Showing evidence of a shift towards software

29 January 2019

Suzanne Gill reports on some of the highlights of the SPS/IPC/Drives 2018 event, which was held in Nuremberg last November.

The 2018 SPS/IPC/Drives exhibition saw around 65,700 visitors visiting 1,630 exhibitors from across the globe, situated across 17 halls, to find out more about the current trends and cutting-edge industrial automation technologies. 

The software and IT in manufacturing area of the event has continued to grow, now filling Hall 5 at and half of Hall 6. The ‘Automation meets IT ‘ and ‘wireless in automation’ shared booths were also noticeably well attended areas of the event. 

To mark the event’s 30th anniversary in 2019 it was announced that in 2019 the exhibition will be changing its name to SPS, with the abbreviation now standing for Smart Production Solutions. 

The name change reflects the growing trend in automation equipment towards software-based function blocks that are distributed across a variety of hardware components, and to reflect the fact that cloud and big-data technologies, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, digital twins, and other IT functions are being integrated into automation technology.

One of the most well attended press events seen by the Control Engineering Europe team at the event was held by OPC Foundation to announce its TSN initiative.

The audience heard more about how OPC UA will be including Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) down to field level – a move which has prompted the rapid engagement of many leading automation suppliers, many of whom were present at the press conference.  Contributions to the initiative is now coming from suppliers such as ABB, BECKHOFF, Bosch-Rexroth, B&R, Cisco, Hilscher, Hirschmann, Huawei, Intel, Kalycito, KUKA, Mitsubishi Electric, Molex, Omron, Phoenix Contact, Pilz, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric, Siemens, TTTech, Wago, and Yokogawa.

The audience heard that significant progress has already been made on the set-up of the initiative, with work groups being incorporated into the OPC Foundation organisational structure. A steering committee has also been formed to manage the technical and marketing working groups.

Initial work will focus on the core functionality of field device communication, developing a next generation architecture and general model for devices which can be adopted as easily as possible by automation suppliers. This architecture and general model will be expanded with device-type specific functionality by specialist working groups. Extended OPC UA standardisation documents will be published including test scenarios and certification procedures to ensure that the wider community can build compliant devices.

OPC UA will be able to share a multi-vendor converged network infrastructure with other applications including the existing and updated Industrial Ethernet solutions. To achieve this goal, the TSN Profile for Industrial Automation standardised by the IEC/IEEE 60802 committee will be used and all working groups will closely align with this for TSN related specification sections.

Also well attended was the CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA) press event when it was the completion of the CC-Link IE TSN specification was announced – a next generation network based on the current CC-Link IE. 

CC-Link IE TSN was developed to meet future market demands by including TSN technology, which are additional standards related to IEEE Ethernet, to integrate Operational Technology (OT) and IT while further strengthening performance and functionality. Also, with the diversification of development methods, it has enabled flexible implementation for various types of equipment and also achieves mixed usage of information communications by utilising Internet Protocol (IP) and control communication technology. It is expected that these additions to the technology will improve efficiency and reduce time for the construction of smart factories utilising the IIoT. 

Flexible and versatile motion functions 
One of the most interesting product launches at the 2018 event came from Beckhoff in the shape of its XPlanar system which comprises a series of floating plates that are able to move freely over a surface of tiles (sized 240 x 240mm). These can be set out in any format, to suit individual materials handling or assembly applications. The use of integrated permanent magnets allows the plates to move freely in two-dimensional motion and there is no direct contact with the tile surfaces which avoids friction. 

We were told that the system can work horizontally, vertically or even upside down. Collision-free and synchronised movement of several movers, with automatic path optimisation, is provided by TwinCAT automation software. We are greatly looking forward to reporting on use cases for this latest Beckhoff innovation.

Siemens used the event to present a range of sector-specific solutions and future technologies from the largest booth at the exhibition. The central focus of the booth was on products, solutions and services from its Digital Enterprise portfolio which are designed to enable the merger between the physical and digital worlds. 

The continuing adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) was much in evidence across the event and indeed also on the Siemens booth with the announcement of AI capabilities being integrated into its Simatic S7-1500 controller and its ET 200MP I/O system. The neural processing unit is said to enable efficient processing of neural networks which helps optimise visual quality checks.

Siemens also announced the expansion of its Simatic industrial PCs to include the Simatic IPC127E which can be used as a gateway to enable data management directly in the production environment. Whether it is based on Windows or Linux, the IPC is said to make it possible to network existing systems with machinery of different manufacturers and different technological versions. 

The newly developed Simatic IPC127E makes it possible to reliably record, collect, process and transfer data directly in the production environment and can also be flexibly used as an IoT gateway between the cloud or the corporate IT level and production. Thanks to pre-configured versions, the right product is available to users in a very short time.

Siemens also showcased a range of new features for its ever-developing MindSphere – its cloud-based IoT operating system – these range from visualisation through data analysis to edge computing functions. 

Holistic solutions 
The Mitsubishi Electric booth aimed to demonstrate how the company is able to support customers in the integration of smart manufacturing projects. It presented products and technologies for industrial automation across three production areas – engineering, manufacturing and maintenance.

For engineering it showed how its life cycle management tool MAPS can offer time savings in project development and integration. Using object-oriented functions, it is able to integrate and visualise devices and external equipment more easily. The latest offering – MAPS 4 – enables fast provisioning, including connection to the cloud as well as adaptability and scalability for future requirements.

In manufacturing it showed how production can be intelligently automated at various levels through the use of control and drive technology, operating devices, software and circuit breakers as well as robotics.

For maintenance the company demonstrated its ‘GOT Drive’ function which is available on servo drives and frequency inverters to enable commissioning, adjustment and maintenance directly via the graphical user interface of a GOT2000 series HMI. The drive can record load data from the machine and issue an early warning signal when a defined threshold value is reached without the need for an external sensor. Ready-built templates for visualisation are included to make commissioning faster and more convenient. With the GOT Mobile version, it is possible for activated production data to be queried from any location and alarm messages can be received via mobile phone, tablet or PC. 

App store
Phoenix Contact used the event to highlight its PLCnext Store – a software store that provides software applications (apps) that can be used to add technical functions to its PLCnext controller. Depending on the app, the user does not need any deep knowledge of programming to create their application directly using the software solutions. The open nature of the store allows third-party providers, in addition to Phoenix Contact, to sell the apps that they have developed. Having such easy access these apps can help reduce programming work and so accelerate application development.

The company also highlighted its IP20 and IP67 portfolio of IO-Link masters, IO-Link devices, cabling, and software. Direct connection to the Proficloud via the controller or a Cloud IoT Gateway enables convenient remote evaluation and diagnostics of data. 

Moxa showcased its expertise in TSN technology, demonstrating how standard Ethernet with TSN technology can enable the exchange of all data in automation architectures in parallel or vertically in real-time and with deterministic low latency. It demonstrated use cases in a unified, standard Ethernet infrastructure with guaranteed quality of service and deterministic low-latency environments including in-machine-to-supervisory real-time communication, machine-to-machine real-time communication, and in-machine latency-guaranteed communication based on standard Ethernet.

Moxa also participated on the stands of various technology and standard groups interoperability demonstrations, including such as Edge Computing Consortium (ECC), Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), Labs Network Industry 4.0  (LNI 4.0) and Ethernet POWERLINK Standardization Group (EPSG). All the demonstrations showcased the interoperability of Moxa’s TSN switches with those of other vendor devices in one standard Ethernet-based network infrastructure that can build the future of industrial automation and open up the possibilities brought by the IIoT and Industry 4.0. 

Moxa has been participating in three of the world’s most significant TSN interoperability testbeds built by ECC, IIC and LNI 4.0 respectively. Through these activities in the testbeds, it can rigorously test TSN interoperability and ensure that the developing implementation is stable and reliable before going to market.

Moxa also introduced its IIoT Edge Gateway that pre-installs Microsoft Azure IoT Edge to provide Microsoft Azure customers with an easy-to-use solution to extend their IT infrastructure and enables OT data connectivity within industrial applications. To enable further OT/IT convergence, the industrial-grade edge gateway is also optimised for IIoT applications in the factory automation, intelligent transport system (ITS), energy, and oil and gas sectors.

Moxa’s IIoT Edge Gateway also integrates the company’s industrial protocol expertise, offers long-term Linux support, and facilitates optimised device management for large-scale deployments. 

Stranded data retrieval
Often in industrial environments, potentially useful data is not recovered into IT or OT systems because the cost of recovering the information outweighs its value. Here, wireless sensor networks can offer a low-cost of data recovery by eliminating the need to lay cables, allowing previously stranded data points to be made accessible to the enterprise. Advantech showcased a range of local and wide area wireless sensing solutions built on a variety of wireless technologies. Besides enhancements to its existing Wzzard local area mesh system, it demonstrated the recently launched WISE-4471 NB-IoT sensing node, which has already completed validation on Vodafones NB-IoT network in Ireland, and is being validated in other European countries as the networks roll out.

The company also used the event to showcase its I/O interface solutions for wired and wireless data recovery, using a variety of transmission media and protocols. The Wi-Fi connected WISE series is said to offer a flexible selection of remote I/O configurations creating digital data that can be shared via Modbus, MQTT or REST. 

Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE) becoming an increasingly important KPI in today's production environments, Advantech believes it is able to offer a can provide a one-stop solution, integrating all the different steps from raw data collection through to creating meaningful KPI data. 

An interesting interface solution was shown on the Harting stand. The Han-Modular Flexbox is able to greatly reduce the construction and connection of energy chains through the provision of a modular multiconnector solution, which has been co-engineered with energy chain provider, igus.

The Han-Modular Flexbox makes it possible to sub-divide energy chains into easily replaceable segments. The housing concept replaces the traditional solution of multiple individual connections for each section of an energy chain. Instead the Han-Modular Flexbox offers a single plug-in and disconnection point as a compact overall solution. 
Fastening elements can be used to join the housings together in different variations. As a result, the height and width of the interface can be flexibly designed offering space saving benefits. 

Softing Industrial introduced its new uaGate 840D gateway which gives access to Siemens SINUMERIK 840D sl machine tool data, via OPC UA, and enables this data to be reused. The controller is used in a large number of machine tools.

Traditionally, only solutions for accessing the data of the integrated SIMATIC S7 controller were available. The new gateway is said to extend the integration possibilities for the CNC controller and, for the first time, also enables access to the NC and drive data via the OPC UA communication technology. This allows important spindle and axis data to be read out and further processed. This data can then be used for analysis tasks.

Visitors to the Emerson booth were able to see how its Plantweb digital ecosystem can be implemented without adding system complexity, leading to improved production performance and availability and ensuring product quality and machinery and worker safety. The use of standardised communication protocols provides greater access to process and device performance data which can provide actionable insights, enabling smarter decisions to be made.

Emerson also demonstrated how its ASCO and AVENTICS fluid control and pneumatics technology uses diagnostics, sensing and monitoring capabilities to improve system uptime and performance, enhance safety and optimise energy usage. Connectivity, via a range of communications including Ethernet and IO-Link, provides remote access to device health information, enabling faults to be quickly identified and maintenance scheduling to be improved. The latest Rosemount and Micro Motion measurement technology, including analytical, level, temperature, pressure and flow devices, were also on display. 

TTTech used the event to showcase its real-time machine data kit which has been designed to solve the challenge of accessing real-time data from industrial machines without altering existing I/O infrastructure or adding gateway devices. 

The TTTech solution is designed to be used by machine builders to add value to brownfield installations without causing disruption or making changes. It allows them to better predict machine maintenance needs and develop software patches and updates using the real-time data acquired. End users also benefit – gaining a deeper understanding of real-time processes and gaining access to the latest software features and functions quickly and securely.

This year
This year, SPS 2019 will take place at Nuremberg Messe from 26 to 28 November. With its new name the event will continue to offer a showcase for cutting-edge automation technology and complex solutions. Over the years it has become a must-visit event for many involved in the manufacturing industry, as it offers a great networking event, bringing together key players from various sectors and providing insight into the latest trends and innovations.

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