Machine development with minimal risk
As software comprises a larger and larger share of each new generation of machinery, OEMs are encountering challenges that can no longer be solved efficiently using conventional approaches to software engineering. Swiss printing press manufacturer HAPA found a successful answer to these challenges with technology from B&R. Using mapp Technology, the company has substantially reduced the time it takes to develop and test the control application for its presses, while at the same time making them more flexible and more reliable.
Even without all the talk surrounding the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0, most machine builders are well aware of the contribution that software technology can make to the success of their companies. After all, as software plays an increasingly dominant role in each new generation of machines, so too grows the impact of programming errors, overly complex software structures and incompatibility. The total cost of developing, testing and maintaining a software solution escalates quickly with every change – whether the result of customer-requested modifications, integration into a production line or supervisory-level software system or even just normal upgrades over the lifecycle of a machine generation.
"In the past – whether due to insufficient modularity, custom adaptations or different approaches taken by different programmers – each machine solution behaved somewhat differently, despite having the same core technology, such our printhead," recalls HAPA CTO Jean-Luc Devenoge. "That inflated development costs and made user training and machine maintenance more complicated." As Devenoge has experienced, even firmware can become problematic over time. When a hardware component is replaced, conflicting software versions can even bring down a machine.
"We need to take a cue from the field of IT and use advanced software engineering technology to minimize the risks faced by manufacturers and users of machinery during development and operation," Devenoge has long been convinced. "That means working with frameworks and creating reusable software. It also means doing unit testing and managing the firmware of lower-level components centrally on the controller."
Minimizing risk during machine development
Kicking off development of its first dedicated film and label printing system in mid-2013, the Swiss printing specialist left no stone unturned. From the housing and machine frame to the controller, HMI panel and printing module – everything was developed from scratch.
"Our goal was to make the machine more flexible and user friendly, while at the same time minimizing risks for both ourselves and our customers," summarizes the CTO. That explains the long list of specifications on which Devenoge's team based its evaluation of potential automation partners.
Like its predecessor, the new controller would need to be able to distribute firmware to connected components at startup in order to prevent malfunctions due to version conflicts. "We had all the big name suppliers on our list, but this was one of the criteria that only B&R could deliver on," recalls Devenoge.
Minimizing risk with well-tested mapp components
The automation specialist also scored favorably in HAPA's evaluation with its software framework, mapp Technology. "In the past, we have generally written our own code for many of the low-level requirements such as error handling and communication between blocks," reports Devenoge. "With the introduction of mapp Technology, B&R has taken this work off our hands, allowing us to devote our time to implementing functions that are specific to our machine."
HAPA is among the first users to implement components such as mapp AlarmX. This component provides central management and configuration of every alarm in the system – even alarms from mapp components added to the project later on. Alarm notifications can be sent via text message or email, or used to trigger certain actions – such as playing a video or opening a PDF help file.
Unit testing prevents unexpected errors
"One of the decisive aspects of mapp its use of state-of-the-art development methodology. Each component is subjected to module testing as well as being accompanied by diagnostic functions that allow it to be checked again in the context of unit testing," says Devenoge.
Not only does this make the software more reliable, it makes it easier to meet GAMP 5 requirements. This is a key point for HAPA, since many of its printing machines are purchased by pharmaceutical companies. "If you use an unmodified mapp component more than five times, it already meets the requirements of GAMP 4," Devenoge explains. "That greatly simplifies the GAMP 5 process, since all that's left to validate is the higher-level state machine that controls all the mapp components."
Distributed development and know-how protection
Yet, mapp Technology has much more to offer, as HAPA's CTO points out: "Another huge advantage of this technology is that, by encapsulating functionality and providing uniform communication and error handling among the mapp components, it allows multiple developers to work concurrently on the same project." This also allows certain programming tasks to be outsourced without revealing the inner workings of the machine in unnecessary scope or detail.
mapp Technology also makes it easier to implement customer-specific solutions, since the software automatically adapts to match the configuration of the machine. "All that remains is to compile the application, and the machine is up and running without having to write or modify a single line of code," praises Devenoge. "As mapp Technology is used in more and more applications, the mapp components can even be reused for different machines." HAPA is currently taking advantage of this in the development of its brand new blister printing machine.
Integrated B&R solution prevents problems
HAPA has made its latest machine so modular that the same printing module, called "redcube plus", can be used whether it is printing on cartons, blister foil or capsules. It is also scalable up to seven spot colors. The integrated control electronics feature a POWERLINK interface for easy integration into the automation solution. "Thanks to the FPGA solution and the open source code, implementation of the interface only cost us two days of work," notes Devenoge.
Designed as an in-house industrial printing solution, the HAPA 862 relies on a B&R X20 control platform – regardless of whether it's the top-mounted (inline), stand-mounted or roll-to-roll (offline) variant. HAPA selected B&R solutions for every other automation task as well – from stepper and servo motors to ACOPOSmulti servo drives and X67 stepper motor modules to a SafeLOGIC safety controller, an Automation PC 910 and a custom-designed Automation Panel.
"Having such a broad spectrum of products at our disposal from a single source was important to us," explains Devenoge. "It gives us the assurance that we won't have any issues with interfaces or with the interaction between the controller and drives when we go to develop or modify a machine. It also ensures that project responsibilities are clearly defined." High-quality support was also a major criteria for HAPA. "When you're developing something from the ground up, like we did with the HAPA 862, and using various technologies for the first time, being able to rely on the support of your automation partner is absolutely critical," emphasizes the HAPA manager in conclusion. "We asked a lot of other companies about their experiences with controls suppliers. The clear consensus was that B&R does support right. And they certainly proved that over the course of our project."