For today’s companies, staying competitive is more crucial than ever. But that requires new methods and processes that will pave the way for production in the future. In my last blog post I talked about the continuous integration working method, which is familiar from IT, and explained why it’s time for it to become part of automation as well. This post is about standardization, which is the basis for both continuous integration and digitalization.
Considering increasingly complex applications, constantly changing customer requirements, and the need for maximum quality in development and production processes, digitalization is more than just a buzzword these days: it offers solutions to these challenges that industry faces. And while it’s important for industry to know it can overcome the challenges, it’s also essential to understand how it will do so. Standardization is the key. Uniform data sets, interconnected workflows, and consistent end-to-end interfaces will allow machine manufacturers and plant operators to master the complexity and the need for increased flexibility. TIA Portal fulfills all the requirements for this.
Looking at the lifetime cycle of machines, standardization can be applied in various phases, offering major advantages in each of them, from development to operation.
Sharing hardware data
The process of designing a machine involves many steps, such as hardware planning, electrical planning, or hardware configuration in the engineering software. Each individual step includes redundant work in different departments that can be avoided by taking advantage of standardization. Automation Markup Language (AML) is a standard that supports machine manufacturers in transferring data from one tool to the next. This saves time when sharing hardware data among the TIA Selection Tool, ECAD-systems for electrical planning, and the TIA Portal for engineering. Reducing redundant work prevents errors, improves the quality of engineering, and offers major time savings by parallelizing working steps.
Automatically generate program code
Every software module, e.g. program blocks, data-interfaces, screens, in a machine serves as a standard for this and – as described in my previous post on continuous integration – can be updated, versioned, combined and reused with other modules at any time. The libraries in the TIA Portal handle standardization and versioning of the PLC programs and visualization objects. Programming style guides structure the code and offer transparency in engineering while a uniform operating concept not only facilitates operation for the customer but also serves as a figurehead.
Implementing a standard saves valuable engineering time but also lays the foundation of automated generation of projects. Open interfaces and tools such as TIA Portal Openness and SiVArc assist in generating PLC codes and corresponding visualizations.
Function tests based on simulation
Testing and simulation is an essential element to create a reliable standard. Style guide checks with TIA Portal Test Suite ensures the conformity of standardized modules raising the quality together with application tests. PLC programs and visualizations can be simulated and tested thanks to function and application tests using TIA Portal and PLCSIM Advanced. Application tests ensure the proper operation of single module up to whole machines before a real setup thus reducing engineering and commissioning time.
Simple line integration
If the finished machines are to be integrated into existing production lines, it’s important to have uniform communication between individual systems. That isn’t always a given since some of them may come from different manufacturers. Integrating new third-party equipment makes this particularly difficult and time-consuming. Industry standards such as OPC UA and established Companion Specifications such as OMAC, or PackML provide open interfaces with defined interfaces which make integration of new machines into existing lines a lot easier.
Crucial advantages of standardization…
… for machine manufacturers
I think it’s obvious that standardization provides the foundation that allows machine manufacturers to respond quickly and flexibly to customers’ constantly changing and increasing requirements and to fulfill those requirements. It’s the only way for companies to maintain and increase their competitiveness. Each individual phase in the development of a machine offers great potential for optimization, and standardization helps tap into it: Development costs can be reduced, the efficiency of engineering can be increased, collaboration by the team can be made more efficient, machines can be commissioned virtually, and high quality over the whole machine life cycle is provided.
… for plant operators
Machine manufacturers and operators both benefit from standardization: Software becomes more transparent for users and easier for them to implement, while drastically reducing the time and effort spent on training and maintenance by service and maintenance employees. The quality of software also improves, which in turn boosts maintainability if there is a service and diagnostic event. Using software modules reduces sources of errors, and defined interfaces make it easy for machine operators to integrate new equipment in their production lines.
I think this blog clearly shows why standardization is the basis of digitalization and why it’s the foundation for virtual commissioning, efficient engineering and automation, and ultimately also lasting competitiveness for industrial enterprises. An analysis of the current situation of various process steps and the TIA Portal product portfolio as well as the TIA Portal libraries, templates and style guides offer machine manufacturers and plant operators sufficient support for implementing or optimizing standards in their companies.