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Machine development: reducing time to market

Machine development: reducing time to market Meeting today's customer requirements for increased productivity means designing machines that are more sophisticated and more complex. But how can machine builders achieve this while still reducing time to market? We ask Rockwell Automation Solutions Architect Phil George.

The modern machine build breaks down into three very distinct phases: design, development and commissioning. In days gone by, you might have spent equal amounts of time on each, but as pressures grow to reduce time to market whilst still increasing machine capability, the picture is changing.

Modern software tools at the design phase enable complex applications for the likes of drives and motion to be simply conceived and programmed, offering the potential for highly sophisticated machines that will meet end user requirements for greater flexibility, increased uptime, improved throughput, reduced waste and greater energy efficiency.

But this ability to increase the sophistication of the machine cannot be to the detriment of the commissioning phase. Time to market is key for machine builders in the wake of increased competition, which means they must have the confidence that the machine - or perhaps even the complete production line - will work as planned long before it gets anywhere near to deployment.

We can see, then, that the development phase - bringing all the design elements together, physically assembling and integrating the various parts of the machine, and functionally testing those elements - is perhaps the most important phase of all. Engineers are under pressure to accomplish more at this phase of the build whilst still reducing overall time to market.

How can that be achieved? The keys lie in the ability to shorten design cycles, enable greater engineering collaboration, simplify integration and reduce troubleshooting requirements. At the same time, if the supply chain can be simplified, so much the better. If all these goals can be met within the development phase, machine builders have it within their grasp to deploy innovative machines more quickly and more effectively.

With modern development software and open network technology, machine builders can achieve all of these goals. What is required is a single, intuitive development and configuration software package that simplifies development for even the most complex control solutions. The software must also provide greater access to real-time information, enable localised applications to be developed in a single platform, and enable applications to be developed in a collaborative environment.

Responding to market requirements
With such a software platform optimising productivity, machine builders can ensure not only quicker response to market and business needs and commissioning time, but also reduced maintenance and training costs, and lower total cost of ownership. Rockwell Automation's solution for machine builders is Studio 5000 - a single automation software environment that combines engineering and design elements into a one standard framework.

Providing all the tools required for motion, discrete, process, batch, safety and drive based applications, it presents users with an IEC61131-3 compliant interface, symbolic programming with structures and arrays, and a comprehensive instruction set serving many types of application. It sets the foundation for design tools that allow engineers to enter configuration and programming information only once, and then leverage it across their entire control system architecture from development to operation to maintenance.

Optimally integrated hardware and software means that machine builders can define data once, and easily use it across the wider architecture. The data and tag structures are natively recognised and automatically picked up by the other system components, improving development efficiency and reducing programming errors. As an added benefit, a unified engineering and development environment also communicates and performs at higher speeds, boosting overall system performance.

So how does this all look in practice? Well, for example, a machine builder at the design stage might program a motion aspect of the machine using Rockwell Auto-mation's Drives and Motion Accelerator Tool Kit. At the develop-ment stage, this code can be imported directly into Studio 5000. The application can then be simulated off-line, any problems diagnosed, and integration with other systems performed.

Networking and other physical integration aspects of the development are simplified by building on a single open standard. In Rockwell Automation's case, this is EtherNet/IP - an open, industrial Ethernet standard built on the Common Industrial Protocol (CIP), providing a comprehensive suite of messages and services for a variety of automation applications including control, safety, synchronisation, motion, configuration and information.

In conjunction with Studio 5000, this dramatically simplifies configuration of I/O for example, getting users as close to 'plug and go' as it is possible to get. Simple and optimised integration is assured: devices are plugged into I/O modules connected to controllers via EtherNet/IP, and the system automatically scans for variables so that engineers don't have to spend time and effort mapping I/O to controllers.

All devices can be configured through Studio 5000, with increased flexibility. Function blocks can be imported from tool kits, and mixed and matched with pre-used/pre-tested function blocks as required so that code does not have to be written from scratch every time. And with Rockwell Automation's Integrated Architecture, the same code can be used with all levels of controller, ensuring simple scalability.

With all this done, the development phase of the machine build is dramatically accelerated, and machine builders can quickly move to functional and operational tests, either off-line or on-line or a mix of the two as appropriate. With different engineers, perhaps at different locations, working with a single design tool, the machine can be developed and tested in a collaborative environment, with assured confidence that the final machine will work as expected when all the elements are brought together.

We can see, then, that it is indeed possible to meet the needs of end user for vastly improved performance and capability without it impacting on time to market. Indeed, with the latest integrated software tools, machine builders have it within their grasp to dramatically improve the capabilities of their machine designs whilst actually reducing time to market, and at the same time simplifying commissioning and ongoing maintenance.

Read more about Studio 5000 and Rockwell Automation's Integrated Architecture for machine building by visiting www.scalabletechnology.eu.
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