End-to-End Automation Solutions: What Does That Mean?
Many companies offer automation solutions that work from the beginning to the end of a process. Not the progress of the product through the facility, but rather hardware from the shop floor to the cloud level and everything in between. We highlight here some solutions from Emerson and Bosch Rexroth from Automate 2022.
The world of automation is filled with examples of multiple equipment generations assembled into one vast network. In many cases, multiple brands of equipment are supported simultaneously, representing the many years of engineers and outside vendors lending support to upgrades and repairs. This is done by necessity due to cost or the familiarity of the engineers with one system over another.
Bosch Rexroth AMR Demonstration at Automate 2022 Conference. Author image.
Many automation companies offer a range of products within one specialty area, and these are high-quality products. Motor drives, control equipment, or sensors may be the sole focus of a company. Others have a wider range, or at the extreme case, offer an ‘end-to-end’ catalog that can apply the correct hardware and software for every context—from the shop floor devices to integration with cloud computing and AI services.
At Automate 2022, our engineering team was invited to discuss the details of several of these end-to-end systems, each with some unique variations that can offer customers a solution that can either drop into an existing portion of a system or can be leveraged for an entire end-to-end solution.
Emerson AVENTICS System
We recently covered an update from Emerson, the popular control company, outlining a new introduction to the AVENTICS hardware lineup - electric actuators. But in looking at the Emerson system as a whole, the process begins with the field I/O devices. These sensors and outputs are designed with identification capabilities that link with maser I/O blocks, instantly providing the proper signal levels, scaling, and specifications for that hardware. In the case of motor drive (and servo) systems, networking addresses are also automatically configured upon connection.
Emerson AVENTICS Display at Automate 2022 Conference. Author image.
Moving up to the controller level, Emerson provides the RX3i family of Programmable Automation Controllers (PACs), capable of typical I/O handling, but also with embedded motion axis connections for up to 40 individual axes. This is designed to integrate with the AVENTICS series with almost no user setup configuration required, if using the Emerson line of hardware.
If the system is halted at the controller level, all of the benefits of Industry 4.0 would be lost. Working with AI, ML, and any remote access to critical data for troubleshooting would be left up to creative 3rd-party applications. Emerson also provides edge computing through a series of industrial PCs (IPCs) with the ability to connect to cloud platforms, ultimately processing and sharing data with local and remote SCADA systems. This will provide engineers with a high-level supervisory evaluation of the performance and health of the system, from the smallest I/O device to the facility as a whole.
Emerson System with HMIs at Automate 2022 Conference. Author image.
Rexroth CtrlX Automation
Bosch-Rexroth is a common name in many industries, but certainly robotics and industrial automation. This company has developed a creative solution to the end-to-end automation problem, but by examining a software-first solution.
The Rexroth ctrlX platform certainly does begin with hardware, including controllers, distributed I/O, HMIs, and motion controllers, as would be required for most processes. What sets this system apart from others is the use of a Linux-based environment for programming. However, rather than designing a software limited to the IEC-61131 languages, this platform allows the development and installation of various applications (apps), much like a smartphone. With the integral security of Linux, and the ability of Rexroth, other OEMs, and even end-users to design their own apps, this can adopt nearly any programming language environment, custom data visualization UIs, and even enhanced security updates.
Bosch Rexroth Smart Gearbox Display at Automate 2022 Conference. Author image.
Rather than relying on annual software updates which may or may not provide the changes a user might need, she or he can easily make those changes to the app, update the app, and use the new environment easily. Of course, not every company has the time and capacity to develop such apps in-house. This fact is widely understood by Rexroth, so the company offers a pre-existing catalog of many apps to allow nearly every commonly-required capability for a controller, HMI, or motion controller.
More Automate 2022 Conference Insights to Come
This short survey of two companies cannot illustrate the entire range of companies and solutions available. Hundreds of other service providers offer solutions with similar capabilities, but each with unique perspectives on current and future trends. We are excited to see these companies’ offerings but also excited to learn about others. We hope to share more exciting news about these solutions from the innovators here at Automate this week and throughout the coming year.