Latest News

Scalable hardware as a key to success

In today‘s market, automation software must be able to quickly and reliably adapt to a broad range of customer requirements. Classic automation solutions do this by simply transferring the respective project to the hardware. This takes place using different programming tools for the controller, visualisation and drive technology. However, as soon as additional customer options enter the equation, this process becomes overly complex and prone to errors.

This is why some automation suppliers suggest transferring the entire software, with all options included, to the controller and only activating those options that the customer actually needs. Depending on the machine structure, this may indeed be a practical solution. However, while this is convenient for the control supplier, the machine manufacturer is stuck with the extra expense of the full software, which means paying too much for the controller. Details such as I/O mapping are either disregarded altogether or are only accounted for minimally. Machine manufacturers are left to cover the cost and effort on their own.

How well do you know your customers?

Knowing the exact machine structure is a crucial requirement for understanding the machine manufacturer‘s demands. Let‘s take the automotive industry as an example. Essentially, the products being offered are divided into three categories; compact, mid-sized and luxury cars. In order to remain competitive, manufacturers must offer a basic package for each class with an attractive set of features at a competitive price. At an added cost, optional features can be added to meet the customer‘s specific needs.

This example can be applied to machine manufacturing by considering the three different machine types on the market: Economy (abbreviated ECO), medium range (MED) and high-end machines (HIGH).

This means that the basic software for automation always has to be the same for all machine types – from ECO to HIGH – because certain basic functions (such as machine logic, recipe management, alarm handling, remote connection and much more) are identical for all machine types. Therefore, a function that has been tested once can be used reliably for all machine models and the function and operating philosophy will always be the same. The ECO, MED and HIGH models generally differ by their display size, production speed, machine size and available range of functions.

There are two variants to consider when looking for the right controller: While the first variant uses just one type of controller for all machine designs, the second involves using a controller that best matches the machine‘s requirements according to the machine type. A comparison shows that, with the first variant, the machine manufacturer is always forced to pay the price for the high-end machine because it determines which equipment is used. Savings are only possible when choosing the I/O.

The optimum adaptation of the automation technology provided with the second variant enables the machine manufacturer to benefit from considerable price reductions and increased efficiency. Manufacturers pay only for the performance they really need. While this may sound like a useful solution, experience shows otherwise. Managing conventional controllers introduces a whole new set of problems due to high maintenance costs. This is a major drawback for machine manufacturing.

Scalability provides cost advantages

Thanks to a long history in the field of automation and extensive knowledge in a wide range of industries, B&R customers benefit from scalable solutions, which cover the full scope of machine manufacturing requirements.

But how exactly does B&R meet the demands of the market using a scalable automation solution? Let‘s have another look at the three machine types mentioned earlier:

In order to remain competitive, the economy-level machine cannot exceed a certain price level. It must have comparable performance and a similar scope of functions as the MED. The differences are in the display size and the number of additional functions. To keep costs as low as possible, a compact controller with integrated 5.7" display is used in the ECO. The MED uses a PC-based controller with integrated 10.4" display. The high-end machine has a PC-based controller with Windows XP and a remote 19" touch screen display.

The decisive factor is now based on the use of different technologies, which enable scaling and therefore price optimization and the right level of performance within the different machine classes. Ideal scaling is provided by the compiler, which compiles the source code in an Intermediate Language (IML) that is then converted to a machine code (processor language). This is a decisive step that makes it possible to transfer the same source code to the different control technologies used on the ECO, MED or HIGH machine.

Why can‘t a PC-based controller be used in all cases? There is a natural price resistance curve that creates a lower limit for any PC-based controller. This minimum price level can only be overcome using other processor technologies.

Reusability for investment security

The IML makes it possible to use software on different control technologies and for many controller generations to come. This is particularly important in regard to the total cost of ownership.

The existing software cannot be re-used for conventional controller solutions. The entire software must be rewritten and tested again. Moreover, the company must also commit further resources for the maintenance of the software.

B&R on the other hand enables software that was developed just once to be reused for many controller generations. Newly created function blocks are even integrated into the old controller. This is known as backwards compatibility. With this solution, the machine manufacturer profits from a high level of investment security without having to repurchase different programmed applications for each new generation.

The fastest cycle times for all machine types

The B&R real-time, multi-tasking operating system guarantees that a machine function that has been tested once will run on the ECO, MED and HIGH using the same cycle time. The cycle times needed for the machine functions are mapped directly in Automation Studio. This means, for example, that axis loop control or axis synchronization should run in the microsecond range and the machine logic should run in the millisecond range, while a temperature loop controller should run in the 100 millisecond range. Other administrative functions such as recipe management are processed during idle time.

Functions that have been tested once perform the same on all machine types. These cycle times are guaranteed during operation, regardless of the controller that has been selected. This saves time during integration, which must be considered when determining the total cost of ownership, and shortens the time to market for new developments.

The right software package for any machine

Incoming jobs for machine production are entered in the ERP System (Enterprise Resource Planning). This records all of the relevant data from the machine type to the options that were ordered. The right software must then be quickly and correctly installed with the scope of functions that have been ordered. This is made possible by exchanging data between the ERP System and Automation Studio. The EPR System stores information about which software packages are required for which machine type. The respective option packages are added according to the options that have been ordered. The integrated I/O mapping in the B&R real-time operating system makes it possible to allocate variables and the physical I/O on the controller in accordance with IEC standard. ePLAN can be used instead of the allocation list. The software is generally installed directly via LAN. A special tool allows the controller to obtain the software from a server via LAN.

Hot-plugging for seamless machine operation

B&R stores all software components and parameters on one mass memory, typically a CompactFlash card. When the machine is started, all of the necessary software components (firmware) and parameters are automatically distributed to the automation components connected to the bus. This method makes it possible to replace hardware at any time, without having to stop the machine. Even complex devices such as servo drives can be replaced in this manner.

Thanks to the success of a highly coordinated market strategy, B&R is in the position to provide scaled automation solutions. This means having the highest level of efficiency while also saving costs at the same time. Reusability of the software for many future machine generations secures the machine manufacturer’s one-time investments and existing intellectual property for the long-term. Automatically generated software and easy replacement of hardware also provide enormous potential for significantly optimising machine production. This ideal combination of automation strategies ensures that all B&R customers are provided the greatest possible competitive advantage.

Send this to a friend