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ctrlX AUTOMATION pushes the boundaries

Anyone who is involved with Industry 4.0 and the Factory of the Future will soon realize: there are numerous practical hurdles between information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). When developing ctrlX AUTOMATION, we set ourselves the goal of coming up with the most open and future-viable automation platform on the market – for both OT and IT.

OPC UA over TSN – the dominant standard in the medium term

Both belong together. After all, IT can only access actuators and machines parallel to the control system if they exchange data with each other on the field level using open standards. With this in mind, we held numerous customer workshops during which we discussed with machine manufacturers and end users which automation protocol would offer them the greatest investment security.

During all the workshops, we very quickly agreed that, within few years, OPC UA over TSN would be the dominant standard for real-time data exchange between control systems from various manufacturers. This will make the integration of new machines into existing lines significantly easier. And we expect that it will take only little longer until the new standard will be used to link I/O components and servo drives. Bosch Rexroth was therefore one of the companies that founded the “OPC UA over TSN Shapers Initiative” which, as a field level communications initiative, has found a good home with the OPC Foundation. Renowned automation providers are involved in the initiative and it continues to attract new members.

OPC UA uses standards and security mechanisms from the world of IT. With the Field Level Communication real-time expansion including TSN, OPC UA also meets the requirements as regards OT. An OPC UA server and client are already integrated into the ctrlX CORE control system – these support the new OPC UA PubSub specification. Preparations to implement OPC UA over TSN have been made. If OPC FLC real-time cross communication is available, machine manufacturers and end users will simply need to install an app and can them switch to OPC UA over TSN. The specification should be completed in 2020. Integration into ctrlX CORE is already specifically planned. We will operate this new protocol as far as the field level in order to link I/O components and servo drives.

One controversial question, however, has been which protocol shall we provide until OPC UA over TSN is available in most field components. The mechanical engineering sector will continue to use a range of established automation protocols in parallel for years to come. ctrlX AUTOMATION pilot customers gave an answer to us: the main issue for them is how big the ecosystem is and how many devices from various manufacturers they can use with no additional outlay. EtherCAT was the most popular choice because this ecosystem already includes a very large number of peripheral devices. Therefore we decided to release the first version of ctrlX AUTOMATION with EtherCAT. At the same time, the multi-Ethernet interface with SERCOS and other popular Ethernet-based protocols will remain. Users can continue to operate drives with these standards on their control system. And users can be sure: If they choose ctrlX AUTOMATION with EtherCAT today, Bosch Rexroth will provide them an easy migration path to OPC UA over TSN.

More than 30 ways of connecting to IT

On the IT side, the situation is far less clear. A large DIN A0 poster was a real eye-opener. The IT department of our highly connected key plant for drives and control systems drew in what felt like several dozen boxes. Each box symbolizes a production-related IT system. There are so many different IT threads that end customers initially do not know where they should be used for optimization and expansion projects. We have seen investment projects where the planned start of production had to be put back several months because additional interfaces to the various IT systems had to be programmed.

ctrlX AUTOMATION reduces this extra work considerably. The platform already supports more than 30 IT standards and can be linked to numerous enterprise IT and cloud systems. The number will increase rapidly – no one knows what standards will be used in five years’ time. ctrlX AUTOMATION rises to this challenge with its software architecture which is revolutionary in the mechanical engineering sector. It is based on the real-time operating system Linux which is further developed in a dynamic manner by a large community. Users can easily add future communication standards via apps – and can then use them within minutes. Thanks to the central nervous system, the ctrlX Data Layer, these apps can exchange real-time and non-real-time data. And with cross communication, the ctrlX Data Layer maps out the data for all connected control systems. As a result, users do not need a separate line control system.

Edge computing increases productivity

Using edge computing, ctrlX AUTOMATION monitors and optimizes processes and states in an entirely new way. To make this possible, we have broken up the automation pyramid to a certain extent. Edge servers access the ctrlX Data Layer and thus all apps and data as far as the actuator/sensor level. For example, the software on edge can monitor the state of a drive string during operation and influence productivity directly. This approach can easily be scaled. With ctrlX IOT, machine data dating back up to six months can be stored and displayed transparently, both online and offline.

ctrlX IOT fits perfectly into the Bosch Nexeed Industrial Application System, an Industry 4.0 system for fully connected production and logistics, which is developed further on an ongoing basis and is designed for use in enterprise IT or in clouds. Among other things, this allows all drive strings in a global plant network to be monitored, analyzed and compared and, if necessary, specific instructions to be given.

ctrlX AUTOMATION is the most future-proof automation platform on the market because it is radically open. With EtherCAT, it grants access to the biggest ecosystem for automation. The new software architecture with the ctrlX Data Layer can connect to IT systems in more than 30 different ways and can easily integrate future standards via app. For the first time ever, OT and IT really are coming together.


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Portrait view of Hans Michael Krause, Game Changer ctrlX World

Hans Michael Krause

Game Changer
ctrlX World



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