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Breaking Through the Limitations of Industrial Automation


January 8, 2024

Dr. Thomas Holm of SALZ Automation and Patric Scholz of FLECS are well-known figures in the automation family. They are now collaborating to make their customers more flexible and future-proof. But how do East Westphalia’s technology and Allgäu’s mesh? We paid them a visit.

When Patric Scholz of FLECS from Kempten in the Allgäu talks about SALZ Automation, he quickly becomes enthusiastic. “Thomas Holm and his team have understood the future of automation. They rely on a Linux platform, which of course fits perfectly with us,” laughs Scholz. “I’m glad to hear that,” jokes Dr. Thomas Holm, “that you see it that way and we’re on the right track.” The mood is relaxed; FLECS and SALZ Automation are doing business together, developing together, and Scholz and Holm agree: The automation of the near future is based on openness and flexibility; the control system must continuously adapt to new tasks for the customer.

FLECS and SALZ Automation are not just a match due to their Linux approach. Both companies employ people who have gained a lot of experience in the world of automation in their previous professional stations. “And our goals align. We want to break through the limitations of industrial automation,” explains Holm, who noticed Scholz and his small team even before his time at SALZ Automation. “Many were amazed, and so was I,” he recalls. Today, both sit over coffee in the Kempten startup center.

Conventional Systems are Overwhelmed

The East Westphalians rely on their SALZ Automation System (AMAX control), which focuses on data. “Who is the data source or sink is no longer crucial. We want to get data onto the system easily and flexibly, and the control should be easily orchestratable by the user,” explains Holm. SALZ is responding to a trend in the industry. Existing systems or automation devices are currently mostly developed for a single task. “But those times are over. Hardly any customer knows how the markets will change in the coming months or years. New suppliers, new customers, new value chains, new product ideas, new business models, and customer relationships – this also demands flexibility from automation devices. Conventional systems are overwhelmed with this,” says Holm and found a partner in FLECS. “We could have managed it ourselves with some effort, but the Allgäu team was faster and fits well with us East Westphalians,” Holm states.

Data Exchange Between Real-Time and Non-Real-Time Applications

The SALZ Automation System is based on a manufacturer-independent computer architecture with powerful CPUs from Advantech. This ensures that all software components are and remain portable today and in the future. The SALZ operating system is a real-time Linux, adapted to the needs of automation technology. The flexibility of the system arises in the core through the combination of efficient data exchange using the Data Exchange Layer (D.E.L.) technology and the use of virtualization technologies like Docker and Kubernetes. The D.E.L. technology uses mechanisms from the areas of shared memory and OPC-UA. The two resulting data pools are kept constantly synchronized. Thus, data exchange between real-time and non-real-time applications is established. To ensure that only the data between the apps is exchanged that should be exchanged, the D.E.L. also includes a user and rights management, operated by the user. The apps for the SALZ controllers mostly come via the Flecs Marketplace.

Batch Size 1 PLC

The idea of FLECS: A platform that lets automation apps be easily installed and talk to each other through a communication layer. The advantage: Installing or updating applications on the control system (PLC) costs the machine builder a lot of time and money. The Allgäu team automates this process and promises a saving of at least 40 percent. “For the PLC manufacturers and Thomas, this also means: The ‘Batch Size-1 PLC’ can come,” says Scholz. Through the communication layer, developers let all apps talk to each other. Established automation solutions are provided as an app via a marketplace. Supported are, among others, Node Red, Grafana, InfluxDB, AnyViz Universal Cloud Adapter. “Thanks to updated apps, users also increase the quality of their work and security,” emphasizes Scholz. He adds: A machine must master various tasks from a software perspective. This includes controlling and regulating, visualizing and operating, as well as establishing connectivity to edge or cloud services or other machines. For these tasks, there is often only one app per area of responsibility pre-installed on a PLC, i.e., the computer. These apps can only be updated or extended with difficulty. Due to the closed systems, security gaps often cannot be closed. “We bring all apps into the automation system via the marketplace. The installation and updating of apps, as well as the entire system itself, is designed to be as simple as possible and fully automated via a web interface.”

Hard to Imagine

SALZ Automation can quickly and securely adapt, expand, and keep its AMAX controllers up-to-date for the customer. “We can offer customers quick solutions, they can keep their systems up-to-date without having to completely rebuild their system landscape. We can bring new technologies, applications into the devices and our customers can respond to new challenges in the market. This was hardly imaginable ten years ago, the integration effort was very large,” explains Holm. With the adaptable marketplace, SALZ can also offer its own apps, such as a specialized, multi-instance capable CODESYS apps or their own runtime SALut, and provide them fully integrated to customers. Back to D.E.L.: With the new D.E.L. integration of the CODESYS app, data can now also be exchanged in real-time with other apps. “This was a joint project,” emphasizes Holm. FLECS co-developed the DEL integration and SALZ contributed the expertise for the real-time behavior in DEL. “And with SALut Studio (the SALZ own IEC 61131-3 Programming Suite) and its own FSOE-Master, there is also the possibility to run SIL3 / PL-E Logic on the system,” Holm emphasizes and can’t resist a promotional block at the end: “Those who want to get started now can buy the AMAX controllers from SALZ, including FLECS, on the 24/7 available B2B capable FLECS Marketplace.”

About SALZ Automation

Founded in 2021 by industry veteran Thomas Hüttemeier, SALZ Automation specializes in innovative solutions for industrial automation and safety technology. With over 25 years of experience, Hüttemeier’s vision for SALZ Automation combines the cutting-edge possibilities of Industry 4.0 with a strong commitment to functional safety. The company’s philosophy is shaped by its dedication to quality, sustainability, and the protection of people and machinery.

In April 2022, SALZ Automation welcomed Dr. Thomas Holm as a co-partner and managing director. Dr. Holm brings extensive expertise in system and product development within industrial control technology. Under his leadership, SALZ Automation is poised to develop the most flexible and open control system for the machinery and plant engineering sectors, further strengthening its position as a key player in the field of industrial automation.

About FLECS Technologies

Empowering Industrial Automation Innovation: FLECS Technologies GmbH stands as a pioneering force in industrial automation solutions. Our FLECS Marketplace and FLECS Core set new industry standards by simplifying and enhancing automation processes. We are committed to shaping the future of industrial automation, enabling our customers to achieve greater success.

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