Whether you call this newfound global flexibility Totally Integrated Automation (Siemens) or Integrated Architecture (Rockwell) matters little. The benefits are the same. It's the same deal if you're going with Beckhoff and TwinCAT, or B&R and its automation panel HMI. I haven't mentioned National Instruments' LabView graphical programming environment, which can be used with numerous PLCs.
So, other than summarizing the issues and streaming a laundry list of vendors, what am I getting at here? This post was prompted by my impending preparations for the Rockwell Automation Fair. That massive annual show takes place in Chicago on November 16 and 17.
That event bookends nicely the automation insights I picked up in June at the Siemens Automation Summit in Orlando, Fla.
Since then, I've been trying to codify the top challenges facing engineers in the factory automation sector. This hasn't been as easy as I thought it would be. The roadblocks on the path to a seamlessly integrated engineering tool chain are many, and they're often hard to articulate.
How do you say that what you want is a setup where you can rip everything up at a moment's notice and massively upend its functionality, when what you really want is to do this without swapping out any physical hardware or perturbating your ongoing operations? That is a requirement which on the face of it doesn't make sense, and it would have sounded insane to specify even five years ago. Yet isn't this what vendors are implicitly promising? (I'm oversimplifying to make a point. Of course in the real world engineers understand that some configuration, control, and hardware changes are usually required.)
Add to this the fact that you can't know whether the flexible chain you've bought into is all it's cracked up to be until you attempt to implement your first step-function change. Yet you can't get to that point without ponying up massive amounts of cash. That is simply not doable in most environments, and even when it is, guess whose job is being put on the line?