The next level of industrial evolution is already here. How will you put the capabilities of new-generation SIMATIC Open Controllers to work?
Major advances in manufacturing are getting faster: If the first industrial revolution happened around 1760 with the advent of steam and hydropower, the second took more than 100 years to emerge with the development of mass production beginning around 1870. That lasted another 100 years until the third industrial revolution in 1970 as computers began to replace mechanical systems. Now, the fourth revolution is already here, and it’s been less than 50 years. This is Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
Just as electronic sensors replaced pneumatics and CNC replaced cam-driven tools, smart devices using IP communication are already on their way to dominate the industrial landscape. Unlike earlier generations, those working today nearing retirement have experienced one revolution and will see this new one in their lifetime.
One of the main conceptual elements of the IIoT is the ability to have devices talking to devices, machine to machine (M2M). While this might not seem all that new to many industrial users, the difference is that devices are becoming smarter with more information to exchange, and will do so using IP communication. Every device will have its own IP address so it can be reached from anywhere via the Internet. Users are just beginning to comprehend the full impact of this capability.
Why Digital is Key
Analog communication, with its inherent limitations, is rapidly giving way to digital, and the effect is like trading two cans and a string for a smart phone. Indeed, sophisticated devices need sophisticated controllers to get the most out of their capabilities. A PLC from 10 or 20 years ago is certainly capable of reading I/O and following program steps. However, manufacturing today goes beyond those simple requirements. A controller now must be able to handle the range of control functions required to execute the complex strategies needed to run digital factories. A new generation of controllers has emerged that combines the capabilities of the world’s best PLCs with the versatility of a PC.
The combination of the new generation of devices and controllers helps us create digital factories based on cyber-physical systems. While it’s true that computers have been moving more to the shop floor since 1970, the nature of what they’re doing is evolving very rapidly. Early PLCs weren’t much better than the relays they replaced; but what they could control changed and grew with technical developments and imaginative users that saw how they could be put to work. The limits of human creativity had to be overcome before greater things could be realized, and we’re still on that path today.
Consider a basic robotic operation. Traditionally, manufacturing robots are programmed to do the same operation again and again, day after day. But with new cyber-physical concepts, the robot and its controller can be programmed to look at its situation and decide what operation needs to be performed. For example, a conveyor can move a variety of bottles into a capper. They are the same basic shape but can be any one of five different colors. Each color of bottle needs a matching color cap. The cyber-physical system can look at each bottle and tell the robot to grab and screw on the appropriate color cap.
But that might not be enough. The system can also make sure the bottle is not deformed, unlabeled, or not filled to the correct level. Using information from a group of smart sensors, the same robot can grab bad bottles and pull them off the line. The system can be programmed to consider a range of possible situations and respond appropriately for each.
Smart Controllers for Smart Applications
Creative users are finding new approaches to help manufacturing systems perform more sophisticated functions in complex applications. New PC-based controllers are at the heart of these cyber-physical systems because of the variety of operations, field devices, and communication protocols involved in a complex operation.
Siemens has created a variety of industrial PCs designed to support manufacturing operations. Most models in the family use Intel processors to provide the highest levels of functional capability and quality. Some are simple box PCs that are small enough to fit in an equipment cabinet, have no moving parts, and can handle basic applications. Panel PCs incorporate a built-in touchscreen for programming and HMI functions, all the way to large-scale industrial servers.
The SIMATIC ET 200SP
One of the most interesting configurations is the new SIMATIC ET 200SP Open Controller. It features the same functionalities as the CPU 1511/CPU 1513 of the S7-1500 controller system with a form factor like a traditional PLC. Yet it is a true industrial PC. One end has all the connectivity of a current model PC while the other has I/O card slots as expected on a Siemens PLC. That gives it the ability to work seamlessly with common industrial field devices or commercial peripherals, regardless of the communication protocols they use.
It can function as a PLC and a PC at the same time. While it’s running a machine as a controller, the hypervisor isolates the Windows system from the controller functionality, allowing the operator to perform completely different tasks simultaneously in Windows. The real-time operating system working with a dual-core processor makes the separation between the PLC and Windows sides so complete that an operator can put Windows through a cold restart without affecting the machine control functions. Both sides of the controller can be integrated with enterprise-level systems as necessary.
From a functionality standpoint, Siemens’ industrial PCs can do anything a PLC can do. In fact, one of the most popular PLCs is the S7-1500 controller, which is one of the fastest in the world and represents a platform that Siemens can build on for many years. Siemens now offers the S7-1500 Software Controller that can turn any of their industrial PCs into a PLC with all the same capabilities and diagnostics. The lines between various types of product families are quickly blurring as more units develop more capabilities.
Consider this description of how a new product can be designed and produced: Product designers will create the item on a computer, including all its component parts. The design platform will understand the characteristics of the individual parts, their materials of construction, and manufacturing processes necessary to produce them.
A product may involve components that are injection molded plastic, machined metal parts and others made from powder metal or additive processes. The system will consider how all the elements relate and ensure each is structurally sound and capable of being built and assembled efficiently using the anticipated processes.
The design platform will take the next step and determine what is necessary to produce the components and final assembly. It will determine if existing production facilities are up to the task, if specific elements need to be modified to make it more suitable, or if it needs to create a completely new manufacturing line. The result will be a very clear and detailed picture of how the product can be made, including cost estimates and production rates.
Once production begins, all the information necessary to develop a service program will be available to support the product over its lifecycle. This whole process can happen without the necessity of creating a single prototype. The product and its manufacturing processes are designed virtually using Siemens software, and the manufacturing facility can be built also using Siemens production equipment, controllers, and software.
The New Manufacturing Floor
Manufacturing facilities designed this way will be integrated like nothing ever seen before. Every device, down to individual sensors and actuators, will use IP communication and have its own IP address. Any individual with appropriate authorization can access any device from any location using the Internet to provide diagnostic and production-related information.
Production will be highly reliable thanks to diagnostic information feeding condition-based maintenance programs. Unplanned outages will be a thing of the past. Manufacturing systems will be seamlessly integrated with all other levels through the enterprise and protected by sophisticated cyber security strategies. Companies with multiple locations can share information easily anywhere in the world.
Siemens is already manufacturing many of the products necessary to make this scenario a reality. Product design software running on industrial computers does the creating, and those same platforms can power and control manufacturing facilities. The last elements still to be realized are industrial sensors and actuators that communicate through the IIoT. The first waves are being designed and more will be on the way soon.
The technical elements to make Industry 4.0 a reality already exist. Now all we need are manufacturers with the vision and creativity to put it to work. Are you ready?Have an Inquiry for Siemens about this article? Click Here >>