Booster for Factory Automation

March 14, 2024

Four companies have set out to completely virtualise the infrastructure and control of a production plant in a development project. The first results are now available and Computer&Automation reports in a detailed article.

The dilemma of the pharmaceutical industry

The process industry is currently facing a number of challenges that are having a significant impact on its competitiveness and innovative strength. A key concern is reducing the time-to-market for new equipment. In the face of rapid technological change and intense global competition, the ability to develop products quickly and bring them to market is crucial for success. At the same time, increased flexibility and scalability of production facilities is required in order to be able to react to market changes. This requires systems that can be adapted quickly and cost-effectively to changing production volumes and specifications.

Another trend is the application of IT patterns in the OT area (operational technology), which results in greater integration of IT (information technology) and OT. This integration promises not only new capabilities, but also cost savings through synergy effects. However, it presents the industry with the challenge of adapting existing systems and processes accordingly. These challenges call for solutions that are not only technologically advanced but also economically viable in order to increase efficiency, productivity and ultimately competitiveness in the process industry.

Four companies – one project

Under the term Industrial Control as a Service (ICaaS), four companies have come together in 2023 to form a development project with the aim of creating a scalable automation platform: Copa-Data, FLECS and Software Defined Automation are each contributing their automation expertise. As a user, Boehringer Ingelheim contributes the practical use case and verifies that the solutions developed meet the real requirements of the process industry.

COPA-DATA contributes central automation components with its IEC 61131 Runtime zenon Logic and the zenon Service Engine. They are also contributing their web-based HMI (Human-Machine Interface) and the zenon Engineering Studio, which includes a specially developed IEC 61131 IDE, to the project. FLECS complements the project with its Marketplace, which serves as a central source for all control components to be virtualised, as well as a cloud stack that fully virtualises the infrastructure and control system. Software Defined Automation extends zenon Engineering Studios to a web-based IDE (IDEaaS) and DevOps functions such as source code management and continuous deployment. In addition, SDA Secure Remote Access enables a secure connection between virtualised control and web-based engineering, bridging the gap between these two worlds. Everything together functions under the term Industrial Control as a Service (ICaaS).

The status

The first technical proof of concept developed in the course of 2023 has proven to be functional. In a demonstration project at KIT – Karlsruhe Institute of Technology – the remote IOs of the demo machine were connected to the ICaaS platform via a suitable router. This made it possible to execute the entire control logic in the containerised COPA-DATA zenon Logic. Project planning was carried out entirely in the IDEaaS, the zenon Engineering Studio from Software Defined Automation. The demonstrated savings potential therefore results from the replacement of all physical controllers as well as the widely used programming stations and their maintenance. This approach also demonstrated that there is indeed considerable potential to reduce the set-up time of an automation platform for a new system from up to 12 months to ideally one to two weeks.

The first results

Would you like to find out more about the initial results we achieved in this project? Would you like to know what a successful DevOps scenario in industrial automation looks like?

Then write us a short message to find out all the insights into this project.

You can find the complete article in the March issue of Computer&Automation.

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