Level: Beginner Version: FileMaker 15 Category: General Tuesday, May 2, 2017
FileMaker is an incredibly versatile and scalable platform, but it is genuinely unique in the way it allows you to solve real world problems quickly, efficiently and super cost effectively.
I work for a company that manufactures water softeners (the best ones actually) and I was asked to solve a particular problem we were having in diagnosing rare cases of abnormal operation in the field. Traditionally we had been using this Heath Robinson creation you can see on the right.
It was a Frankenstein's monster of flow and pressure meters which were filmed at 1 frame a second and then painstakingly reviewed to figure what the softener was doing at any given moment in the hope of catching something out of the ordinary. It was a very hit and miss affair at best and a complete waste of time at the worst. Something new was needed.
The FileMaker powered Softener Field Logger Solution So this is what I came up with, a self contained unit comprising of a small Linux SBC with 6 analogue and 2 digital inputs.
I wrote a small Python program that controlled the automatic configuration, logging and data transfer with our FileMaker server via a dedicated FileMaker app remotely controlling the unit.
All our engineer had to do was plumb the unit into the softener and turn it on. This connected to the customers home internet and transmitted live data back to our engineers at the factory when an event was detected.
It also sent a time compressed overview of the softeners performance throughout the day at midnight. That is quite a bit of data to crunch...
The field logger is designed to record one sample every 10 seconds when there is no activity, switching to 1 sample a second when it detects a pressure difference or water in demand. It's smart enough to recognise when a regeneration cycle starts and caches this as a specific kind of event. When any event cycle ends the cached data is sent immediately back to our FileMaker Server through Custom Web Publishing. This in turn triggered FileMaker Server Scripts to post process the data and display the key operational parameters as shown above. This softener is working perfectly
The FileMaker app also handles storage of the raw transmitted logger files thanks to external container storage. This allows us to reprocess the data as and when we enhance the core app.
We ended up making quite a few of them, as you can see from our lab testing below.
Using a FileMaker Custom App to control API enabled Hardware
In the above solution, our production department wanted to be able to ensure manufacturing errors were eliminated when selecting gears for assembly, to do this two SICK optical pattern recognition camera's were adopted. The great thing about these is they provide API connectivity over standard web ports, this meant we could build a really simple Filemaker Custom app that worked through FMGo on an iPad mini. The App allowed the operator to simply set what gear combinations they had to build and give real time feedback to highlight any assembly errors.
Using FileMaker to integrate industrial systems to non compatible hardware
We are quite unusual for a manufacturing company in as much as we use Apple Mac's all over the place. So it's not unusual for us having to be quite resourceful when it comes to making standard industry kit play nice with non PC systems. Fortunately FileMaker helps us out a great deal in this area too, with a little help from some plugins.
The Furness Controls industry standard leak tester units utilise a Lantronix ethernet controller which supports raw print dump over network socket. When a test is run, the resulting data is sent to a Mac mini (above) running a dedicated FileMaker Pro client listening for data on a particular port. This triggers a script that parses the raw data into associated fields and generate a QR code into a container field. Each leak tester has a companion printer next to it, so the app then converts all this processed data into a label to be printed on the relevant thermal printer. The other key advantage to this system is we get instant feedback to find out exactly how much our assemblers have made, and what percentage have failed. All failures get binned for recycling, so only the good stuff gets through.
So, what can't you do with FileMaker?
Author: Guy Halligan
This blog is completely free. Please support it by clicking on one of the advertisers at the left side of the window or becoming a patron. Thanks so much!