Connectivity plays a special role in further developing technological competencies. It triggers and enables significant progress in a wide variety of industry segments. One major application for connectivity is automation technology, since the comprehensive networking of control chains provides enormous potential. The question therefore arises as to why connectivity has not yet been taken up in many production areas and why inflexible stand-alone solutions are still frequently used. Is it due to a lack of knowledge or a fear of problems that the changeover might bring?
Festo already set about understanding all the different aspects related to the topic of connectivity many years ago, especially in relation to automating industrial motion, from the workpiece to the cloud, i.e. from mechanical components and servo drives right up to intelligent controllers and modern cloud services. Festo can now offer convenient solutions that above all provide one thing: helping companies in the process of automating to avoid time-consuming and cost-intensive work when configuring and commissioning machines.
To find out more, we spoke to our connectivity experts Warren Harvard and Nick Hartwell from Product Management:
Warren Harvard: In short, what it means to us is seamless connectivity from the workpiece to the cloud, especially when it's about topics such as mechanical connections, electrical interfaces and commissioning as well as controller programming.
Warren Harvard: To start with it must be said that, though connectivity sounds very abstract, it is in fact something very specific: namely all the work that machine builders and automation specialists have to carry out if they want to connect electric drive technology with the control level. The challenge they face is having to master all these interfaces, in both hardware and software.
Nick Hartwell: That's right. When designing a system, everyone ultimately faces the question of how they can best combine and use the hardware and software, from movement of the workpiece to the controller. It's about knowing how and when which interfaces can be combined with one another, so that everything interacts and communicates, so to speak.
Warren Harvard: For example, the issue of how drive systems can be integrated with different controllers is a complex one. Or the challenge of having to replace the PLC in an existing machine concept. Does it just require a different fieldbus module? No, it's more than just that, it's about an entirely different language. All the work has to be done from the beginning again. The task is about how an axis, motor and servo drive can be easily combined so that they perfectly complement one another and integration in the controller is straightforward.
Nick Hartwell: Software, too, plays a key role these days. The increase in complexity is best illustrated by a confusingly large range of products that are usually mutually incompatible or at best barely compatible. Machine builders want to spend as little time as possible on complicated software during mechanical configuration as programmers do on their controllers. Ideally, there should only be one platform for configuration, commissioning and maintenance of the entire machine. This makes access to the topic as well as day-to-day activities easier for all users.
Warren Harvard: I think that we agree that we need solutions in both the hardware and software areas mentioned so that they can be integrated and interconnected more easily.
Warren Harvard: We take a look at specific applications that present problems for machine builders and thus require action to be taken. There's the controller, for example: if the customer specifications change and the controller needs to be replaced, the system will need to be up and running again as quickly as possible. How do we make sure it can be easily replaced without having to start all over again?
Then there is the topic of different component and software manufacturers, as it can be difficult to link everything up. That is why it was our aim to offer a complete package, from the mechanical components to the controller, with as few differences and breaks in the control architecture as possible.
Nick Hartwell: The key word is an all-in package that leads to the possibility of integrating entire subsystems or so-called cell automations into higher-level controllers. Then I don't need to program everything in this PLC. And it makes me more flexible. And, of course, I also save a lot of time whenever I must replace the higher-level control mentioned earlier.
Warren Harvard: Large series machine builders standardise their drive solutions much more than special machine builders, who have to cater for their customers' highly personalised needs.
Series manufacturers are more familiar with seamlessly configuring and commissioning electric drive systems. They need hardware and software that matches and interfaces that are optimally designed, regardless of the manufacturer used. Special machine builders, on the other hand, face different obstacles. They need to reconfigure each machine and commission it individually time and time again, in line with the machine design of their customers. They want to do this as simply and quickly as possible, without needing any training.
Nick Hartwell: The great thing is, both for series and for special machine builders, there are convenient and simple solutions that meet their respective requirements.
Nick Hartwell: In seamlessly connected automation systems, devices can be connected conveniently and simply without a huge amount of effort because they complement each other mechanically and electrically. They are supported by software solutions that are intuitive to use and don't require too much training and know-how. Like the ease with which we use desktop printers.
Warren Harvard: One major challenge for series manufacturers who work with an internally standardised control system and matching electric drives and mechanical components is marketing their machines internationally and expanding into other continents. But for machine operation in the USA or Asia, for example, confront them with other controllers which are common there. And that means that these machine builders need to start from scratch again.
They almost need to duplicate the entire machine project, translating it into a different language. They must rewrite the programs and document them. In some cases, they will also have to adapt large sections of the system architecture, configure it and of course replace it. This is an extremely complex process, which requires much work and time – both in terms of the software and the hardware.
To reduce this effort and be more flexible in the future, a consistent approach is needed. In line with vertical integration, all electric and mechanical components can already be coordinated with one another downstream of the controller so that it doesn't matter which controller is being used. The servo drive behaves the same with all commonly available controllers. This is supported by software which ensures the connection between servo drive and controller.
Nick Hartwell: For special machine builders, in contrast to series manufacturers, it is important to be able to configure and commission their individual machines quickly, easily and reliably. To do this, they will ideally have software that makes the initial commissioning of the drive package with mechanics, motor and servo drives as simple as possible, without elaborate training and for almost any user. A software that automatically detects all single components, incorporate their parameters and link them intelligently as well as run the entire drive package without further ado, safely and without any crashes.
The white paper on Connectivity.
For additional information and proposed solutions, see our white paper "Seamless connectivity in industrial automation".
In this white paper you can find out more about:
• Industrial automation in flux – what is the status quo and in which direction will the production of the future develop?
• Seamless connectivity – more than just the interface between individual components
• Solutions in hardware and software – how this can help to reduce the time-to-market and thereby make developments faster, more flexible and easier, from design to conceptualisation and commissioning
Based on their practical insight, the authors illustrate the challenges clearly and comprehensively and present possible solutions.
Many solution varieties with Festo.
And seamless too.
On the road to seamless automation of machines and systems, Festo offers a unique variety of solutions. We support you in connecting your automation modules with one another so that they interact perfectly every time – mechanically, electrically and intelligently.
Decentralised control of individual process modules, open and flexible communication with other control devices and integrated motion control solutions from Festo enable a wide variety of solutions for industrial automation tasks. Supported by innovative software solutions for engineering and configuration.
Our range of servo motors and servo drives is the ideal link between your mechanical system and your control technology, as it is always optimally matched and easily configured by our engineering software.
The wide range of mechanical linear axes and rotary modules offers you an almost infinite variety for automating motion – compatible with your in-house standard and of course with our servo motors.
The new commissioning software Festo Automation Suite plays a key role when it comes to connectivity. It combines parameterisation, programming and maintenance and links components simply and intelligently, not just those from Festo but all common control solutions.
Convenient, reliable and fast.