Schneider Electric presented a couple of news items to us at the ARC Industry Forum a couple of weeks ago. It continues to push its evangelization of software-defined control using IEC 61499. It also announced a strategic agreement with Wood plc. I just got off a Webcast billed as customers using Automation Expert. Instead, it was a deep dive into the product—which is OK. 

Interesting note (to me, anyway) that the speaker called IEC 61499 a new standard written with Industry 4.0 in mind. I pulled a book from my library a couple of weeks ago that I reviewed in 2001, “Modeling Control Systems Using IEC 61499”.  Anyway, this really is a step in the right direction. The Open Process Automation group uses this standard, among others. One last weird note—they call Automation Expert new, but they just released version 21.0?

Schneider Electric announced EcoStruxure Automation Expert version 21.0, the next in an ongoing series of updates and enhancements for the world’s first software-centric system. 

Schneider Electric is implementing Agile software development methodology to deliver a new EcoStruxure Automation Expert release, based on direct customer feedback, every six months.

“Keeping pace with rapid innovation while still maintaining the capability to be 100% future proof is a key benefit of EcoStruxure Automation Expert for our customers,” said Fabrice Jadot, senior vice president, next generation automation, Schneider Electric. “In the space of a couple months we’ve added features and functions that will enhance the user experience and directly address high-demand customer needs. Our best-in-class implementation of agile mode project delivery¾along with an overall agile mindset¾helps us provide an always-current experience for our users.”

IEC 61499 adoption

EcoStruxure Automation Expert, first launched to the public in November 2020, is the world’s first universal automation offer, based on the IEC61499 standard for interoperability and portability. 

Early interest in this new category of industrial automation is strong. The company reports that its integrator partners see enormous benefit in being able to add value beyond traditional PLC control. Early adopters are innovating to provide comprehensive, more capable solutions by combining technologies for their customers.

“This is not the same automation platform from 30 or 40 years ago, so there’s an initial learning curve for adjusting to IEC61499-based technology,” said Jadot. “But we’re finding that once customers and partners dive into the technology, they see real returns in flexibility and speed of engineering unlike anything they’ve experienced before. When users realize the full value of EcoStruxure Automation Expert, the most common response is, ‘This is a game changer.’”

EcoStruxure Automation Expert is particularly drawing interest from businesses in the consumer packaged goods and logistics sectors where the added flexibility is needed to react quickly to changing market dynamics, take advantage of new opportunities, or rapidly mitigate potential risk.

Next-generation technology

Enhancements in EcoStruxure Automation Expert V21.0 include:

  • EtherNet/IP scanner for software programmable automation controller
  • ASi-5 gateway
  • Position control with Lexium 32 servo drives

and updates include:

  • Common function library improvements 
  • Improved user interface
  • Ability to define supported function blocks in logical devices
  • Physical view enhancements
  • Other quality, performance, security and usability enhancements

Universal automation

Universal automation is the world of plug and produce automation software components based on the IEC61499 standard that solve specific customer problems in a proven way. Adoption of a universal automation layer, common across vendors, will provide limitless opportunities for growth and modernization across industry. 

By greatly extending the capabilities of existing IEC61131-based systems and enabling an app-store-like model for automation software components, the advancements possible in the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be fully realized. As its benefits become visible, Schneider Electric believes other vendors will adopt universal automation, and end users will soon begin to demand it from their automation suppliers and ecosystem.

Schneider Electric and Wood Forge Strategic Agreement

Schneider Electric has formed a strategic relationship with Wood, a global leader in delivering automation solutions for projects, operations and consulting services to energy, industrial, and several other vertical markets, to make open and interoperable automation a reality for customers.

The memorandum of understanding agreement provides Wood’s automation and control group access to Schneider Electric’s IEC61499-based software, helping them deliver open, standards-based automation solutions to their global energy and industrial customers. Using object-oriented, event-based programming, where hardware and software lifecycles are decoupled and engineering efficiency is optimized, Schneider Electric and Wood are now able to provide mutual clients with next-generation, open automation and control, which can deliver step-change operational improvements today while also simplifying upgrades in the future.

“With closed systems, the full potential of Industry 4.0 remains untapped,” said Fabrice Jadot, Senior Vice President, Industrial Automation, Schneider Electric. “To accelerate industrial digital transformation, we must prioritize portability of automation applications. Today, agility and resilience are paramount. The IEC61499 standard delivers that needed interoperability and that’s why it is fundamental to the shift towards more flexible automation. We are delighted to be working with Wood, an industry innovator that has been leveraging the benefits of IEC61499, to deliver the next-generation automation solutions that end users need to thrive in the digital economy.”

“By combining our diverse capabilities and domain expertise in automation with the IEC61499 technology, we can unlock unprecedented innovation for our customers,” said Bridget Fitzpatrick, Global Process Automation Authority, Wood. “The siloed nature of industry is holding us all back. We agree that collaboration is essential to next-generation industries, and IEC61499 is the enabler. We look forward to continuing to bring greater value to our customers’ projects and welcoming a new era of open automation.”

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