Working with tomorrow’s technology today
“Question everything, develop something totally new. Something that’ll change the future of automation and offer entirely new perspectives for end users.”
This was the task for the team developing the new ctrlX AUTOMATION platform. How often do you get a chance like this in your professional career? There were plenty of ideas, but where do you begin? The best place to start is with our customers. We didn’t ask them explicitly what they’d like today. We asked them to give a list of the things they’d like to see in the future – free from the restrictions of today’s systems.
And what would machine manufacturers and end users like? Simple engineering and intuitive operation. What does tomorrow’s generation expect? Everything they’re used to from working with smart devices. Software should run independently of the hardware and must be updatable. The developers at machine manufacturers either want to use high-level languages to program machine functions or purchase machine functions which go beyond motion control. Ultimately, everyone is working towards making machine designs more compact and, if possible, to do without control cabinets in the future. In turn, end users demand unrestricted connectivity – and, naturally, maximum productivity.
Mechanical engineering is software development
We very quickly agreed that mechanical engineering nowadays means software development! This is exactly where the innovative ctrlX AUTOMATION platform comes in. Software development has its own rules and, in recent years, the IT sector has introduced new software architectures and languages. Today, consumer electronics, or more specifically smartphones, set standards when it comes to user-friendliness, modularization and flexibility. Initially, there were skeptics who said that it’d be impossible to transfer this to the field of automation. However, we now know that we’ve made what appeared impossible possible.
That’s why we opted for an uncompromisingly open platform. And we’re starting with a new item of control hardware, ctrlX CORE, which is used with all device platforms: drive, embedded controller, PC and edge-based. It has a huge amount of reserve capacity and we guarantee that it can remain in service for 25 years. We then chose LINUX, the most stable and secure real-time operating system. On this basis, users can then make their own changes.
Freely combinable apps
For motion control, we continue to provide the proven programming system with PLC and G code. However, the many new machine functions related to connectivity are not easy to achieve at all and PLC specialists are in very short supply. We therefore established a completely new software architecture. As they do for smartphones, machine manufacturers now offer functions as apps or open source software. They can produce these service programs themselves in a variety of IT languages or purchase them and combine them as required. The apps must also exchange data between themselves in real time. This is exactly what the ctrlX Data Layer, a type of automation central nervous system, does.
It allows machine manufacturers to configure customer-specific variants quickly. After all, adding or removing an app has no effect on the automation system. As a result, machines can be updated wirelessly – users can update individual apps or all apps and install new functions.
Engineering the new way
This already reduces the engineering outlay enormously, but our ultimate goal was even more ambitious. We did away with software installations. ctrlX AUTOMATION’s engineering is completely web-based. Just minutes after switching the system on, developers can start programming functions in their preferred language. Our key customers have confirmed that ctrlX AUTOMATION reduces their development outlay by up to 50 percent.
Less is more
We’ve also drastically reduced the hardware and the amount of space required. Servo drives are one example: thanks to functional integration and cutting-edge power components, they’re 50 percent smaller than before. In figures, a three-axis handling system has a width of just 100 mm in a control cabinet. The motors are 30 percent smaller as well. This is an important step on the way to achieving more compact machines with a drive system requiring no control cabinet.
No platform is more communicative
We’ve done all of this in the context of the Internet of Things, Industry 4.0 and the Factory of the Future. End users are taking big steps in this direction and expect machine manufacturers to provide their preferred interfaces. Although this can mean a lot of extra work, it’s not the case with ctrlX AUTOMATION. The platform already supports more than 30 IT and IoT standards and protocols – more than any other system. Preparations have already been made for future standards such as 5G and OPC UA over TSN. As a result, machine manufacturers can meet the requirements of end users with no additional outlay.
The future has begun
ctrlX AUTOMATION marks a paradigm shift towards a completely open system solution with virtually unlimited performance. With a new software architecture, we are enabling machine manufacturers and end users to enjoy all degrees of freedom of the app technology. We have revolutionized engineering – machine manufacturers can reduce the amount of work required by up to 50 percent and save half the space in a control cabinet. No automation system is better prepared for connectivity – you can work with tomorrow’s technology today.
If you have any questions or require further information regarding ctrlX AUTOMATION, please contact us: