Demystify the newly-released open automation platform

How open is your automation? Openness for industrial automation varies. Review history of open in automation and how IEC 61499 standard for distributed control system can help.

By Stone Shi May 14, 2022
Courtesy: Schneider Electric and CFE Media’s New Products for Engineers Database

 

Learning Objectives

  • Learn what an open automation platform is.
  • Examine how IEC 61499 makes programming independent of the underlying system equipment.
  • Review the value can open automation platform bring to users.

As automation manufacturers take digital transformation and intelligent manufacturing as part of their strategic missions, Schneider Electric has put forward the concept of fully open automation with the software-centric industrial automation system, Schneider Electric EcoStruxure Automation Expert.

Open automation has a long history. Degrees of openness for industrial automation vary. They include the opening of industrial communication protocols, the opening of hardware (based on an industrial PC) and the opening of control software programming with PLCopen as the core.

Will Schneider Electric’s efforts advance industrial automation openness? Can fully open automation be realized? What kind of platform is EcoStruxure Automation Expert from Schneider Electric? What kind of open problems can be solved? What is the status and future of the platform? Wang Qiangjun, head of EcoStruxure Automation Expert in China, participates in platform development, and is marketing manager of industrial automation division of Schneider Electric (China) Co., Ltd.

What is an open automation platform?

In automation, almost every large factory has its own platform. In addition, there are IIoT platforms, cloud platforms, data acquisition platforms and other platforms. What does Schneider Electric’s open automation platform do? Is it a platform?

Qiangjun said EcoStruxure Automation Expert is more than software; it is a complete set of systems.

It is an integrated development tool, an integrated development environment (IDE). It is a tool for industrial automation application development. It can develop, configure, model and design automation projects and projects. It can automatically generate a human-machine interface (HMI), which can be deployed to an industrial computer or computer.

It has a database, which can archive and store events, records, trends and other data. There are some library files, including industry libraries of various industries.

It has automation hardware, such as M580 controller for large control systems, a M251 series programmable logic controller (PLC) for machine automation, and Altivar inverter supporting Ethernet, etc.

There is also a runtime environment, which is a soft programmable automation controller (PAC) runtime that can be run in a PC.

Together, these are an automation development platform.

Why is this platform an open automation platform?

Open automation means the interconnection and interoperability of automation products, plug and play, reuse and portability of software code. Such openness has been an automation-industry goal. When is an automation platform considered an open automation platform?

Qiangjun pointed out open automation is not equivalent to opening source code. It refers to the convenient integration of an automation system with other systems and hardware from other manufacturers; this is called horizontal integration.

Some technologies, such as Big Data analysis, IoT and artificial intelligence, need to be easily integrated into the industrial control system (ICS); this is called vertical integration.

Schneider Electric EcoStruxure Automation Expert changes the game of industrial automation by creating a new category of software-centric industrial automation system. It is the first universal automation offering and begins a new era of interoperability, where end users can select from best of breed technologies to meet any demand, without regard to vendor. Courtesy: Schneider Electric and CFE Media’s New Products for Engineers Database

Schneider Electric EcoStruxure Automation Expert changes the game of industrial automation by creating a new category of software-centric industrial automation system. It is the first universal automation offering and begins a new era of interoperability, where end users can select from best of breed technologies to meet any demand, without regard to vendor. Courtesy: Schneider Electric and CFE Media’s New Products for Engineers Database

IEC 61131-3 open, but not easily interoperable

As early as 1993, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) formed the International Standard IEC 61131-3 for unifying PLC, distributed control system (DCS), IPC, computer numerical control (CNC) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) programming systems, which was the first step towards opening automation. At present, most automatic controllers support the programming specification of IEC 61131-3.

However, IEC 61131-3 is a programming standard for one device. The program developed for a controller can only be deployed to the controller. The program is difficult to transfer to another vendor’s hardware. When the system needs to be expanded and upgraded, it is necessary to repeatedly program and define the interface among systems.

IEC 61499, independent of the underlying system equipment

To meet the requirements of complex industrial systems and the requirements of reusability, portability and operability, IEC began to develop the IEC 61499 standard for DCSs in 2000 and completed its release in 2005.

IEC 61499 is a system level executable modeling language specification. It proposes an application model independent of the underlying system equipment, encapsulates the component-oriented control software into software components in the form of function blocks, and models the control algorithm in the form of intuitive graphics by connecting the function blocks. Through the standardized packaging of function blocks, the reusability of software is realized, so as to decouple software and hardware. Therefore, IEC 61499 is the top-level design of open automation.

From the development concept to various functional blocks, the Schneider Electric EcoStruxure is in line with IEC 61499 standard, making it an open automation platform. In other words, as long as the software or function block and industry library developed according to IEC 61499 standard, it can be used in this platform. Hardware supporting IEC 61499 operating environment can be programmed and configured with this platform.

What value can open automation platform bring to users?

What value can an open automation platform bring to users?

Qiangjun said the core of EcoStruxure Automation Expert is IEC 61499, which has advantages. IEC 61499 realizes the decoupling of software and hardware through function block packaging. This creates eases interconnection, interoperability, software portability and reuse among different hardware and systems, which brings great flexibility.

For example, the control of an industrial automated guided vehicle or a manipulator can be encapsulated into a function block. Each time the automated guided vehicle (AGV) or manipulator is used, it is okay to use the function block from the software without programming.

IEC 61499 also adopts the object-oriented method to encapsulate the function block. Instead of the program execution process based on time scanning in the original IEC 61131-3 programming languages, it changes to the execution process based on event-driven function block, which is more in line with modern software engineering. It can make it easier for it engineers to understand operational technology (OT) and reduce the application difficulty of information technology (IT) in the field of automation. Moreover, this component-based object-oriented encapsulation mode is consistent with OPC UA information model, so IEC 61499 and OPC UA can be combined.

For example, after a pump is encapsulated into a function block, its various logic and parameters are in the function block, and can communicate externally, no matter what SCADA system, manufacturing execution system (MES) system or 3D simulation system is used. If OPC UA is adopted, it can become OPC UA information model with a little work, which reduces the difficulty of data integration or engineering integration. In this way, IT engineers and OT engineers only need to understand how to use the interface outside the function block. There is no need to understand the algorithm inside the function block.

Stone Shi is executive editor-in-chief, Control Engineering China. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

KEYWORDS: Open automation, IEC 61499

CONSIDER THIS

How would hardware and software interoperability help your automation efforts?


Stone Shi
Author Bio: Executive editor-in-chief, Control Engineering China