|Issues & Insights|
PC-Based Control In Facility Automation
update on 2012-05-12
IAA spoke with David Chia, MD, Beckhoff Automation (SEA) on the application of PC-based control in the facility automation sector. By Mark Johnston
IAA: What does PC-based control offer Facility Automation?
David Chia (DC): In PC-based control we offer a universal and scalable solution, which is PC-based but also Ethernet-based architecture. IO systems driven by dedicated software are some of the key features of PC-based control.
IAA: What is unique about the Beckhoff solution and why is PC-based control better with Beckhoff?
DC: We started of with PC-based control 26 years ago. We were one of the first companies to develop the idea that all these controls could be done on a single PC platform.
Being a pioneer also means we spent a lot of effort over the past 26 years making sure that the platform works. So, for us in essence we consolidated and said, the basis for PC-based control, the Beckhoff concept, is a very powerful industrial PC, where the key is powerful are industrial. The second thing is a very fast fieldbus network, and the third one is a very flexible software system. To ensure that we have all this under control, ie: the software components and all the hardware components, all the industrial PCs, IO systems are developed and manufactured in-house, down to the PCBs, so we have absolute control over the products that we use.
IAA: What trends are Beckhoff Automation following in terms of facility automation and PC-based control?
DC: Facility automation takes care of the HVAC, the lightings, the energy monitoring, the room automation and so on. So, we have separate production automation systems with subsystems that are not integrated. PC-based control is better suited to manage such systems.
We are looking at all these systems coming under one roof, not that they are all running from one controller but that controllers are all based on the same scalable platform.
IAA: What are the challenges for this?
DC: The challenges are the market understanding of what is PC-based. I think that there is a misconception that PC-based means I have to program it like it is a PC, I have to use C, I have to use C++, or VB. It could be very difficult to maintain, like my laptop, two years down the road it could be obsolete, and of course a worry over whether Microsoft Windows will crash.
IAA: How do you see such trends as multicore computing, cloud computing, and developments in network architecture affecting PC-based and facility automation control in the next five to ten years?
DC: It is giving us, Beckhoff, a very good way to move, eg: multicore computing, this is a feature that we put in TwinCAT III, which is to be launched in September 2012. A processor with four cores, for example, we can now dedicate each core down to a specific function, a PLC function, an HMI function, that is not possible with a normal PLC or a normal PC.
We also see network architectures, there are a lot of fieldbuses in the market, for example, Ethernet IP and Profibus. We see that in the future all these should be moving towards Ethernet based, where a single super highway, based on TCP/IP, whether you are using a different, let us say, MODBUS TCP or Ethernet IP, or EtherCAT, all of these are going onto the same physical architecture.
We are also looking at how to make use of cloud computing. Of course, not to do the actual controls, the actuals controls still has to sit within an physical controller in the facilities, but the programming part, the version controls, the collaboration between engineers, all this can definitely can be stored in the cloud.
IAA: What is unique about the Southeast Asian region, regarding PC-based control?
DC: Southeast Asia is seen as a collection of countries with very unique characteristics. there are 10 countries within the ASEAN region, and every country is at a different state of development. Singapore is differently ahead of the pack in terms of technology awareness followed by Malaysia and Thailand.
When it comes to adopting PC-based control, I think Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia should be at a higher level of acceptance, but I do not dismiss countries like Indonesia or Vietnam, not leap frogging the rest, and going from a more conventional to a PLC, and eventually PC-based control, I see them adopting the latest technology, similar to what we are seeing in China.
IAA: To summarise, what are the advantages of PC-based control over more traditional PLC methods of control?
DC: In PC-based control, or rather the concepts we push through in facility automation, it is PC-based and Ethernet based, we see the advantages as being able to provide scalable and universal solutions based on the transparent automation system, a system that is open and transparent.
Besides that, we want to really take care that modification and extension of the system is possible throughout the entire lifecycle of the facility, and in five years a company is still free to change and upgrade. To the designer we see one big advantage, being Ethernet based, you really have a free choice of network topology.