The nonprofit organization PLCopen answers the question of how to bridge the gap between virtual and physical worlds with its PLCopen XML interface—a conversion from the simulation of a complete plant to the application programs for this plant. How does it work? It generates a code, exports and shares it, so that another tool can import it, which enables the user to go from one development tool to another.
Communication and Information are the Key Words
Eelco van der Wal, managing director of PLCopen, headquartered in the Netherlands, explains: “With the XML approach, relevant information for automated control is subtracted from the virtual world. In the end, Industry 4.0 is about mass customization. Clients want their product to be different but still with the same quality and price. Realizing this requires information and communication that we provide with our solutions.”
Fundamental work at PLCopen is about communication and information. Together with the OPC Foundation, a technology called OPC United Architecture (OPC UA) is used. It specifies communication from an OPC UA client to an OPC UA server via the creation of an application session over a secure channel. “In the end, it is all about a communication environment. Intelligent products, which tell machines about their features via RFID chips or QR codes, as well as the machine-to-machine communication, are the aim,” says van der Wal. Cameras inside the machines can read the codes attached to the products in order to obtain the information on how to process them.
Developing Open Source Specifications
These communications processes are vital for the implementation of Industry 4.0, which will establish substantial progress in industrial automation: smart manufacturing sites with intelligent products, flexible adaption to changing environments and a rising number of product features—to name some of them. In this process, the complexity of required software increases exponentially and software specifications have gained utmost importance to enable the required machine-to-machine and product-to-machine communication.
“Since software development costs for producing systems have been rising significantly throughout the past 40 years, it is PLCopen’s aim to bring and keep them down by developing open source specifications anybody around the globe can use,” says van der Wal. To cover all the different steps of an intelligent production process, several technical committees work together.
PLCopen also provides the basis for the integration of logic, motion and safety in order to provide higher efficiency in automation via structuring, decomposing and reusing knowledge. The framework is given by the international IEC 61131-3 standard. “Efficiency is about improved learning. Today there is one motion control dialect, earlier there were hundreds,” explains van der Wal.