The 4th Industrial Revolution needs POWERLINK and openSAFETY
Originating in Germany, the concept of Industry 4.0 has now caught the full attention of industry experts around the world. Individual workpieces will be playing an increasingly interactive role in their own production, forming an Internet-like intelligence structure distributed throughout machines, plants and supply chains. The road into this brave new industrial landscape has been paved by increasingly distributed control and motion technology. This technology, however, relies heavily on failsafe communication systems able to manage huge volumes of data. The unrivaled qualities of POWERLINK and openSAFETY put them in a unique position to master this challenge and help shape what is being hailed as the fourth industrial revolution.
In the nineteenth century, the first industrial revolution replaced manual labor with industrial methods powered by coal and steam. The second industrial revolution introduced mass production on assembly lines with strict division of labor. The momentous invention of the transistor in the mid-twentieth century set into motion the third industrial revolution.
From that point on, it became possible to automate production processes with a remarkable level of control. Suddenly, consumer goods previously reserved for an elite minority could be manufactured inexpensively enough to make them affordable to the general public.
Mass production in shrinking batch sizes
Today's consumer values individuality but is unwilling to pay the price for handcrafted goods. This paradox puts the pressure on manufacturers of plants and machinery to minimize the time and effort of changeovers between batches – ideally eliminating it altogether through automation.
Conventional production control processes are too rigid to accommodate the demands of modern production. Many approaches have been taken over the years to make them more adaptive. One successful method has been to network machines with each other and with systems for inventory management and production scheduling.
The openness of the Ethernet-based POWERLINK communication protocol has proven effective at streamlining communication with third-party systems on the plant floor as well as with IT systems in the office environment. B&R's process control system, APROL, also makes a substantial contribution by allowing entire machine networks and building automation systems to be incorporated in a single, fully integrated production system.
Another successful approach to more adaptive production has been to distribute intelligence throughout each machine over a real-time Ethernet platform. Decentralized control and I/O systems as well as drive systems with built-in intelligence facilitate the development of modular machines that can be reconfigured dynamically during operation.
Servo drives from B&R's ACOPOS series are a prime example, having incited a minor revolution of their own when first introduced back in 2000. Motion systems and an increasing range of individual sensors with integrated data processing are also becoming more prevalent, further distributing computational performance and data management throughout individual machines.
Consistency from conception to commissioning
At the same time, the field of software engineering has yielded new concepts that allow the intentions of product developers to penetrate through to production without being lost or diluted in translation along the way. Geometric CAD models can be converted directly into NC programs for processing machines, and component data can be fed straight into production scheduling and simulation systems. Simulations of the kinematic and dynamic characteristics of moving parts from CAE programs can be translated into program code to control machines and plants, with processing algorithms being generated from the mathematical models used in simulation tools.
Meanwhile, the Internet continues to pervade the lives of users both at home and in the office, opening up new methods for managing and utilizing data and replacing centralized data management on isolated computers with global networks consisting of an enormous and continuously growing number of smaller units. Top-down command structures are giving way to the query-and-response approach of client-server systems.
An initiative put forth by the German federal government aims to promote the application of these mechanisms to the field of industrial production technology. It was this initiative that gave rise to the concepts of Industry 4.0 and a fourth industrial revolution, simultaneously forecasting and fostering a fundamental paradigm shift in the design of production processes. The post-revolution industrial landscape will feature decentralized utilization of product and processing data in a so-called "Internet of Things", with information embedded in individual workpieces that are linked to a cloud platform.
The resulting upheaval in production control methodology – including such scenarios as workpiece-initiated dynamic reconfiguration of machines – goes hand-in-hand with increasing demands on industrial communication. "Enormous volumes of data need to be transferred safely and deterministically, and daunting numbers of motion axes must be synchronized with extreme precision," says Stefan Schönegger, managing director of the Ethernet POWERLINK Standardization Group (EPSG). "These tasks demand high-speed data communication down to the level of individual sensors and actuators – with no compromise in hard real-time capability across expansive networks. POWERLINK delivers on all these points like no other system on the market."
Dynamic openness with absolute reliability
In order to achieve highly automated interaction between systems from different manufacturers, minimizing the risk of failure is essential. "Here as well, POWERLINK is already perfectly equipped to provide both PLC and line redundancy with no special computing hardware required," says Schönegger.
Another fundamental requirement for industrial communication networks is interoperability with third-party systems. "It is simply inconceivable that a single supplier offers the optimum solution for every piece of the puzzle," says Schönegger. "A solid foundation of compatibility with existing systems and a dedication to open technology are absolutely crucial."
An issue that has yet to receive its due attention in the context of Industry 4.0 is occupational safety. Yet safety measures that limit the flexibility of production processes or hinder them from achieving their full potential are clearly counterproductive. "Confining individual machines to safety cages is not the way to go," Schönegger is convinced. "If our goal is to have machines and production cells adapt their configurations based on individual workpieces, we need the freedom to add or reorganize machine modules dynamically." Here, too, the EPSG builds on a history of development and specification that began long before any talk of a pending fourth industrial revolution.
"Fieldbus-integrated safety control systems are an essential component of a modular machine design. Since it is completely independent of the type of fieldbus used, the openSAFETY protocol allows individual modules and entire machines to be equipped with a uniform safety solution, even when they use different protocols to communicate among themselves," explains Schönegger. "With openSAFETY, a production line – including all of its dynamically configurable modular units – can be managed as a single safety unit." Operators benefit from unbridled performance without the restrictions of protective barriers – thanks to fully integrated safety functions for complex kinematic chains and features such as safely limited speed at the tool center point.
These qualities, which equip openSAFETY to meet the needs of future highly flexible production systems, are owed to its openness, believes Schönegger emphatically. "Proprietary solutions have had their day. The real revolution of Industry 4.0 will be fueled by openness."
The number "4" seems to be a harbinger of sweeping changes in methodology throughout the world of industrial automation. One of the areas where the shift to decentralized production processes presents the greatest challenges for manufacturers of machines and systems is software development.
The ideal solution can be found in B&R's automation software, Automation Studio 4. Like no other system on the market, Automation Studio 4 supports the development of modular, event-driven software with the complete freedom to load individual modules – even third-party software – dynamically and on-demand. Automation Studio also provides seamless data exchange and synchronization with a wide range of M-CAD, E-CAD and simulation tools.