ASCII Revisited


Had lunch with Chester the other day. Chester is an old
manufacturing guy from way back. And he’s got the scars to prove it.


Chester’s worked in papermaking, automotive, pharmaceuticals
and in a bunch of other industries. He’s pretty much been a hot shot PLC
programmer his whole life. I call him “jumper”. If he didn’t like his boss, the
management got stupid, the industry declined, whatever he was ready to jump.
He’d pack up his PLC doc and move on. That’s why he has so much experience in
so many industries.


Chester’s really a very simple guy and, like me, he hates a
lot of complexity. He thinks that most automation devices are way too
expensive, way too complex packing way too many features. Chester wants to open
a box, spend a ½ hour figuring out what he has to do and then do it. 200 Page
manuals, emails or calls to technical support, software tools that are needed
to manage the complexity really tick him off. You can tell when he’s ticked off
by the stack of cigarette butts in his ashtray (management seems to look the
other way on no smoking rule for Chester).


The simplicity of our ASCII gateway solutions is probably
why he thanked me again for our gateway that moves ASCII
device data into a Rockwell PLC
(435NBX). This box is so easy to use and
works so well that customers just keep buying and buying it. Because all the
box does is to move ASCII data into a PLC there isn’t all that much to
configure. Chester just has to tell it how the serial data is terminated, what
baud rate it is and where to put it in the PLC. It just doesn’t get better than


This device is so popular because there are more than just
barcodes that have to be moved into a PLC. This box not only connects ASCII Scale,
Meter and Instrument data to a PLC but also lets the PLC write data out to
these ASCII devices. You can send a Marker string, for example, to a device
that does marking.


When we launched our other ASCII gateways, the one to move
ASCII data to Profibus Controllers, ASCII data to Modbus
and ASCII data to Profinet IO and a bunch more (See the list at
ASCII Device Gateways), Chester practically jumped out of his chair. He’s now
working in an old line manufacturing plant with a lot of ancient equipment and
runs into ASCII RS232 and RS485 devices pretty often so this made him pretty
happy. In these old plants they always have a mixture of networks; some Modbus, some DeviceNet, some Profibus – as the new lines
came in they added the latest and greatest. Now the latest and greatest is just
old and obsolete but it has to be supported anyway.


You may be asking “Isn’t 2013 and Isn’t ASCII data
obsolete”? Of course, the answer is yes but that doesn’t mean it’s going away.
There is legitimate need for it. It makes sense for some devices and will
probably always be around.


Same thing with my friend Chester. He’s old and obsolete but
he does fulfill some need and will probably always be around.