The Rise of Revolution Pi Open-Source Industrial PC

This news contains information about another open-source industrial computer based on an inexpensive module—in this case Raspberry Pi. Again I ask (not predicting, but wondering) whether the new wave of engineers inevitably coming into this market will prefer something, small, inexpensive, programmable in familiar languages, and flexible due to advances in networking?

Phytools, a leading IIoT value-added reseller, announced Oct. 11 the publication of its first Revolution Pi White Paper, presenting the seven-year history and technical details of this revolutionary open-source industrial PC (IPC) in an easily-digestible medium. Built on the open, customizable, and commercial-off-the-shelf premise of Raspberry Pi, RevPi ruggedizes the versatile microcomputer for use in industrial applications.

IIoT-enabled IPCs like RevPi are ideal for automation, data connectivity, motion control, robotics support, machine visualization, and many more applications. From 2016 to the present, RevPi has cemented its place in the market by incorporating features such as:

  • Modular form factors
  • Operating system (OS) determinism
  • A wide variety of input/output (I/O) modules
  • Communications gateway functionality
  • DIN-rail mounting capability
  • And extensive support for third-party software, such as CODESYS soft PLC

The latest revision—RevPi Connect 4—was released in August 2023, equipped with a Broadcom BCM2711 processor and support for WLAN and Bluetooth communications. This most recent lineup addition also comes with a battery-buffered real-time clock and easier I/O expansion with a plug-and-play GUI.

RevPi base modules come equipped with USB, Ethernet, and HDMI connections. The two USB 2.0 sockets are each capable of supplying 500mA at 5V, alleviating the need for an external USB power supply when connecting parallel devices. The onboard RJ45 Ethernet connection is industrially hardened with suppressor circuits, and a micro-HDMI socket is included for connecting a monitor with sound output.

The RevPi delineates itself from Raspberry Pi with a portion of its operating system dedicated to deterministic control. Most PLCs in industrial settings leverage a real-time OS (RTOS) to ensure deterministic program execution through a dedicated routine, a rigorous treatment which is used to provide the robust and predictable performance necessary to avoid equipment failures and human harm.

A general-purpose PC OS is more versatile than that of a PLC because of its shareable—and usually more powerful—computing resources, which empower multi-tasking, customization, and processor-intensive operations. However, this flexibility presents a greater risk of OS disruption if one or more tasks becomes corrupted or overloads the processor, potentially leading to delays, instability, or a complete crash.

Revolution Pi uses a split OS, providing the determinism of an RTOS, along with the versatility of a standard OS. As a result, RevPi can be developed into an industrially viable small control system, a large scale IIoT platform, or elements of both simultaneously. Its scheduler—which controls the execution of tasks by the operating system—can be configured extensively to avoid networking or software resource delays, ensuring the best performance for real-time control and other critical or time-sensitive tasks.

Arduino Hardware Now Driving Commercial Innovation in More Than 30,000 Businesses Including Industrial

I don’t do “Top 10 Trends for Next Year” articles. I find them worthless. I do observe and ask questions. Part of these questions were spurred by these two news items about Arduino, that open source inexpensive hardware platform. I also have a news item following about a similar technology—the Raspberry Pi.

Consider these hardware platforms. Consider also that many new engineers will be entering the industry with the wish to use tools such as Python and NodeRED. And no wish for Relay Ladder Logic, or Ladder Diagram as it’s known in IEC 61131. I’d swear that when I was in the machine design and build business every time we lost money on a project it was due to difficulty trouble shooting bugs in Ladder.

I also lived through the transition Rockwell had to make when its cash cows the PLC5 and NEMA motor starters were bypassed by new technology. Developing the Logix engine and moving control development to South Korea and Singapore for the ControlLogix bought the company many years.

Now, I ask, will these new engineers look at the price of a ControlLogix (or similar from Siemens, Beckhoff, ABB, Emerson) and say, “I can do more with less”? I have been asking executives I meet for the past few months. Many see this possibility.

Something to think about as we check out this Arduino news.

In brief:

  • Customers report 25-40% accelerated time to market and up to 60% reduction in non-recurring engineering (NRE) services
  • Eight companies — including AWS, Software AG, AT Kearney and DMC — joined Arduino Partner Programs in Q3.
  • Annual partner conference brought together technology, distributor and integrator partners from around the world

Arduino, an open-source hardware pioneer with 32 million active developers worldwide, today announced its hardware is now integrated into more than 30,000 businesses globally.

The Arduino System Integrators Partnership Program saw tremendous growth in the third quarter, with eight companies signing up as partners, including AWS, Software AG, AT Kearney, DMC, DojoFive, Motion Technology, Riotsecure, and Opreto. These new partners are helping to fuel growth for professional service companies integrating Arduino technology in commercial projects for enterprise clients. Over 20 new system integrators have been accepted into the partnership program over the calendar year.

The program has proven successful for both Arduino and its partners, particularly in industrial automation, condition monitoring, predictive maintenance, IoT and smart agriculture. When leveraging Arduino products with system integrator partners, customers report 25-40% accelerated time to market and up to 60% reduction in non-recurring engineering (NRE) services. Distribution partners remain Arduino’s primary go-to-market source, with 2024 forecasts estimated to be over 200% YoY.

The industrial-grade line of Arduino PRO products lowers the barrier to entry and accelerates time to market for OEMs and industry integrators. Featuring 24 products, including the Portenta X8 Linux SOM and UL-certified Opta PLC. Arduino PRO technology gives more people the power of automation and controls than ever before.

The second news item concerns a new SI parrtnership.

  • DMC joins the Arduino System Integrator Partner Program as a Platinum Partner to accelerate time to market for enterprise customers.
  • DMC expands Arduino PRO solutions to 13 offices throughout North America, specializing in manufacturing automation & intelligence, test & measurement, embedded development and full-stack software development, including web, cloud, mobile & backend services.
  • The combination of DMC’s expert system integration services with Arduino’s world-class hardware advances the democratization of open hardware in the industrial automation sector.

DMC joins Arduino’s ecosystem as a Platinum Partner, part of the Arduino System Integrators Partnership Program. The program is designed to fuel growth for professional service companies integrating Arduino technology in commercial projects for enterprise clients. Under the partnership, DMC and Arduino jointly approach projects to accelerate time-to-market and reduce NRE costs. 

The partnership will initially focus on producing commercial solutions for manufacturing, logistic centers, and factories leveraging Arduino’s Opta PLC and Portenta Machine Controller, as well as OEM product development incorporating the Portenta and Nicla line of modules for embedded applications. 

Beckhoff Vision Brings Automation Technology and Machine Vision into Singular Focus

Catching up on some older news. Machine vision technology seems to be making a comeback. After considerable consolidation many years ago, the market stabilized. Beckhoff Automation has released a vision system deeply compatible with its automation platform. This should be good for machine builders and their customers.

Beckhoff Vision consists of a line of EtherCAT-enabled industrial cameras, lighting and lensing components are paired with TwinCAT Vision software to round out a complete product portfolio.

Hardware includes area scan cameras, C-mount lenses, multicolor LED illumination and complete vision units.

  • Cameras: The IP65/67, EtherCAT-enabled area-scan cameras generate image data via monochrome and color Sony CMOS sensors with up to 24-megapixel resolution and GigE Vision transfer rates of 2.5 Gbit/s.
  • Lenses: The robust, industrial C-mount lenses ensure ease of use and high availability, along with robust locking mechanism, VIS to NIR AR coating, up to 2 ìm resolution, and models for camera formats of up to 1.2” (19.3 mm image circle).
  • Lighting: The IP65/67, EtherCAT-enabled multicolor LED illumination, in panel, ring, and bar configurations, produces highly controlled illumination for consistently high-quality images. Incorporated current-based controls allow precise operation even in spectrally adjustable pulse mode.
  • All-in-one solutions: Complete machine vision units consisting of a camera, illumination and electronically focusable liquid lens are also available.

This fully integrated approach reduces latency, accelerates reaction times and supports a single development environment for the complete machine control solution.

Hexagon Empowers Machine Shops

This topic is slightly outside my usual area of expertise but shows extension of digital technologies (should we say even digital transformation?) into the machine shop market. I attended the Hexagon user conference last summer gaining an appreciation for the breadth as well as depth of their technology.

Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division announced the release of HxGN Production Machining, a new suite of software developed to empower machine shops to achieve operational excellence in the manufacturing of discrete parts, tools, and components with machine tools at any scale, from one-off prototypes to volume production, and across industries ranging from medical to aerospace and beyond.

Capabilities of the suite include CAD (computer-aided design) for manufacturing and design review, CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) for CNC (computer numerical control) machine-tool programming, process simulation and G-code verification and optimisation, shop-floor production intelligence, and automation and collaboration powered by Nexus, Hexagon’s digital-reality platform. Central to the company’s Machine Shop Excellence solutions, the suite includes significant automation and innovative technologies that help manufacturers achieve highly efficient utilisation of material, cutting tools, and CNC equipment, and capture and consistently apply a shop’s best practices.

The HxGN Production Machining suite will integrate common workflows to help teams reduce error and eliminate redundant tasks at every stage, from job quotation and design review through production, quality assurance, and product delivery. By offering a suite of connected products from the Hexagon ecosystem, manufacturers benefit from simplified procurement, implementation, and support. The suite’s flexibility makes it suitable for shops of any size, all types of CNC machinery, and any discrete part and material from one-off prototype to high-volume production runs.

Preparing jobs for CNC programming is easier with tailored design-for-manufacturing tools developed to accelerate the transition from planning to production. Hexagon’s DESIGNER software accepts CAD data from any vendor, and helps manufacturers easily visualise and analyse part model geometry. The software also helps utilise product manufacturing information (PMI), such as tolerance, surface finish, and material data. The suite is designed to preserve this valuable information across the digital thread to streamline production.

Interoperable with DESIGNER, Hexagon’s trio of CAM systems for production machining can program any machine tool, including multi-axis, mill-turn, multi-tasking, Swiss-type, and wire EDM machinery. The software applications, including the widely used EDGECAM and ESPRIT, and the new ESPRIT EDGE, provide a broad spectrum of machining cycles, programming for on-machine measurement, robust automation tools, machine-optimised G-code, and the use of AI to automatically generate collision-free positioning between cutting zones.

Hexagon offers extensive CNC program simulation and verification capabilities to avoid collisions and optimise code for more advanced machinery and complex operations. From the CAM system, machine-specific G-code programs are sent to its NCSIMUL software, which incorporates the entire machining environment to generate a digital twin of the machinery, part, and processes for cycle-time optimisation, set-up revision, and program certification.

New production-intelligence tools connect with machine tools to provide real-time insights and asset condition monitoring, as well as to support data-driven planning, quoting, and continuous improvement. Created by Hexagon partner Datanomix, Automated Production Intelligence software automatically captures data on machine performance and offers mobile machine-tool status alerts that enable lights-out machining and a high level of automation. By collecting job data, shops of any size can generate more accurate quotes using information about the past performance of machinery for identical or similar jobs.

High volume and precision manufacturing operations can implement closed-loop quality capabilities from the suite, applying series metrology data to predict when parts will begin to fall out of tolerance and automatically perform tooling offsets due to normal tool wear and tear. Hexagon’s Intelligent Machine Control (IMC) software uses statistical process control to update the CNC controller directly, eliminating guesswork and ensuring that manufacturers won’t need to rely upon staff to manually calculate offsets and enable lights-out production.

HxGN Production Machining is available now globally from Hexagon and approved partners. A webinar series detailing how manufacturing challenges are solved with HxGN Production Machining can be accessed at go.mi.hexagon.com/2023/IntroToPS/WebinarSeries. Learn more about Hexagon machining technologies at hexagon.com/products/product-groups/computer-aided-manufacturing-cad-cam-software.

Honeywell User Group Recap–Many New Technologies, Applications

Honeywell Process Solutions held its annual HUG (Honeywell User Group) conference the week of June 19 in Orlando. I’ve taken some time to compile my many notes and think about the experience.

The marketing communications staff did an excellent job with media and analysts. We did not have time to waste what with presentations and 1:1 conversations.

I had not attended for a few years. For maybe three years I was in the influencer program with Hewlett Packard Enterprise and HPE Discover is the same week. That program was disbanded a year or so ago. That marked the end of my IT affiliations. Those companies figured out there was not a lot of money to be made in manufacturing.

There were many questions begging for answers as I traveled to Florida. What was Honeywell HIVE, and how does it relate to the ExxonMobil initiated Open Process Automation group? What is Honeywell Digital Prime and what customer problems does it address? What successes have Honeywell achieved with sustainability initiatives? Honeywell was an early mobility developer. What has progressed in that regard? What role does Honeywell see for AR and VR?

Pramesh Makeshwari, CEO

He mentioned he’d been CEO of this group for only about nine months. Here are a few points of overview.

  • Honeywell is not replacing people with technology but helping them perform better
  • People have different learning styles and Honeywell products adapt to them
  • Digitalization is a significant customer requirement
  • Companies are on the Path to Net Zero Carbon
  • Focus on Digital Workforce Competency

Evan Van Hook, Chief Sustainability Officer

He looks at sustainability as similar to the Quality Revolution where the goal was to produce quality outputs consistently creating a culture of quality. His question, “Can we create culture of sustainability?” Honeywell is taking a Lean approach—quality, delivery, inventory, cost, then add sustainability.

Lean is a systematic approach. The company overall has generated more than 6,500 projects over 13 years with ideas coming from the floor and everywhere else. Not a political statement, sustainability cuts costs and adds efficiency. A few milestone points:

  • 92% reduction of CO2
  • 70% improvement in energy efficiency
  • Restored 3,000 acres of land
  • Water savings
  • 4x industry average safety

Act your way into a new way of thinking—Lean—put sustainability into Lean

Tiffany Barnes – Digital Prime

I perhaps had the most difficulty understanding Digital Prime. This is the Honeywell offering responding to the customer need for digital transformation. So, the conversation with Tiffany Barnes from that group was most instructive. Part of my cognitive dissonance perhaps came from this being a new offering only having one part released.

Digital Prime is most easily described as cloud-hosted digital twin of DCS. Some of the customer pressures Digital Prime addresses include:

  • Risk of disruption, production downtime and plant safety
  • Pressure to reduce overall lifecycle cost
  • Do more with less through digitalization
  • Data overload
  • Reduced skilled workforce onsite

It is perhaps an irony that Honeywell build a virtual infrastructure to help with system acceptance then deleting it upon that acceptance. Customers began looking at digital transformation programs and realized that all this data Honeywell had was useful. This grew to a digital twin.

Honeywell’s Digital Prime is the up-to-date digital twin for tracking, managing, and testing process control changes and system modifications. It brings the highest level of quality control to the smallest projects: An efficient, compliant, and collaborative solution for managing changes, factory acceptance tests, improved project execution and training.

Providing secure cloud-based connectivity and a virtual engineering platform, it’s a collaborative environment for managing and testing additions, patches, upgrades and other system changes:

  • Enabling functional reviews and impact analysis
  • Supporting remote FAT tests 
  • Providing a training tool
  • Documenting digital changes.

Joe Bastone — HIVE

Veteran editors and analysts were most curious about any Honeywell response to the initiatives undertaken by The Open Group to solve problems of economically and efficiently upgrading control systems.

This led to my intense interest in Honeywell HIVE and a subsequent conversation with Joe Bastone.

The problem lies with traditionally tightly coupled control hardware, software, and I/O.

Honeywell mostly solved the I/O problem years ago with its configurable I/O. That part of the control system continues to evolve.

The company then worked with a major customer about how to upgrade control software with minimal disruption. First, they worked out how to move the existing control software to a modern hardware platform leaving all the I/O in place. They realized that was in reality a form of virtualization. Moving to a virtualized compute environment effectively decoupling hardware and software was the obvious next step. Their I/O was already virtualized and decoupled. 

So, Honeywell HIVE solves that upgrade problem that customers are searching for.

Thanks to Joe for walking me through the technology evolution.

Sarang Gadre — Battery Technology

The well documented issue with intermittent renewables (solar, wind) results from the laws of climate—the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine. Honeywell has had a commercial battery storage product for a while. It is housed in shipping containers. Introduced to us at HUG is the Ionic—a scalable, forklift-able, virtual power plant,  with an energy control center in Experion. It is battery agnostic—you specify and buy your batteries of choice. The unit also features peak load shaving.

Naved Reza—Carbon Capture

I always enjoy conversations with Naved regarding sustainable technology solutions.

First up was reference to the ExxonMobil Baytown deployment of one of Honeywell’s carbon capture technologies – Honeywell’s CO2 Fractionation and Hydrogen Purification System. This technology is expected to enable ExxonMobil to capture about 7 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, the equivalent of the emission of 1.5 million of automobiles for one year.

Then we discussed Honeywell Ecofining—Renewable Fuel projects such as Diesel/Aircraft from biofuels. Also Ethanol to Jet and Methanol to Jet.

Aside from Baytown, there are a number of Carbon Capture (CO2) to blue hydrogen, renewable green, low carbon processing.

Manas Dutta — SafetyWatch Mobility

Performing maintenance on a pump involves an average of 3.5 round trips for the technician. Using augmented reality (AR) platforms can save many hour by providing the right documentation and required tools up front.

I made this trip closely following both the Apple Vision Pro announcement along with all the AI chat hype. So I had to ask Manas for his take from the industrial viewpoint.

“AR/VR are excellent for training especially as individualized based on AI feedback. AR/VR can also be useful for construction. When planning turnarounds, I can answer questions such as can I get a crane in, do I need scaffolding, without a visit remote site.”

A Step Forward for Modular Manufacturing Control

While I see companies that are predominantly American rushing to capture open technology initiatives and make them as proprietary as possible, here is another predominantly German initiative pushing for using standards to move manufacturing technology forward.

This news came to me indirectly from the PI (Profibus and Profinet standards organization). Check it out. Do you find this potentially useful?

What is MTP?

By now, we all know OPC UA is really good at supporting the use-cases for not only horizontal integration like machine to machine, but also vertical integration like device to cloud. Now, most recently, OPC UA is being applied to those industries considered to be process control or hybrid industries with factory automation. 

PROFIBUS & PROFINET International (PI) is leading the way with a technology called Module Type Package (MTP). For its runtime, MTP applies OPC UA information models to create standardized, non-proprietary, application level descriptions for process automation equipment. OPC UA Client/Server technology is used for communication. Offline engineering utilizes the AutomationML markup language. 

Rather than have every single I/O point controlled by one large distributed control system (DCS), MTP seeks to modularize the process into more manageable pieces. The point is to construct a plant with modular equipment to ease integration and allow for better flexibility should changes be required. With the help of a Process Orchestration Layer (POL), MTP-enabled equipment can “Plug & Operate” reducing the amount of time to commission a process or make changes to that process… pretty cutting-edge stuff.

The POL is the superordinate software into which an MTP file is imported. When an MTP file is imported into the POL, offline service engineering (orchestration) is performed along with communication configuration (OPC UA).  Note: if recipe/batch engineering is applicable, MTP utilizes the ISA 88 standard here. The next step is an Orchestration Test (“Plug”) and then to begin (“Operate”). It is truly “Plug & Operate”.

Why should you care?

MTP files describe Equipment Assemblies. These are individual automated units providing the functionality to realize a step in a process. They have their own mechanical equipment, sensors, actuators, and controller. A great example would be skid integration. Here, an end-user can quickly integrate skids into their plant DCS to reduce engineering effort. The MTP file describing the skid is employed to shorten the time-to-market. According to ZVEI the benefits from first pilot projects can be summarized as follows:

  • Reduce time to market 50%
  • Reduce engineering effort 70%
  • Increase flexibility 80%

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