18.04.12: Ski slope professionals
Ski and toboggan well with PROFIBUS
Winter sports in the Alps is an important economic factor. The many ski areas are in direct competition with each other and the demands of the tourists are high. For this reason snow machines are standard today. Even on glaciers they are deployed to improve the quality of the ski-run– intelligently networked in order to provide energy and water saving operation. PROFIBUS often ensures perfect communication between all components – supported by a special solution from profichip.
Blue skies, bright sunshine and glistening snow – the image of a perfect winter vacation. And yet whoever wedels down into the valley doesn't realize how much technology plays a hidden part so that he will find freshly prepared slopes every morning.
In large areas there are often hundreds of snow guns that are mounted at key points or available for mobile deployment. In order that they can produced the white splendor, they need, besides certain climatic conditions, above all electric power and of course plenty of water. Pumping stations, reservoirs and pipelines, laid at least 1,50 meter deep, provide for the supply of the valuable liquid. In addition there are power lines and also data cable in order to control and monitor the various systems remotely.
Values such as air temperature and humidity, flow rates of the pumps, water temperature and water pressure must be constantly monitored, to ensure optimal operation. After all, snow can only be generated under certain climatic conditions. In addition the pipelines must be constantly checked for leaks. At high altitudes, where permafrost prevails, it is also important to drain the pipelines immediately after the snow, so that standing water does not freeze. Understandably, all this can only be done with sophisticated automation systems.
Normally, all the data runs on one or more control stations, where they are visualized. The snow producing manager will then decide together with the person responsible for the slopes, who travels down the tracks and makes a visual inspection, at which points snow must be applied. At the beginning of the season it often means that all generators are operating at full capacity to produce, at first frost, skiable slopes as soon as possible. Later – depending on the weather – it is often only a matter here of covering specific areas with snow, in order to provide an optimal subsurface for the sportsmen and women.
In the control stand, however, not only such central or group circuits are activated: Here all other parameters are monitored to immediately determine fractures in the pipes for example. A sophisticated alarm management has now become just as standard as the recording of measured values, load management and monitoring the compliance of water concessions.
A company that specializes in such sophisticated snowmaking solutions is TechnoAlpin based in Bolzano. The world market leader develops and produces snow guns – but they also supply complete systems and to this end have developed their own controls, which were perfectly tailored to such specific applications in ice and snow with their large distances.
„Our own products are normally networked with each other using the modbus protocol “, explained Gerald Reichegger, developer at TechnoAlpin. There are also mixed systems however, which are put together using components from different companies. Sometimes older, available snowmaking machines from different manufacturers must be integrated. „Some customers quite consciously also want control or visualization or other suppliers in order to remain vendor-independent “ Reichegger continued. The common communication protocol in these cases is then usually PROFIBUS DP.
This is not a problem for the controllers from TechnoAlpin. The company offers a hardware component in the form of an REG device, which is placed next to the controller and provieds the interface to PROFIBUS.
Unfortunately, there are also manufacturers whose devices do not work to the PROFIBUS DP standard, but work on the older fieldbus level. „We must also be able to integrate such devices into a system“, Gerald Reichegger explained. Consequently they looked for their own devices in accordance with ASICs, which are in a position to allow connection to PROFIBUS DP and to the fieldbus protocol.
„We asked several manufacturers but they were not always ready to listen“, complained Reichegger. „The bigger the company, the harder it is to even get a competent expert on the telephone“ he said. After all not a great deal would need to have been made with the hardware available on the market for this task. Only a few changes would need to have been made to the software. „Here many declined, because the effort for them did not pay off immediately “, Reichegger explained.
With profichip from Herzogenaurach however TechnoAlpin had come to the right place with their request. „We may be relatively small in terms of the number of our employees - but thereby particularly flexible for customer needs and customized solutions“, explained Lothar Schröttel, responsible for distribution at profichip.
Thus the profichip development team centered around application engineer Peter Fredehorst changed the configuration of the PROFIBUS-Asics in accordance with the wishes of TechnoAlpin quickly and easily. „We are very happy to be working with profichip and will certainly be calling upon the know-how from Franconia more and more in the future “ said Gerald Reichegger, summing up his good experiences.