Twenty-plus years ago, some of the IT people where I worked and I would sometimes discuss FreeBSD, Linux, and other software at that level of servers or other compute devices. I came close to a part-time gig writing for a Linux magazine about Linux for control. I have not thought about FreeBSD for almost that long. And certainly not as the OS for an industrial controller. So this announcement from Beckhoff was one of the few that really surprise me.

TwinCAT/BSD provides an alternative operating system for all of the latest Beckhoff Industrial PC (IPC) platforms. TwinCAT/BSD combines the TwinCAT runtime with FreeBSD, an industrial-proven and reliable open-source operating system. FreeBSD is Unix-compatible and is continually being further developed, improved and optimized as an open-source project by a large group of developers.

The FreeBSD system – and thus also TwinCAT/BSD – supports ARM CPUs up to Intel Xeon processors, providing a scalable platform from small embedded controllers to high-performance IPCs. With this scalable new solution, Beckhoff presents a new operating system that combines the advantages of Windows CE – low cost and small footprint – with the numerous features of large Windows operating systems. Therefore, TwinCAT/BSD is also an alternative to Windows 7 or 10 in many applications.

The current minimum size of a basic image is around 300 MB, with very small RAM consumption of less than 100 MB. Therefore, diverse machines and systems can leverage very compact controllers with TwinCAT/BSD and use all TwinCAT 3 runtime functions. The programming still occurs on a Windows development computer and with TwinCAT 3 XAE integrated in Visual Studio®.

The new TwinCAT/BSD operating system offers multi-core support, making it possible to reserve individual cores exclusively for TwinCAT if required. In addition to a large number of FreeBSD and Linux programs, TwinCAT functions can also be installed via the Beckhoff Package Server. Moreover, uncomplicated updates of the operating system and the TwinCAT runtime are possible in this way via the network.

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