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Efficient and fast programming of machines and systems through decentralized control

At the end of last year, we held a hackathon together with the Start-Up Actyx. Here is what happend:

Every software developer should be able to easily program software for production: this is the credo of the Munich-based start-up company Actyx, which, in cooperation with SmartFactoryOWL, Fraunhofer IOSB-INA, PHOENIX CONTACT and Weidmüller, organized a hackathon in Lemgo on December 3 and 4. The aim was to re-program a modular production plant, in which the logical networking of the modules was programmed by means of a central superimposed programmable logic controller (PLC), using a decentralized approach. The modules are a pick-by-light assembly workstation, a collaborative robot and a conveyor belt system with RFID-equipped workpiece carriers.

Conventionally, production plants or the logical data exchange between machines and workstations are programmed via a central plant PLC. In addition to the high effort required to write the automation code according to IEC61131, the dependence of a central component carries a reliability risk (single-point-of-failure), while the rigidity of automation technology leads to limited flexibility. For this reason, leading automation technology suppliers such as PHOENIX CONTACT and Weidmüller are investing in the development of high-level language compatibility for controllers in order to meet the trend of increasingly modular, flexible and intelligent systems.
As part of the Hackathon, the production plant was reprogrammed to ActyxOS. In contrast to the classic client-server architecture, ActyxOS follows a completely decentralized approach, based on edge devices and without a central server. Edge devices can be of different nature, e.g. gateways, tablets, panel PCs or smartphones. In the Hackathon ActyxOS was used on the PHOENIX CONTACT PLCnext Control and Weidmüller u-control 2000 controllers. Due to the decentralized approach the devices can communicate peer-to-peer with each other without having to rely on a central component such as a database server, a controller or a message broker.

 

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After a theoretical introduction to the used technology in the first morning, the participants from research, university and industry started the implementation in three groups. The SmartFactoryOWL and the associated Fraunhofer IOSB-INA, which had provided the application example and thus the challenge, proved to be an excellent real-world laboratory for interdisciplinary work with new technologies in a safe environment on real plants. In the afternoon of the second day, the results were played through in a live demo and discussed in a subsequent feedback session. The participants agreed that the interaction of modern automation technology such as PLCnext Technology and u-control together with the decentralized edge platform ActyxOS, is a powerful tool for programming, modernization and integration of production plants. "Finally, plants can be programmed quickly and efficiently using the decentralized approach. Each part of the plant can be programmed independently in a modular design", said for example Sascha Heymann, responsible for SmartFactoryOWL and automation expert at Fraunhofer IOSB-INA.

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Based on the application example in the SmartFactoryOWL, ActyxOS replaced all functionalities of the central plant PLC that are not safety-relevant and/or subject to the requirements of deterministic real-time processing. The considerable reduction of programming effort due to the decentralized approach and toolbox of Actyx surprised the participants and confirmed itself as a very good alternative for the world of automation. Due to the success of the event, it has already been decided to further develop the application example within the SmartFactoryOWL/Actyx Hackathon 2.0 (on 27 and 28 February 2020). This event, for which you can register shortly on the SmartFactoryOWL website, is again open to all interested software developers.