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Fifty Years of Simatic Automation Revolutionises the World

03 November 2008

Automation technology by Siemens has formed and reflected the transformation in industrial production for 50 years and is constantly bursting forward to new heights in productivity and quality.

Simatic S3 filled a wardrobe-size cabinet
Simatic S3 filled a wardrobe-size cabinet

This is a fitting occasion to take a look back at a thrilling evolution of over 50 years of industrial and automation history – from the economic boom of the 1950s to the Age of Internet, from the first automated equipment to the digital factory.

Industry in the 1950s was still in the middle of the mechanisation age when the first automated machinery appeared on stage as a first sign of the revolution in production: These machines handled simple tasks such as automatic punching and turning – and represented a huge leap forward in productivity.

TRANSISTORS CHANGE THE WORLD

Relays and contactors were common denominators of control technology in the mid-1950s. Even so, communications and control engineering were already seeing the use of applications employing a totally innovative component: the transistor. Based on the effect of their signal amplification, transistors offered considerable advantages.

Therefore, it only made sense for Siemens to develop its first circuit regulators with germanium transistors in 1955.

On April 2, 1958, Simatic became a registered trademark. Although it was initially limited to logical functions, the first germanium-based Simatic G was soon used for counting tasks.

In 1964, a fundamental switch in technology occurred: control and switching systems were then built with less temperature-dependent silicon. This development led to the Simatic N series and the special systems Simatic H and Simatic P. The functionality of the controllers was still a hard-wired network of modules. At this time, the wiring was generally performed by the manufacturer according to diagrams from the project planner.

GROWING PRODUCT DIVERSITY

The industry faced new challenges at the end of the 1970s. While their products had typically been doing well in open, unsaturated markets prior to this, competition for customers was now on the rise. The game now involved setting yourself apart from the products of other manufacturers – with a more reasonable price, better quality, and a more diverse product line or new functions.

To meet the requirements of increasingly automated processes, the product design also needed to change: manufacturability became a criterion for the design of new components.

Furthermore, industrial manufacturers were also beginning to network individual processes within their production via computer systems: Computer Integrated Manufacturing in the automotive industry served as a pioneer for the networked production of the 90s.

THE TRIUMPH OF PLCS

Parallel to the changes in industrial production in the 1970s, a new controller type was winning the hearts and minds of engineers and customers alike: the programmable logic controller (PLC), where the functionality is ruled by a stored program rather than a hard-wired system.

The first mobile programming units for programming the PLCs were in use by the mid-70s. As far as convenience-of-use, weight and sturdiness are concerned, these early mobile units were but crude predecessors of the handy devices in use today.

The success story of the PLCs named Simatic began at the 1979 Hannover Fair. The exhibit there was the starting shot as the Simatic S5 PLC went on to establish itself definitively in nearly every industry. At the same time, customer requirements for system functionality and operability were also on the rise. In the 1980s, programming of the systems was further simplified by the introduction of monitors and graphical programming to control engineering.

Demands for decentralisation of functions were also raised early on. These demands called for reduced wiring by bundling the signals at the machine level and transmitting them in packages to the PLC. In answer to those demand, distributed I/Os were launched with the appearance of fieldbus technology.

In 1993, Profibus became a recognised standard, and, since then, networking has steadily become an increasingly important aspect of automation.

Simatic S5 family
Simatic S5 family

NETWORKED PRODUCTION

By the mid-1990s, on-time and in-time processes had enabled a close mesh of sequences within a production process, paving the way for new ratio potentials. For instance, it became possible and economical to manufacture products in high quantity with different characteristics – on almost fully automated production lines with a high degree of production quality.

This integration of sequences also opened the door to new potential for maintenance and servicing, production planning and process optimisation: it was now possible to optimise capacities and avoid downtimes.

TOTALLY INTEGRATED AUTOMATION

In 1996, Siemens unveiled Totally Integrated Automation at a press conference in Rotterdam. Totally Integrated Automation now ensured both vertical and horizontal integration: horizontally from inbound logistics to the production chain and to outbound logistics and vertically across all levels of the automation pyramid.

At the same time, Siemens also announced the integration of production and process automation: it based the process control system Simatic PCS 7 on standard components from the Simatic portfolio – a breakthrough which spanned the existing gap between process control engineering and PLCs.

Totally Integrated Automation represented the ultimate debut of the Age of Decentralisation.

The increasing miniaturisation of electronics made it possible to put more and more functionality into increasingly compact devices. Distributed I/Os were equipped with their own intelligence, taking on data processing tasks at first before ultimately being tasked with open-loop control as well. The devices were capable of set-ups with a correspondingly high degree of protection so that they could also function in dusty or humid environments or even outdoors.

Safety technology was also keeping pace with these leaps and bounds. In 2000, Siemens presented its Safety Integrated concept which now enabled the combination of standard and safety automation into one system.

FLEXIBLE PRODUCTION

Ultimately, the new millennium marked the onset of production with one-piece batch sizes as a matter of everyday life in industry. Even complex products such as automobiles or computers could now be built according to the individual specifications of customers within the automated production process.

The highly flexible lines also made it possible to launch new products on the market faster to keep a step ahead of the competition – a crucial factor in markets subject to increasingly tough pricing wars.

Now, more than ever, production in the globalised world means co-ordinating production sites on both an international and intercontinental scale.

To cut the time to market even further, manufacturers can set up and test new lines in virtual mockups before commissioning takes place.

Meanwhile, the demands of consumers and government regulators for the safety, security and quality of industrial products are steadily on the rise – the transparency of processes is more important than ever before since industry’s responsibility for its products no longer ends at the loading bays in the factory.

INTEGRATION OF THE IT WORLD

The Simatic S7 family
The Simatic S7 family

The systems on the administrative side of a company regarded production as a black box for quite some time.

For effective production, however, machines, employees and processes must be co-ordinated and synchronised. This is precisely what a Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) does.

In 2002, Siemens launched its MES system named Simatic IT, the only one of its kind to comply consistently with the specifications of the ISA-95 standard for MES. This bridged the gap between production on the one side and corporate management systems on the other.

Protocols for wireless transmission which can also carry safety-related information have been at the heart of developments for new communications standards.

In the end, powerful simulation tools were created to meet customer demands for complete plant modeling, virtual testing and commissioning. This has led to the next crucial step in the history of automation: the Digital Factory.

THE DIGITAL FACTORY

Four years down the road, the automotive industry was once again the first to introduce the new technologies. It now uses the concept of the Digital Factory which allows it to simulate and model all of its processes – from material logistics to concrete production steps.

That means it can test the soundness of new production concepts on a computer and harmonise all systems with one another – before even breaking ground for a new factory.

Conversely, it is also possible to optimise and modify existing, complex production plants virtually, for example, to test conversion to a new product. Subsequent to this, “real” production simply implements the results of the simulation – without any drawn-out processes for running up and breaking in converted lines.

Based on the examples of an ultra-modern automobile manufacture equipped with Siemens technology for automation and drives and for power distribution in all steps, Siemens showcased Simatic innovations involving Profinet, Embedded Automation and Safety as well as its new version 3.0 of the Automation Designer, an engineering solution for the Digital Factory, at the 2008 Hannover Fair.

Just one more example of how Siemens is still spinning the big wheel of development, 50 years after the introduction of Simatic.

Contributed by Heinz Eisenbeiss, Director Marketing and Promotion for Siemens Business Unit Industrial Automation Systems, Nuremberg

Click here to read an interview with Arnold Zankl on "The History of Simatic"

Click here to read an interview with Dr. Gerd-Ulrich Spohr, head of Strategic Development Technology for the Siemens divisions Drive Technologies and Industry Automation on "Simatic Family: We have not yet achieved the goal"


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