Prevent Costly Mistakes on Industrial Monitoring Hardware Updates

Are you contemplating updates to your industrial monitoring hardware? Perhaps a COVID slowdown has given your team time to finally upgrade to that latest and greatest National Instruments controller.  

Before you make that leap, there’s one extremely important factor to consider, and that is the software running your equipment. If your code isn’t ready, there is far more to consider than a simple hardware swap, and your crew could be headed toward a serious loss in productivity and efficiency.  

The reality is that production engineers are routinely staring at industrial monitoring equipment that is nearing or reaching end-of-life, and they need to act to prevent unforeseen failures. The team at Integrated Test & Measurement can help with hardware upgrades, but we can also dive into your software to be sure your code is up to date and any customizations that have been made over the years are updated to assure your complex equipment is communicating the way it was designed to and all signals continue to report properly.  

Why is this holistic hardware/software approach recommended when it comes to upgrades? Consider the situation where a client upgrades a control module on a test cell only to find out that the new equipment is no longer compatible with the old software. It is akin to adding a new printer to your desktop computer without upgrading the drivers. Only in this instance, the fix is far more complex than a quick download. The result is that piece of equipment may now need to come offline for an extended time, and if you don’t have an in-house spare, your industrial monitoring is about to take a hit.  

ITM has seen an uptick in requests for assistance from clients who are running either outdated hardware, software or both. In some instances, partners may no longer have access to the person who customized their software. But that is no problem for ITM. Our LabVIEW experts are adept at not only understanding these complex software changes but they can clean up your code to simplify future upgrades, too. In other words, if your programming resources are no longer available, look to ITM for support with code enhancements, development and updates. 

One common migration for ITM’s industrial monitoring clients, for example, is moving from an older NI CompactRIO to a newer more suped up CompactRIO. A common mistake in this and other instances is underestimating the time it may take to update custom software, so rather than trying to do the work in house, let ITM speed up your process.  

Our experts can travel to your site, evaluate both your equipment and your software running it to develop and implement an upgrade plan that works for your team. Whether that means a slower measured approach or a quick turnaround on a tight deadline, ITM will develop a custom solution that meets your needs. 

Industrial Monitoring Tools: cRIO-9046 Embedded Controller

CompactRIO cRIO-9046

One of the tools our embedded software engineers commonly use for industrial control and process monitoring applications is the NI CompactRIO (cRIO) controller. These controllers let our engineers deploy autonomous systems that use complex algorithms to generate process outputs or key performance indicators (KPIs) from structural, vibration, and process monitoring sensors.

For example, in one of the latest industrial boiler monitoring applications, we embedded a cRIO-9046 controller with our Sootblower Fouling Detection (SFD) algorithms which are used to compute and then output equipment health and process efficiency KPIs. Let’s take a look at the cRIO-9046 controller’s specifications, functionality and programming.

cRIO-9046 is an 8-Slot CompactRIO Controller that has an Intel Atom 1.30 GHz Dual-Core CPU, 2 GB DRAM, 4 GB Storage, a Kintex-7 70T FPGA that can operate from -40 °C to 70 °C. The eight slots are used for C-Series conditioned IO modules that connect sensor inputs and data/control outputs and buses.

Its operating system, NI Linux Real-Time (64-bit), allows real-time performance with the usability desktop operating systems. Our engineers use Xilinx Kintex-7 7K70T FPGA to implement high-speed, (MHz) low-latency hardware-level data processing and decision-making . The cRIO-9046 also has several connectivity ports, including 2x Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.1, USB 2.0, RS232, and RS485 ports.

Embedded LabVIEW developers can use these ports and standard communication protocol toolkits to develop standard or custom machine/system interfaces.

For a cRIO-9046 or other CompactRIOs to operate, custom LabVIEW RT applications must be developed and then deployed to each controller. Depending on the complexity of your application, you may also need to develop and deploy LabVIEW FPGA code to the cRIO’s FPGA. Over the years, our embedded software engineers have developed a standard architecture as well as software tools for communication and analysis routines to simplify the custom LabVIEW RT application development. They also have experience developing embedded LabVIEW FPGA code for advanced hardware-level signal processing.

For more information about the cRIO-9046 and our LabVIEW development capabilities, contact Mark Yeager via email at

Related Links

Silo Load Monitoring

Plant operators need to continuously measure bulk material levels/weight in their silos and hoppers to ensure their processes are running safely, efficiently, and without bottlenecks. Measuring these levels allows operators to automate vessel filling, verify material consumption, and prevent overfilling.

How do you measure bulk material levels/weights in silos and hoppers?

The two ways to measure bulk material quantity in silos/hoppers are level indicators (laser, ultrasonic, radar) and weight measurements (load cells, strain gauges).  Weight measurements are more accurate, safer to install, and can be installed during operation.  Of the types of weight measurements, ITM prefers to implement strain gauge-based solutions since they do not require structural modification of the vessel.

An ITM silo monitoring system typically consists of weatherproofed strain gauges for each silo leg and a NI CompactRIO embedded controller to acquire data, process signals, and output results. Systems are scalable to accommodate all the silos at the plant.

The graph above shows a typical trend of real silo data during unloading.  Weight levels are sent directly to factory DCS systems and historians via common communication protocols like Ethernet/ip and Modbus, or they can be viewed on the system’s webpage or a local/remote workstations and panels.

What are the challenges when measuring bulk material levels/weights?

Most bulk material storage is outside, so temperature and other environmental factors must be accounted for not only in the durability of the equipment, but in the sensor design and data processing. Changes in temperature, wind, and humidity can result in changes to the load path in silo legs. Load changes are account for by instrumenting all or most of the silo legs and selecting the appropriate strain gauge bridge design which results in continuously accurate weight measurements.

While other systems require calibrating the system with known loads (point calibration), ITM calibrates the system using a shunt voltage across the strain gauge bridge. This process automatically calibrates the system and eliminates the requirement of having pre-known material weight added to the vessel.

For more information about silo monitoring, contact Ryan Matthews @ 1.844.837.8797 x706.  To see how ITM’s structural load monitoring systems work watch this video.

video link:

Structural Validation & Testing of Generator Sets

A case study describing a reliable system for testing generator vibration levels after production in order to verify proper unit design and assembly.

Process Optimization with Embedded Monitoring Systems

Finding efficiency improvements and uncovering hidden unsafe conditions in a process can prevent injury and save your company millions.

ITM Helps Pave Way to Better Asphalt Testing

Sang-Soo Kim is used to overcoming bumps in the road. After all, his career is centered on developing technology that improves pavement conditions.

The Ohio University researcher and civil engineering associate professor was facing a fast-approaching deadline to prove his novel asphalt testing device was worthy of startup funding from the state of Ohio when he turned to Integrated Test & Measurement (ITM) for help.

The preeminent researcher had a challenge for Chase Petzinger, ITM software engineer. His scratch-built device — essentially an extreme oven/freezer combo that heats or freezes pucks of asphalt material to force expansion or contraction — needed complex hardware and a custom software solution to control signals from the device and ultimately record asphalt cracking data.

“I was extremely happy and impressed with ITM’s technical skills,” said Kim. “I was on a very tight schedule to finish the project in time, and they were very flexible and accommodating to my needs.”

The job required ITM’s team to develop software to record data from National Instruments hardware as well as control and monitor a custom built Watlow Programmable Logic Controller. In addition, the team had to design and build an enclosure that held all the data acquisition equipment and did all the power-cable management signal conditioning.

“So he had the oven shipped to us, and then he showed up with a big box of all the stuff that he had brought,” recalls Petzinger. “He set it down and said, ‘Okay, make this work.’”

Specific sensors and fixtures included GT1000RA LVDT Sensors, NTC-6000 signal conditioners, RDP S7AC signal conditioners and custom-built stainless-steel fixtures. In addition, the data acquisition process required employing a NI cDAQ-9174 Chassis, NI-9216 RTD modules as well as an NI-9209 Voltage Module.

Asphalt Crack Prediction Control Panel

Petzinger explained that he was able to customize the software application using LabVIEW to both collect the data from the sensors inside the oven as well as directly communicate with the device to control start and stop functions as well as the temperature inside.

“I think there were about 50,000 rows in this Excel document of different commands and ways that I could talk to the device,” said Petzinger. “I had to figure out how to use that information and then start from scratch writing a program that would send the commands that the oven could actually interpret.”

Petzinger considers these types of automation and data logging applications a melding of both science and art.

“We were able to create an application to communicate with a unique piece of hardware that we had never seen before,” he said. “if you have your own proprietary oven or switch or machine or something, we’ve worked with unique applications before, and we can do it again.”

Thanks to ITM, Kim not only was able to present his device to the Ohio Department of Development, but it outperformed even his own expectations.

“We wanted to demonstrate this testing device is indeed able to predict low-temperature performance,” he said. “We ran the test with the device that ITM made, and we had one of the best correlations I’ve seen in an asphalt pavement study.” Kim says ITM helped him prove that his device can predict which mixtures of asphalt will crack more accurately than existing tests. And, importantly, it will yield results in a single day where traditional asphalt studies take a week or longer. Next up in his effort to commercialize the unit, Kim intends to publish the results of his work in industry publications, and he’s already seeking a patent.

For more information about this project or other LabVIEW development projects contact Mark Yeager @ (844) 837-8797 x701

Creating XLS files from TDMS Files

Precision testing generates precision data. Acquiring, accessing, and analyzing these data files allows engineers and scientists to lower product costs, engineer time-saving solutions, and even save lives. National Instruments (NI) created the Technical Data Management Streaming (TDMS) file format for high performance data streaming and retrieval. This binary file is structured for easier sorting and access of the complex data within the file. Before NI standardized on the TDMS data file engineers and scientists had to create their own high-performance file types. The TDMS file format is supported not only by iTestSystem, but also across all NI software.


In these instances, it is often easiest to export a TDMS file to a more commonly used file type like Microsoft Excel (XLSX).

NI provides a free program / plug-in that allows users to open TDMS files in Microsoft Excel. This means anyone can convert a TDMS file into an XLSX file and open it in Excel, and once there the file can be easily saved just like any other spreadsheet. Once saved as an Excel file, you can share, open, view and edit it just like any other XLSX file.


If you have installed iTestSystem, the TDMS Importer program / plug-in for Microsoft Excel is already installed. If not, then you can download the software here:

Once you have downloaded the NITDMExcel program by following the link and using the built-in installation wizard, you can save TDMS files as XLSX Excel files. To open a TDMS file in Excel, you can simply double-click the TDMS file. If that doesn’t work, you will need to right-click, navigate to “Open With”, and find the NITDMExcel program wherever you installed it on your computer.

Figure1: Right click on a TDMS file to import into Excel.

Each time you open a TDMS file in Excel, it will create a new workbook. Each workbook will have multiple sheets, one for the file properties such as the name of the test, date the data was taken, and more. The other sheet(s) will contain the data points plotted as part of the test, which would normally be used to create graphs in TestView Plus.

Now you can save the Excel and share it just like any other XLS file!

Related Links

Auto-Zero Utility Update
Wireless Strain Measurements with iTestSystem
Strain Gauge Installation for Field Testing

For more information about sharing data, iTestSystem, or test equipment rental, contact Ryan Welker @ (844) 837-8797 x702.

Wireless Strain Measurements with iTestSystem, LabVIEW, and Arduino

On a recent project, one of our engineers needed to measure structural strain at several locations on mobile lifting equipment while in operation. Since the strain measurements were distributed and mobile, a wireless internet of things (IOT) solution was required. This blog describes the steps and tools we used to integrate our solution into iTestSystem and LabVIEW™.

One of the wireless devices that we evaluated to monitor strain was a SparkFun Thing Plus (ESP32 WROOM) with a Load Cell Amplifier (HX711). The SparkFun Thing Plus uses the Espressif ESP32 Wi-Fi and Bluetooth MCU. It accepts a variety of digital interfaces including high-speed SPI, UART, I2S, and I2C. The HX711 load cell amplifier accepts four-wire Wheatstone bridges and outputs 24-bit data at either 10 Hz or 80 Hz. The digital signal from the HX711 was connected to a GPIO pin and clock pin on the SparkFun Thing Plus.   We used a Lithium Ion 2Ah battery to power both devices.

Figure 1: Wireless Strain Prototype Connected to a 4-Wire Bending Bridge

After making the connections and installing the device in a 3D printed case for mobility testing, our development engineer programmed this device using the Arduino IDE. Our wireless strain prototype was programmed to auto connect to a Wi-Fi network and output device ID, tag names, and data values via UDP or Webservice. We chose UDP because we only needed the latest strain/load values. Bundling the device ID with the strain data would allow iTestSystem to collect data from multiple devices. To test the wireless strain prototype and develop the UDP interface for iTestSystem, we modified the Simple UDP LabVIEW example vi.

Figure 2: Arduino IDE with Example Program

Next, we integrated the wireless strain prototype into iTestSystem by adding a new communication class into the existing iTestSystem IOT Communication utility. This new class allowed the utility to read the specific UDP data type associated with our prototype and output data to a shared variable. Shared variables can be logged to disk and analyzed with iTestSystem alongside other machine data.

Figure 3: Simple UDP LabVIEW™ Code

For more information about this application, iTestSystem, or our strain gauging services, contact Mark Yeager via email at or phone @ 1.844.837.8797 x701.

Machine Failures Caused by Intermittent Damaging Events

Over the years we have been tasked with identifying the root cause of machine structural failures. In many cases, we can determine the failure mode through strain and vibration testing, order analysis, modal analysis, and operating deflection shape analysis.  What tests can you run when the damaging conditions are intermittent and not easily identified?

In these cases, we like to install a cellular networked temporary data acquisition (DAQ) system that can autonomously log vibration and strain data along with machine status data. We have deployed two types of DAQ systems to collect data remotely.  An interactive system that includes an industrial PC running our iTestSystem software and National Instruments (NI) Compact DAQ hardware and a headless system that utilizes NI Compact RIO hardware.  Our test engineers prefer using the interactive solution for troubleshooting because they can view real-time signal waveforms and collected data files, and then adjust the test parameters accordingly without having to reprogram the hardware.

Rugged Measurement System

Figure 1: Headless networked data acquisition system

When potentially damaging events are identified in the vibration and strain data collected by these systems, it is important to know the machine’s operating status. Collecting the machine status information is just as important as collecting the structural data.  Many machines transmit these operating variables and operating stages over their network/bus.  Recently we have recorded process data from Allen Bradley Control Logix PLCs via Ethernet/IP, mining machine data from a Siemens controller via proprietary TCP/IP protocol, boiler condition data from a DCS via Modbus TCP,  machine pressures from PI historian via the UFL connector (TCP), and vehicle speeds and pressure via CAN.  Fortunately, we were able to use and adapt LabVIEW communication protocol tools to build applications and addons that allow this network tag data to be collected along with structural data.

LabVIEW Modbus to Shared Variable Code

Figure 2: Modbus to Shared Variable Tool

After the data collection phase, our engineers perform statistical analysis on the sensor and status channels in all data files and aggregate the results into a database for searchability. To identify the root cause probabilities, you can process the channel statistics data using your favorite correlation algorithm or application.  The image below shows an example data set containing related sensor data that was processed using a LabVIEW correlation test tool.

LabVIEW Correlation VI

Figure 3: Correlation Test Example vi

Contact Information: For more information about our remote data acquisition service, our LabVIEW development service, or iTestSystem contact:

Mark Yeager – Integrated Test & Measurement (ITM), LLC.  Email: or Phone: 1.844.TestSys

Recent News:  Ohio University Asphalt Cracking Prediction System Project

ITM adds NI-9253 Compatibility to iTestSystem

This week we added another module to the iTestSystem compatibility list.  One of our iTestSystem users recently needed to collect data from thirty-two (32), 4 to 20 mA current sensors along with their vibration measurements.  National Instruments (NI) recently introduced a new C-Series current module, the NI-9253, that was a perfect fit for this application.

The NI-9253 module has eight (8) simultaneous sampled (50kHz max), +-20 mA, 24-bit input channels.  It has several diagnostic features to ensure your system is operating nominally at all times with open channel detection, power supply detection, and configurable thresholds. The NI-9253 has eight LEDs that indicate the status of each channel and the power supply so a user can easily determine the system’s status in the field.  The NI-9253 also features a number of programmable hardware filters (Butterworth and comb) to reduce signal noise.

Click Here for more information about iTestSystem.

For advice about using the NI-9253 versus other current modules in iTestSystem monitoring applications or with custom cRIO RT and FPGA control applications contact Mark Yeager or Chase Petzinger.