Manufacturing can benefit from advanced automation

Integrated Architecture facilitates the convergence of control and automation processes to streamline production and information management across an entire manufacturing or processing plant.

Taking the approach that integrated architecture can be scalable helps ensure that manufacturing enterprises, large or mid-range can take advantage of the benefits.

The provision of integrated architecture is becoming widely accepted by many automation and control providers for use by OEMs and machine builders.

Designed to provide a full range of automation disciplines – including motion, process and drive control, safety and data/information transference; integrated architecture offers a means of reducing total cost of ownership for the overall system.

There is a perception however that it is more applicable to larger sites, where there may be thousands of I/Os, controllers, switches and drives, with an enormous amount of data and information management.

The use of integrated architecture for production management was often deemed to be more appropriate for larger organisations.

Not so. Planning and the right approach to integrated architecture will work equally well on mid-range applications. In fact, it is possible to scale integrated architecture to suit virtually any size operation.

Historically manufacturers may have utilised a different set of system tools for their large and small control systems, comprising different software configuration utilities and programming techniques.

The Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture system offers scalable, integrated safety, motion control, and visualisation capabilities that are suitable for machine builders and end users who want a single control and development environment, regardless of application size, discipline or complexity.

The use of a single control infrastructure enables designers to create re-usable code and practices across their product offerings, thereby reducing development time and costs.

Integrated architecture is further streamlined with the advent of network protocols such as Ethernet/IP. Not only can all devices talk to each other, but distribution across a common network with standard enterprise applications can be accommodated.

The IT department is now in a position to help the engineer on the factory floor to manage the entire network, facilitate remote operation, increase network security and help ensure all safety measures are in place.

Reduce maintenance costs

The flow-on effect is a reduction in maintenance costs and a greater ability to incorporate additional devices and cross-communication with other business applications.

The key benefit of integrated architecture lies in its scalability across multiple controllers and graphic interfaces utilising a common set of programming and configuration tools.

The advantage in the method of programming is by developing blocks of code, the OEMs and machine builders can replicate basic functions throughout their solution set, minimising the development time for each new project.

Whilst the physical modules may appear slightly different between large and mid-range applications, the programming languages are the same.

Utilising a network protocol such as Ethernet/IP for the system backbone simplifies the process of adding supplementary controllers and enhances the ability to ‘scale up’ the architecture in a trouble-free manner.

Installing additional packaging processes, ingredients, tools or an entire new production line is achievable. Modifications can be achieved without affecting or interrupting the process of operation.

There is no compromise on controller functionality in scalable integrated architecture. What is available for a large-scale application is deliverable to a mid-range version.

The standard suite of controllers, I/O, visualisation, motion, drives, safety, asset management and information are all included.

It goes without saying, that the size of the application will determine the number of ports required on the switch; the number of I/Os to cater for; the number of viewing terminals and how safety and asset management is to be integrated.

It is up to the OEM or machine builder to help the end-user determine which size component is appropriate for their application(s) and how it should be configured across the network.

The days of hard-wired safety on the manufacturing line are dwindling. Safety products utilised within an integrated architecture structure use common programming and network environments to provide full functionality.

Integrated Architecture utilises common programming and network environments to support safety solutions within a scalable environment.

Most integrated architecture solutions will incorporate the necessary tools to control assets, maintenance schedules and servicing which are appropriate to the size of the application.

Visualisation packages supporting asset management will help ensure that data and information is displayed in real-time and has the ability to communicate changes in batch processing, maintenance schedules and system monitoring.

This may be further facilitated by offering a common network such as Ethernet/IP, which allows for a more seamless flow of information.

Ethernet/IP is gaining ground, based on common use at the enterprise level. Most users are familiar with navigating web browsers, document generation and file location.

Many of these user interfaces are now replicated in the factory floor, creating a more streamlined environment for application usage and training, for both the IT department and staff.

Implementing the systems required for the factory floor and enterprise, over the same network protocol maintains the functionality of applications such as drives or motion controllers.

Minimising slowdown

The introduction of virtual LANs for dedicated applications such as CCTV, graphic interfaces or specific processes reduces the required bandwidth over the network, minimising ‘slowdown’ experienced by production or the enterprise. Equally, should one virtual LAN ‘crash’, it does not incapacitate the entire plant.

Security is often a concern with Ethernet/IP protocols as it has the potential for viruses and malware, to progress further through the company.

This is readily rectified with secure switches, firewalls and access controls – all of which are required to maintain security for a business, large or mid-range.

Collaborations between companies also provide solutions and products designed to provide secure access for integrated architecture environments.

OEMs and machine builders need to be fully conversant with the philosophy and implementation of integrated architecture.

As differing companies supply their own versions of system integration to OEMs and machine builders, the products offered to the end-user need to be compatible, or available in a variety of formats. It is becoming rare to employ a converter to facilitate communication between two devices from separate suppliers.

The advantage to OEMs and machine builders utilising integrated architecture is the reduced development time and familiarity with programming formats.

By developing a set of ‘cookie-cut’ applications for each type of machine, they can be applied across many systems, saving the end-user time and money in the design and development cycle.

As a conduit to the automation and control supplier, the OEM and machine builder is responsible for the implementation of the latest in software updates and features for their customers’ systems.

While many OEMs and machine builders will write their own routines based on the suppliers’ code, it is important to install the current versions to take advantage of the latest features available; using a new controller with an old version of device software will still run, but visibility of the feature is not assured.

Automation and control companies provide the opportunity for registered users to download software updates via the internet as and when they are released.

Essentially, scalability takes the applications used in a large scale enterprise and adapts them to smaller mid-range systems.

With a common set of resources and tools to handle safety, motion, control, information and visualisation, it is an ideal way for machine builders and OEMs to develop a suite of solutions in a timely, cost effective manner.

With pre-planning and advice, an application can be catered for. The key will be to talk to an OEM or machine builder to select the appropriate components and programming technique to maximise the features and cost savings, regardless of whether it is a large, small or mid-range system.

Manufacturing can benefit from advanced automation[David Black is Product Manager, Architecture & Software, South Pacific Region for Rockwell Automation.]

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