Freeing up time for new developments
Maintaining and servicing existing applications – these are the things that make for a mundane workday for many software engineers. At the same time, programming basic functions for use in new projects takes up a lot of time and energy. What happens is that developers get stressed, schedules are overrun and software quality suffers. Have no fear: help is on the way with B&R's revolutionary new mapp technology.
In order to keep up with increasing market demands on flexibility, product quality and productivity, machine and plant manufacturers are increasingly turning to more extensive mechatronic solutions. This in turn magnifies the importance of software in the engineering process. This doesn't mean that individual software developers will automatically be able to develop and program the necessary new functions, however. In fact, the opposite is true: the amount of work on legacy systems is actually increasing.
Maintenance = Time killer
The more complex the software, the more time spent maintaining and servicing it. Just ask Christoph Trappl, manager of International Applications at B&R. "It's certainly not rare for a developer to have to board an airplane in order to troubleshoot a machine in the field and iron out any problems it may have," he explains. This isn't just a monetary expense, but also valuable time – time that could be better invested in developing new software.
Reduced complexity, increased flexibility
Just as much of a time killer is programming basic functions. Simple functions – like loading recipe data or setting up an axis – must constantly be configured anew, loaded to the controller and tested. "In our experience, 50 to 80 percent of the time spent on software development for new machines and systems is expended on basic functions," says Trappl.
"Many of our customers have told us that their work would be considerably simplified if there was a way to easily and flexibly engineer complex software functions," he continues. "At the same time, they don't want to spend so much time maintaining existing software or reprogramming basic functions over and over again." B&R has now developed a single solution that meets all three of these demands. With modular mapp function blocks, software can be engineered an average of 67% faster, all while drastically reducing the time and expense needed for maintenance and service.
"In essence, we are offering encapsulated functions," explains Trappl. One of these mapp modules can be used to easily configure the movement of an axis, for example. The developer doesn't need to become familiar with the code that makes this possible since it has already been extensively tested and seamlessly integrated into B&R's Automation Studio engineering platform. Even complex programming is simple to implement. And it goes without saying that the modules comply with established standards such as IEC 61131.
"With mapp technology, a software engineer can program a complete robot and get it up and running in a single day," says Trappl. All that's needed is to move the corresponding mapp component into the Automation Studio application using drag-and-drop where it can then be configured. "As far as basic functions go, the software engineer's work is reduced to simple configuration."
More time to deliver more value
This allows the developer more time to program the machine and system functions that actually make the difference. "A machine builder isn't making money by having his machine load recipes or move an axis," he continues. "What's important is that the machine or system process can be put down into software in a way that allows his customers to make the most money." Providing developers the necessary freedom to make this happen is exactly what mapp was designed to do.
mapp doesn't just provide a way to accelerate development, it also makes the automation software much easier to operate. Until now, it took programming and combining countless function blocks to do what a single mapp block can do for complex motion sequences. "This isn't just an advantage for individual programmers," stresses Trappl. Working together in a team is also made considerably easier due to the drastically reduced complexity of the entire application software.
An application with a simple structure and fewer elements is also very helpful when it comes to analyzing functions. Remote diagnostics and maintenance is made easier as well. With an integrated web-based diagnostic tool, the machine builder's or end user's service team has a much easier job of carrying out extensive troubleshooting without having to know every single aspect of the underlying automation system. "More important, however, is that the quality of the application software is drastically improved by the reduced complexity and use of pre-tested software blocks," says Trappl. The software blocks themselves have been developed from the experience gained by B&R in implementing hundreds of thousands of automation solutions all around the world. This brings unrivaled reliability and means they don't have to be maintained by development personnel working for the machine or plant manufacturer.
mapp is not a separate software tool, and there is virtually no learning curve. The components are seamlessly integrated into Automation Studio. Users who are already familiar with Automation Studio can start using mapp components today. Customized software functions can also be thoroughly integrated into the application software. Plus, new mapp blocks – available through a simple update in Automation Studio – are being added to the list all the time.
Freedom for developers
"mapp modules provide software engineers the freedom they need to optimize the machine or system process by developing software in a way that provides the end user with real added value," says Trappl. mapp is a toolkit that the developer can access over and over again to design the application in a way that corresponds exactly to his own wishes as well as the specified requirements.