely useful when you have a serial network loaded with up to 255 nodes.

Are there Different Versions of N2?

The answer is yes. There are actually 3 versions of N2. What is interesting is that a network could support all three variants on the same wire. This is because all three variants share a common MAC addressing and polling mechanism.

You have the standard N2 Open protocol (that’s only partially open), there is also N2B used for VMA controllers, and finally the System-91 protocol subset used in the DX-9100 and all other System 91 family products.

Knowing the specifics about each variant is not all that valuable. The key is to be able to identify which protocol variants are part of your network and then ensure that the solution you pick supports it. The good, well thought out, solution will support all 3 variants and make the process almost transparent to the user. The S4 Open router seamlessly supports all 3 variants.

Other Important Things to Know about N2:

It is important to note that the timing of transactions and responses on the N2 bus is very sensitive and must be exactly right in order for the bus to operate correctly.

I hope that helps give you a bit of perspective should N2 appear on your doorstep.


New Developments

-Dual Port Ethernet Gateway
A new dual Ethernet gateway platform is in development. The addition of a second Ethernet port will allow users to use our gateway in an Ethernet Daisy chain topology and also allow users to talk to devices on different networks without needing to add a router.

This option will be available on all gateway models and is expected to be available in Q3 of 2015.