This is a story of what some believe is disruptive technology in the industrial control world emanating from Germany. They call it PC-based control or soft-control. This version concerns a control and automation platform introduced a bit over a year ago from Bosch Rexroth.

I introduced the new platform last December and moderated a webcast last March. This is an interesting concept. As I often tell executives who come to me with a new idea—especially one that they think will disrupt the market and dethrone the incumbent (e.g., Siemens or Rockwell Automation), how will you sell it? Sometimes “good enough” is enough to maintain market share especially if the incumbent has marketing and service muscle. Back in the 80s I learned that the hard way by going out of business—twice.

I began working with IoT Analytics, a German analytics firm, a couple of years ago in an advisory capacity immediately after it had published a study on this German concept of a dichotomy between PC-based control and traditional PLC-based control. At first, it drank the colored-sugar-water but later research puts a more realistic spin on the topic. 

As we discussed in 2020, Software based PLCs (programmable logic controllers) may pose an innovator’s dilemma to the incumbents of the industrial automation world and threaten their hard-PLC business.

Our most recent research report on “Virtualization in Industrial Automation” shows, among other things, that the threat of disruption for incumbent vendors is lower than previously assumed.  

Check Out This New Tech

However, I think it is worthwhile to check out this new platform from Bosch Rexroth. I’m not sure that its marketing muscle is enough to displace other incumbents, but this surely does push the envelope. 

Tell me what you think. The BR release is pasted below.

Travel the world of automation via app technology – this was Bosch Rexroth’s vision when it launched the ctrlX AUTOMATION platform in 2019. More than 300 companies are currently implementing the solution in their applications and the step from an open platform to an industrial ecosystem has now been taken with the launch of ctrlX World in 2021. Significant enhancements to the solution were also made this year – and further enhancements are planned.

“Industrial automation is increasingly dominated by software. We therefore need automation solutions which are geared to increasingly digitalized industry. Among other things, they should support various programming languages, offer data communication systems and allow IT and OT to be connected in a straightforward but secure manner. Today, we know that ctrlX AUTOMATION meets the automation challenges not only in mechanical engineering but also in numerous other areas such as energy, mobility and building automation”, explained Steffen Winkler, CSO of the Automation & Electrification Solutions Business Unit at Bosch Rexroth.

Since it was launched, the solution from Bosch Rexroth has evolved from an open automation platform into an industrial ecosystem. The partner network is growing all the time, adding hardware to the ctrlX AUTOMATION ecosystem and an increasing number of apps which are available for download from the ctrlX Store. In 2021, Bosch Rexroth also significantly expanded the range of services for the automation platform. The increasing demand for its products means that the company is now investing in its electronics production facilities, warehousing systems and logistics.

ctrlX CORE was designed to be an open system, using open-source Linux as an operating system and moving away from proprietary hardware requirements. This design feature makes it very easy to expand hardware functions and capabilities based on market feedback and customer requirements. Throughout 2022, we will have continued hardware performance expansion and introduce our own ctrlX IO portfolio.

With ctrlX WORKS, Bosch Rexroth makes it easy to create, provide and use functions. In addition to simplicity, the priority here is the rigorous use of web technology. With ctrlX WORKS, engineering can be carried out on ctrlX CORE using a web browser. A comprehensive portfolio of libraries and components for typical automation applications is also available.

In 2021, a wide range of new functions for even more efficient engineering processes were added. For example, ctrlX CORE can now handle Docker images too. With the Software Development Kit (SDK), which is available to all developers on GitHub, users can now develop their own apps even more easily. A development environment for Python and Google Blockly which is integrated into ctrlX CORE is another highlight. As a result, users can now carry out development directly on the ctrlX CORE hardware.

When it comes to automating engineering processes, ctrlX WORKS now offers a simple, clearly structured script interface, the Automation Interface. Recurrent engineering processes can be automated using simple scripts. This reduces the work involved by 80-90 %.

Steffen Winkler said: “With the improvements made to ctrlX WORKS, we have once again reduced the engineering outlay, significantly increased the possibilities for users and raised virtual engineering to a new level.”

To ensure that users can solve their automation problems in the best way possible, Bosch Rexroth paid particular attention to accompanying services in 2021. With ctrlX SERVICES, which was introduced last year and is being gradually expanded, users are offered support over the entire product lifecycle.

This year, the focus was on the ctrlX Store that was unveiled recently. Here, users can download numerous apps from Bosch Rexroth and third-party providers. The ctrlX Store offers online access to all available apps and libraries for creating applications. The ctrlX AUTOMATION ecosystem – and thus the scope of functions – can be expanded easily by downloading additional apps or integrating partner applications.

The ctrlX Store will provide customers with a self-serve option for downloading and purchasing apps for ctrlX CORE. Many of these systems are working manually now and by the end of the year our back-end systems will be fully automated to allow customers to implement desired features on their own.

Bosch Rexroth offers the ctrlX Device Portal for launching new software functions, centrally managing and maintaining device settings or remote maintenance. The solution allows a complete service – from remote maintenance and backup/restore to the private software repository.

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