Schneider Electric Announcements at ARC Forum

Yesterday was a travel day and I didn’t get anything posted. I’ve been busted back in my airline priority (no traveling during Covid). I’m in the economy seats with no room to pull out the laptop. So, I rest up.

What with a user group week followed by Hannover followed by the ARC Forum, news abounds. I’m also working on essays about data and about open vs. Interoperable. Ideas that have sprung from my reading and conversations.

I had several meetings with Schneider Electric this week at ARC. The really big thing to watch is its work with Universal Automation promoting IEC 61499. The question I asked around the conference with no suggestions of answers forthcoming was “will there be a critical mass of companies and users that upsets the automation and control market?” We will watch and evaluate.

Three pieces of news this week: Digital Twin Software; collaboration on security with Claroty; collaboration with Intel.

Schneider Electric launches digital twin software solution

Short take: EcoStruxure Machine Expert Twin cuts commissioning time by 60% and reduces time-to-market by 50% by revolutionizing the design and build processes

Schneider Electric has launched EcoStruxure Machine Expert Twin, a scalable digital twin software solution to manage the entire machine lifecycle. 

The software enables original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to create digital models of real machines so they can be designed and commissioned virtually before building the machine itself. EcoStruxure Machine Expert Twin’s intuitive environment includes drag-and-drop mechatronic components, VR/AR interfaces, and application-focused libraries, all of which enable the parallel engineering of mechanical, electrical, and control tasks.

EcoStruxure Machine Expert Twin spans the entire machine lifecycle, from sales, concept, and design, to manufacturing and operation. Transforming design ideas into convincing sales animations helps customers to properly visualize the end product, while the in-depth design helps to improve and verify prototypes, reduce risk and quality costs, and speed up time-to-market.

Claroty and Schneider Electric Collaborate to Enhance Industrial Cybersecurity

Short take: Reinforces commitment to industry-leading operational cybersecurity through collaboration

Schneider Electric has announced its collaboration with Claroty, the security company for cyber-physical systems across industrial, healthcare, and commercial environments.

The agreement builds on the existing relationship between the two leading companies and leadership in their respective industries. Schneider Electric will now integrate The Claroty Platform into their offering, enabling them to better address new cybersecurity concerns, including protection, safety and insurance for industrial customers.

Schneider Electric collaborates with Intel to Drive Industrial Innovation

Short take: Project to enhance industry’s first Universal Automation system, EcoStruxure Automation Expert by creating a Distributed Control Node (DCN) software framework

Schneider Electric announced a collaboration with Intel to extend EcoStruxure Automation Expert by creating a Distributed Control Node (DCN) software framework complimented by an associated Intel processor-based DCN hardware offering.

By combining the performance, security and deployment capabilities of Intel Edge Controls for Industrial (ECI) technology with EcoStruxure Automation Expert, the DCN framework can simplify and speed the development of software defined control systems. Additionally, the DCN will enable EcoStruxure Automation Expert – the world’s first software-centric automation system – to scale faster and further in process industries, including energy and chemicals, mining, water/wastewater, pharmaceuticals and hybrid markets.

This DCN development will be based on Universal Automation (UniversalAutomation.org), an organization that manages the implementation of a shared source runtime based on the IEC61499 standard. EcoStruxure Automation Expert represents the first of a new era of automation software based on this shared runtime.

A fundament feature of EcoStruxure Automation Expert is the ability to decouple software from hardware. This allows hardware to be upgraded as required to improve system performance while the application remains the same, thereby protecting the customers intellectual property and investments. The joint effort between Schneider Electric and Intel illustrates the industry’s transition from fixed-function hardware to software-defined, flexible, plug and produce solutions that deliver customers greater operational effectiveness.

Initial results of this joint DCN framework development will be shared at this fall’s Schneider Electric Innovation Summit – Las Vegas (October 12-13).

Qualcomm Unleashes A Raft of New Products for WiFi and Autonomous Robots

Qualcomm has been quite busy releasing new products and devoting time to conversations. Networking advances are intriguing. Qualcomm has news beyond WiFi 6 that others are touting with news of a WiFi 7 platform. Other news includes an AR chip set and technology for mobile robotics.

Let’s take a tour through Qualcomm news:

Qualcomm Debuts Wi-Fi 7 Networking Pro Series, a Scalable Commercial Wi-Fi 7 Platform

Highlights:

  • Qualcomm Technologies is currently sampling the world’s most scalable Wi-Fi 7 networking platform portfolio commercially available, with offerings ranging from 6 to 16 streams, for next-generation enterprise access points, high performance routers, and carrier gateways
  • Third-generation Qualcomm Networking Pro Series platforms bring key Wi-Fi 7 features like 320MHz channel support establishing new performance benchmarks in wireless networking of up to 33 Gbps wireless interface capacity and peak throughputs over 10 Gbps.
  • These Qualcomm Networking Pro Series platforms continue the legacy of innovative, custom architectural design optimized for multi-user environments, to power the collaboration, telepresence, XR, metaverse, and immersive gaming applications of today and tomorrow’s home and enterprise environments.
  • Qualcomm Networking Pro Series platforms are supported by Qualcomm Technologies’ turnkey service for Automated Frequency Control (AFC) to enable the highest performance possible in the 6GHz spectrum band.

Qualcomm Technologies announced its Wi-Fi 7 capable Qualcomm Networking Pro Series Gen 3 family of platforms. Now sampling and available to global development partners, the Qualcomm Networking Pro Series, Gen3 is the world’s highest performance Wi-Fi 7 network infrastructure platform portfolio commercially available. Building upon the multi-generation legacy of the Qualcomm Networking Pro Series platforms, the products combine Wi-Fi 7 features with Qualcomm Technologies’ intelligent multi-channel management technologies to improve speeds, lower latency, and enhance network utilization for users of Wi-Fi 6/6E devices while offering game-changing throughput and incredibly low latency for the next generation of Wi-Fi 7 client devices.

This third generation of the Qualcomm Networking Pro Series sets new industry benchmarks for networking platform performance. The family enables systems with peak aggregate wireless capacity of 33 Gbps and point-to-point connections exceeding 10 Gbps. With advanced features for interference detection and multilink operation, the Wi-Fi 7 Network Pro Series enables deterministic low latency across challenging shared wireless environments, enabling application performance rivaling private spectrum. The products can support high speed low latency wireless backhaul for home mesh Wi-Fi and enterprise infrastructure with reliable performance even in the presence of neighboring interference. When combined with high performance internet access such as 5G fixed-wireless access or 10G PON fiber, customers can experience immersive connected experiences including high resolution videoconferencing, AR/VR, and high-performance cloud gaming.  

Wireless AR Smart Viewer Reference Design Powered by the Snapdragon XR2 Platform

The Wireless AR Smart Viewer eliminates the cord between an AR glass and a compatible smartphone, Windows PC, or processing puck and still achieves virtually lag-free AR experiences using a fully integrated Qualcomm FastConnect 6900 System combined with the new FastConnect XR Software Suite.

The reference design, which is being sampled to select OEMs, boasts a 40% thinner profile and a more balanced weight distribution2 .

Qualcomm Technologies announced another milestone in making extended reality (XR) the next computing platform with the Wireless AR Smart Viewer Reference Design, powered by the Snapdragon® XR2 Platform. The cord-free reference design helps OEMs and ODMs more seamlessly and cost-efficiently prototype and bring to market lightweight, premium AR glasses to enable immersive experiences that unlock the metaverse. 

Greater Performance, Sleeker Device: The purpose-built, premium Snapdragon XR2 Platform now packs powerful performance into a slim, smaller AR glass form factor. The AR reference design hardware, developed by Goertek, has a 40% thinner profile and a more ergonomically balanced weight distribution3 for increased comfort. SeeYA provides the dual micro-OLED binocular display enabling 1920 x 1080 per eye and frame rates up to 90Hz and a no-motion-blur feature to deliver a seamless AR experience. Dual monochrome cameras and one RGB camera on the smart viewer enable six-degrees of freedom (6DoF) head tracking and hand tracking with gesture recognition to achieve AR precision.

Qualcomm Advances Development of Smarter and Safer Autonomous Robots

Highlights:

• As 5G advances beyond the smartphone, 5G and premium AI-enabled robotics, drones and intelligent machine solutions will empower more productive, intelligent, and advanced robots, unlocking new possibilities with critical intelligence and maximum efficiency.

• Qualcomm Robotics RB6 Platform and the Qualcomm RB5 AMR Reference Design – bring enhanced AI and 5G together to power next-generation robotics, drones and intelligent machines including autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), delivery robots, highly automated manufacturing robots, urban air mobility (UAM) aircrafts, autonomous defense solutions, and beyond.

• Latest solutions unleash innovative possibilities for industries looking to adopt robots and realize the benefits of the solutions at the connected intelligent edge.

The Qualcomm Robotics RB6 Platform and the Qualcomm RB5 AMR Reference Design will support evolving applications for OEMs and robot manufacturers looking to integrate ground robots in industrial use cases across sectors including government service applications, logistics, healthcare, retail, warehousing, agriculture, construction, utilities, and more. The new solutions will accelerate the digital transformation of industries and serve as a key enabler for Industry 4.0.

Foundries.io and Arduino Deliver Secure Embedded Linux IoT and Edge

I have been expecting to see Arduino applications pop up like mushrooms after a spring rain. It’s been more like the occasional gold finch gracing the backyard birdfeeder. But advancements do come. This partnership between Foundries.io and Arduino along with the explosion of interest in Edge could tip the scales.

LONDON, March 24, 2022 – Foundries.io, the leader in cloud native development and deployment solutions for secure IoT and Edge devices, today announced its partnership with Arduino to deliver secure, embedded Linux IoT and Edge solutions for the enterprise with the Arduino Pro Portenta X8 (just announced today).

Arduino is an open source electronics company that manufactures open hardware development boards used by millions of developers around the world. It will use FoundriesFactory in its enterprise product to help customers ease development and deployment, reduce costs and accelerate revenue associated with industrial IoT and Edge devices.

“A few years ago, with the legendary Yún, Arduino invented a new category of products by combining microcontrollers and microprocessors on a single hardware platform. Now, we are taking this experience to the next level by providing enterprises the same flexibility, with performance on steroids thanks to the Portenta X8 (4x Cortex®-A53, Cortex-M7 and 2x M4)”, said Fabio Violante, CEO at Arduino. “Today, the world is different: You cannot think about a Linux-based device without anticipating the challenges of securing and maintaining it over time. This requires expertise, commitment and attention to every detail related to security and maintenance. For this reason, we decided to partner with Foundries.io to simplify this approach by providing a ready-to-use solution that can help our customers build systems with confidence. By embedding a FoundriesFactory in the Arduino platform, customers can be sure to choose the best solution on the market.”

The IoT market will more than double in the next five years, and the market for Edge devices will nearly triple with accelerated growth expected in industrial IoT, Electric Vehicle (EV) infrastructure and robotics. Among the challenges to realizing this growth and innovation for businesses are the security of these devices and the expense associated with building and maintaining Linux to support them. FoundriesFactory addresses these challenges with a cloud-based DevOps service to build, test, deploy and maintain these devices. It includes a fit-for-purpose, customizable Linux microPlatform OS built using best industry practices for security and incremental Over The Air (OTA) updates. Developers can build with freedom and ease, while businesses lower costs and reduce time to revenue.

Foundries.io is in a unique position to advance Arduino’s vision for enabling enterprises to more easily deploy and maintain Linux-based products for IoT and Edge applications,” said George Grey, CEO at Foundries.io. “The combination of the Portenta X8 and the FoundriesFactory cloud solution will accelerate customer time to market, increase product security and enable rapid deployment and lifetime OTA management of customer devices and fleets, while giving freedom of choice for connectivity to public or private cloud services. From off-the-shelf to fully customized options, Arduino and FoundriesFactory are providing an industry leading solution for Linux-based IoT and Edge products.”

Users will be able to access a FoundriesFactory for the Portenta X8 hardware platform. This will enable users to immediately connect Arduino Portenta X8-based products to the cloud and start developing container-based applications, leveraging the device management and DevOps capabilities available with FoundriesFactory.

Software Update to Open Secure Process Systems

Bedrock Automation Founder, CEO and CTO Albert Rooyakkers and I have had several energetic discussions regarding the open, secure, and automation pillars of the Bedrock Automation control solution. I always ask founders and CEOs in this market how they think they can possibly upend the leaders. In this case, independent observers tell me that Bedrock has found a niche within certain industry segments that require its specific benefits.

This news release points to a recent software upgrade making it easier to configure and run open applications inside the “Open Secure Automation” (OSA) controllers, simplify and improve SCADA redundancy, enable TLS support for MQTT Sparkplug, expand universal EtherNet/IP capacity, simplify flow meter proving, and assist in diagnosing large motors.

A quick aside—Sparkplug is an open information model standard developed by MQTT evangelists that I would label as “OPC UA lite”. Check out Cirrus Link for better and more detailed descriptions.

The new firmware affects the Bedrock OSA control system, the OSA Remote control system, Universal Ethernet module (UE5), and the OSA Remote +Flow measurement and control system.

The new Bedrock firmware enhancements move redundancy management from the SCADA system client to the Bedrock controller firmware. This enables seamless and flawless failover while simplifying SCADA configuration. The SCADA software then needs to point to only one IP address and the Bedrock controllers will find the active path automatically.

This software release improves throughput and diagnostics for the Bedrock Ethernet gateway modules. It includes both status and diagnostic information from EtherNet/IP and Modbus TCP devices connected to a Bedrock Universal Ethernet I/O module (UE5).

New control firmware in the Bedrock OSA Remote supports the J1939 and CANopen CAN bus communication standard, which extends open secure automation for control and factory automation. Using J1939 CAN bus, for example, the Bedrock OSA Remote can be configured as an RTU to read RPMs from large motors to diagnose performance.

The Bedrock OSA Remote +Flow computer application now supports K-Factor and meter factor linearization with user-entered linearization curves. The OSA +Flow now also supports double chronometry for select high speed counter channels. The OSA +Flow application takes advantage of this new feature to support meter proving using displacement provers, including small volume provers.

All software will be standard on all relevant systems immediately. All current Bedrock OSA users can upgrade remotely at no charge.

Software Defined Control Architecture

A couple of years ago, I was amazed to discover a conversation in Germany regarding PC-based control versus “old, proprietary PLCs”. Seeing that the conversation was in Germany, I assumed the “old” one to be Siemens and the new one was relative to CODESYS and companies such as Wago and perhaps Beckhoff. Then I just saw a conversation on LinkedIn where an American magazine evidently re-ran an old programmable automation controller (PAC) versus programmable logic controller (PLC). In both cases, the “old” PLC vendor rendered much of the argument moot by adopting PC-based technologies into their products.

The Open Process Automation Forum opened a new branch to the argument with the push for Software Defined Control Architecture. This is interesting. OPAF has progressed through definitions and standards—more on that in my next post. For this post, I’m reporting some news from, well, Germany, about an advance by a new company called Software Defined Automation. I wonder where this will lead us. It will be interesting. I have yet to see anything push Siemens and Rockwell off their thrones on the factory side or Emerson/Honeywell/Yokogawa/ABB on the process side. But, you never know. 

Munich-Based Software Defined Automation (SDA) and VMware Implement Real-Time Virtual Programmable Logic Controllers (vPLCs)

The execution of deterministic real-time control on virtualized edge servers in combination with a comprehensive vPLC management interface in the cloud is aimed to be a unique solution, enabling customers to improve productivity, utilization, and security while at the same time gain independence from vendor-specific hardware and silicon.

The SDA solution will help improve industrial automation with the full virtualization of PLC controls on the VMware Edge Compute Stack that supports virtual machines (VM) and containers running on conventional IT servers at the edge. The real-time control on a VM will commission, monitor and manage vPLC instances on servers located in factories. The virtual real-time controllers, which will be installed and managed by SDA at the edge, have already been shown to achieve deterministic control cycle times of <10ms.

Many recent innovations developed by the IT industry have not been adopted in the area of PLCs. Traditional PLC implementations in hardware are costly and lack scalability. Since the emergence of the standard IEC 61131-3 in the 1980s, PLC technology has advanced very gradually. Current trends improve the PLC’s memory and processing power while shrinking their size. Yet, the technology still relies on on-site monitored and individually programmed PLCs that must be taken out of operation in order to change the code – leading to operational downtime and reliability risks. This common practice is due to the lack of alternative technologies and tools that could reduce the software limitations of PLCs and free them from the need to being manually managed on-site by automation engineers.

Virtual machines and containers transform hardware systems into software systems, in which all elements run on local off-the-shelf IT infrastructure. The VMware Edge Compute Stack in combination with SDA’s vPLC management and monitoring services will enable improved security, reliability and resilience while allowing for intelligent and deterministic real-time responsiveness.

The vPLC solution aims to bring the benefits of cloud systems to the shopfloor, increase resilience and security, while preserving real-time capabilities.

The solution is based on a hybrid architecture between a cloud system and an industrial workload on the edge. The hardware resources located at the edge will be efficiently used with VMware’s Edge Compute Stack, which manages the resources according to each vPLC’s needs. SDA is working on extending this technology stack with a management system for fully virtualized PLCs based on CodeSys technology to incorporate the industrial control layer as a software. The management system will simultaneously hold virtual PLC twins in the cloud.

The offering can then help to generate value for all sorts of industry processes controlled by PLCs. Software-based PLC implementations will end up being more flexible, simplifying the delivery logistics and reducing software commissioning time. The vPLC’s runtime at the edge can be updated over the cloud via the SDA management console. vPLCs will be handled as IT workloads and state-of-the-art IT best practices are applied to bolster automation IT security. Furthermore, the integrated monitoring service ensures that allowed vPLC response time thresholds are not exceeded. 

Dr. Josef Waltl, CEO and co-founder of SDA, stated, “Today’s technological advances in software and cloud computing allow management of real-time control systems in a pure software fashion. The SDA vPLC service is able to meet sub 10ms performance, required for the many of industrial applications currently controlled by conventional PLCs.” 

Muneyb Minhazuddin, vice president of edge computing, VMware, notes, “The pandemic has shown how vulnerable manufacturers still are at the edge despite having implemented latest industry 4.0 and cloud technologies. It’s the last mile that is still dependent on human intervention and vendor hardware, yet it is a vital part of production process controls that needs to be addressed. Together with SDA, VMware Edge Compute Stack will help manufacturers optimize PLCs in a time of semiconductor shortages, enabling resiliency, flexibility and effectivity at the very heart of their edge operations.”

TwinCAT Automation Software from Beckhoff Turns 25

A fervent issue for discussion in German automation circles, especially for those who wish to displace Siemens from its leading position, is software-based control. An early leader in this technology is Beckhoff Automation. This press release made public this week gives some of the technology historical foundation. Yes, it’s commercial. But, yes, it’s interesting to see where we’ve been in order to speculate on where we’re heading.

The TwinCAT automation software suite from Beckhoff has reached its 25th anniversary in the market. Ubiquitous in automation today, TwinCAT has served as a powerful resource for engineers since 1996 – a quarter of a century. In addition, the underlying PC-based control technology from Beckhoff has been going strong since 1986, marking 35 years in the industry. TwinCAT, short for The Windows Control and Automation Technology, provides numerous benefits from its robust software functionality. The advantages of TwinCAT stem from its modular expandability extending to support for innovations such as integrated machine vision and artificial intelligence.

Since the 1996 introduction of the first software generation, TwinCAT 2, this product is still available and maintained, which is proof of its continuity and compatibility with current systems. Windows served as the operating system and the PLC programming was adapted to meet the requirements of the IEC 61131-3 standard. This introduced the ability to implement an industrial control system on a “regular” PC with a standard operating system.

Another milestone was the decision to align the TwinCAT programming environment with the world’s predominant IT programming environment. Microsoft Visual Studio is used for all major IT software developments, and Beckhoff also used this tool to develop TwinCAT 2 software. So why not develop PLC software applications with Visual Studio as well? The subsequent TwinCAT 3 software generation was introduced in 2010 and delivered to customers from 2011 on – which makes for another 10-year anniversary and another track record of success in the field.

The integration of the TwinCAT automation tools into Visual Studio established a completely new type of engineering environment. With the availability to use additional programming standards such as C/C++ and MATLAB/Simulink, further possibilities emerged for more efficient code generation for machines and systems. This has also gained widespread acceptance in the automation industry.

In addition to programming, TwinCAT offers an I/O configuration interface for a wide variety of fieldbus systems – first and foremost EtherCAT as well as more than 30 other communication protocols. Motion control applications from simple PTP movements to sophisticated CNC and robot kinematics are just as much part of the ongoing evolution as safety functions, image processing for machine vision and machine learning. With the advent of Industrie 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), it quickly became clear that the cloud, long established in IT, would also become a major factor in the automation market. To provide this functionality for customers, Beckhoff launched hardware and software solutions for IoT and cloud connectivity in 2015, followed by data analytics tools in 2018.