PCAN-Explorer 6: how we interpret data for better decision making

PCAN-Explorer 6: how we interpret data for better decision making

Working with the PCAN Explorer 6

To make machines work efficiently and reliably, today’s OEMs have to embrace data. And lots of it. Mark Wood of Control Technologies UK discusses the subject.


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By distributing control nodes around a machine, the machine builder ensures that cable harnesses are kept to a minimum, and the right control mechanisms are where they need to be. Each of these nodes talks to each other and the main controller via CAN – the standard in distributed systems comms across industries from automotive to marine, construction to agriculture. The amount of data that can be transferred over CAN is eye-watering:, transmitting and receiving megabytes of data in the blink of an eye. This is ideal for the control electronics and embedded microcontrollers, but what about when a development engineer, or a service technician needs to access this data and make advanced engineering decisions from it? 

What does this mean? 

At the physical layer, CAN is a series of differential voltages representing binary signals from the various transceivers around the machine. These signals are further extrapolated to represent hexadecimal data. Hexadecimal (or hex for short) data is so-calledso called as it is based on the mathematical base-16 notation. This is, a numeric system using 16 symbols made up of numbers 0-9 and letters A to F to represent numbers from 0-16. Hex notation was borne from the development of larger computers and the need to conveniently turn long strings of binary into manageable groups. 

Real-world applications 

All this is great, but what does it mean for the person on the ground looking at this data?. On the face of it, unless working with hex notation regularly, the data is impenetrable. But to the control nodes and embedded micro-controllers, this stream of data represents every fact and figure they need to successfully complete their tasks. For an engineer, translating the hex data to engineering units is crucial in understanding how a machine is performing and determine what actions, if any, are needed and how to optimise control and monitoring functions.

This is where PCAN Explorer 6 from PEAK-System GmbH comes in. PCAN Explorer 6 (or PE6 for short) is the lens through which an engineer can interpret the data on a machine and make real-world decisions. At an entry level, PE6 allows real-time monitoring of CAN data from all sources, or transmission of messages onto the bus to influence control functions or simulations. But taking it a step further, PE6, through the use of symbol and DBC files, can turn the raw hex data into symbolic representations of the CAN messages. This revolutionises the way an engineer sees the data – allowing rapid analytics and decision making. and This ensures complete provides confidence in the engineer’s understanding of the machine and their own control systems. When developing systems, PE6 enables powerful simulation capabilities via symbol files and transmit lists. This can be coupled with the Instrumentation Panel add-in to offer visualisation and simulation via a graphical interface.

Built into PE6 is a powerful trace function, allowing end users to record CAN data, parsed against symbol files if used. These traces can then also be played back for off-line analysis and simulation. In addition to the trace function, PE6 also offers automation of complex processes using macros via a VBScript implementation.

The functionality of PE6 can be extended further using add-ins. We have already mentioned the CANdb and Instrumentation Panel add-ins, but we can also offer add-ins for graphical representations of signals time course either via live or trace data in the Plotter add-in. Additionally, support for the SAE J1939 protocol is available using the J1939 add-in. By combining these tools in the way that suits your unique needs, custom solutions can be efficiently developed across a wide range of industries.

How Control Technologies UK can help you 

At Control Technologies UK Ltd, we have been using PE6 for many years, it is an integral part of our all system development activities and one of the few engineering tools used by our engineers on a daily basis. We can offer training and support across all PEAK products and solutions, including initial product training for PE6 through to advanced macro development and Instrumentation Panel deployment.