M-Link Marks New EraFor Elkhart Brass Nozzles
Vol. 20 No. 6
A stream of water originating from an Elkhart Brass Stinger RF shoots across a pond at the Emergency Services Training Institute near College Station, TX. As it sweeps the pond's surface, the pumper-fed stream adjusts from broad to narrow and back again. Finally, Stinger shuts itself down.
Throughout the entire demonstration no one has touched the monitor. Daniel Shoop, a product design engineer for Elkhart Brass, has directed the entire show using an electronic device only slightly bigger than a household remote.
"This is not the standard product line that people are used to from Elkhart," Shoop said. "A lot of design has gone into the new Stinger RF. We're trying to get more progressive and advanced."
RF stands for radio frequency. The Stinger RF, introduced last spring, is only one of a number of new remote control and computer control innovations that Elkhart Brass has on the market. Leading the charge in this new era of electronic fire fighting is Elkhart's new M-Link multiple monitor remote interface.
M-Link is a programmable logic controller (PLC) which is a small computer used to automate machinery. Older automated systems used hundreds, even thousands of relays to operate. A single PLC replaces all that. M-Link can control up to 72 remotely located monitors and valves from a single touch-screen interface or the more typical joystick.
"A PLC offers many different wiring configurations to each individual monitor," Shoop said. "It's almost limitless how many monitors you can link together."
The beauty of the M-Link system is that the monitors in use are linked together by a standard ethernet cable, drastically reducing the amount of on-site installation that has to be done before operation, Shoop said.
"Before M-Link you had to hardwire the connections to the monitor, meaning you needed a wire for up, a wire for down and so on," Shoop said. "A standard configuration could take 10 or 12 wires to each monitor."
Using M-Link, the monitors are daisy-chained together using a single ethernet cable between each monitor. As with your home computer, the ethernet cable fits just like a phone line, meaning reduced material and installation time.
"Another important point is that the components used are NFPA Class I Division II safe for hazardous environments," Shoop said. "That means they will not initiate a fire or explosion."
M-Link utilizes power already available in plant or refinery setting. By means of various transformers, M-Link can be adapted to operate on whatever voltage is available.
Another important advantage is that M-Link can easily be retrofitted into existing facilities without major remodeling.
"You don't have these huge electrical conduits that you have to run all these wires through," Shoop said. "You just have one conduit and most of the time it doesn't have to be specially designed to support the ethernet cable. This is important to customers who have insurance companies asking them to bring something designed in the 1950s up to current specifications."
M-Link also provides important feedback to the operator as to the condition of the system.
"Say you're sending a signal to the monitor to go left or right," Shoop said. "You need power at the monitor to actually drive the motors. But someone in the control room might assume they have power when, for example, the monitors were undergoing maintenance and the power had been cut."
M-Link monitors the local power. If power is lost, the system sends a signal back to the operator notifying him.
"The system can also monitor the communications between the monitors," Shoop said. "For example, if the ethernet connection went down between monitor seven and eight, a warning light would flash in the control room to make them aware of the situation."
M-Link is not an off-the-shelf product. The system is customized to the individual requirements of each facility, Shoop said.
"It can be as simple or as fancy as you want it," Shoop said. "The idea is to make it easy to install. We do all the work at our factory in a controlled environment, then take it to your plant and drop it in with minimal ethernet connections."
M-Link is only one example of the new approach to product development being taken at Elkhart Brass, he said.
"We're trying to be more progressive and get into overall engineering service systems," Shoop said. "We design systems that can be used by an end user customer or an engineering firm. We work with them to find out what they need and help them get to where they want to be." o