Industry 4.0 is a concept that has shaped automation dramatically since its conception at the 2011 Hannover Fair. Attaining a ‘smart factory’ requires total interoperability and the utmost transparency of information between devices – which means SCADA software is required to be more versatile than ever before. These requirements have been carefully considered by Progea, as they launch their revolutionary new SCADA platform, Automation Platform.NExT. The new SCADA system has been designed to service and accommodate the existing and new technologies that will define the attainment of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’.
Paul Hurst, Director at Products4Automation Ltd, the exclusive UK distributor of Automation Platform.NExT, explains how the new features included in the platform will accommodate the trends and requirements that define Industry 4.0.
Automation Platform.NExT has been designed as a future-proof SCADA product, hence why it has been written from first principles on the .NET framework. Progea spent four years intensively researching and testing Automation Platform.NExT – while holding constant dialogue with users and industry to gauge the suitability of new features.
Keeping pace with expansion
One of the main provisos of Industry 4.0 is scalability. Industry 4.0 demands that field devices of various hardware specifications can communicate openly with each other, to build a singular network that unites all devices in a facility. Furthermore, being able to expand your SCADA system as your business grows is a primary concern, as easy integration of new devices can greatly reduce installation costs and save time. The answer to this was to provide a versatile and modular SCADA system that could be easily managed.
Automation Platform.NExT has been specifically built to run on Windows 10, which offers many innate benefits for scalability. Many smaller devices, such as Raspberry Pi, are now supported by Windows 10. This means devices that typically would not be able to be integrated into a unified system can now do just that. To compound these benefits, Microsoft has ensured that Windows 10 is Internet of Things (IoT) compatible, allowing multiple devices to communicate on the platform with ease. If devices of such a small size are supported, it offers integrators the tools to create a unified and customised monitoring system. Automation Platform.NExT delivers the power to serve the largest facilities, but also the versatility to incorporate the smallest devices into its framework.
Scalability is further supported by Automation Platform.NExT via its own modular construction. The platform allows the addition of plug-ins and modules – enabling total centralisation and customisation of processes and their related information. Furthermore, information can then be assigned to tags that can be populated to connected devices or processes, providing global information centres for either sections of the plant or its entirety. This allows total information transparency, allowing users to create a virtual copy of their physical world processes with accurate models and real-time data.
Dynamic visual clarity
Clarity of information is achieved via Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) supported by DirectX graphics. This gives SCADA operators the ability to create modern 2D and 3D graphics with dynamic functions that also give plenty of scope for user artistry. Such features will allow users to create and adapt their SCADA system with developments inside the plant, while also allowing easy integration and representation of new technologies into their centralised systems.
Interoperability is a key asset for designing software that will move with the Industry 4.0 concept. Creating a global network relies not only on servicing various hardware capabilities, but also being able to communicate with the protocols that govern them.
Progea has therefore designed Automation Platform.NExT to be compatible with OPC UA network protocol, one of the most utilised industrial communication languages on the market. This allows more scope for integrators, while also providing the efficiency and safety in communication that is a given with a proven platform. Openness is also greatly increased, as OPC UA can engage with some of the most recent automation products to enter the market, and will be a standard long into the future. By delivering openness on a proven protocol, Progea aimed to create a dynamic and future-proof SCADA platform.
Data gathered through these communications is managed by an I/O Data Server, which provides total industrial connectivity. All data types are supported, rendering traditional boundaries redundant and enabling users to have complete control over data types. Via OPC UA, data access, alarms and conditions plus historical analysis is available to be accessed anywhere, anytime via the Cloud. In addition, the I/O server driver management uses specific protocols for field devices such as Siemens, Rockwell, Omron, Modbus, Profibus, PROFINET, Konnex, EtherCAT and PowerLinK.
The Cloud is a key component of Industry 4.0, due to the fact it allows operators to access their plant off-site 24 hours a day. By hosting processes and associated data on the Cloud, users can quickly diagnose alarms and assess performance from a handheld wireless device. Automation Platform.NExT offers this support for HMIs, but also for handheld iOS and Android devices. By installing an app, operators can control and monitor facilities far from site with total convenience. This is enabled by a HTML5 web client, which is designed to keep pace with the latest web based services and devices. By offering multi-platform off-site monitoring, Progea has allowed the benefits of Cloud computing to reach devices not traditionally served by SCADA software, greatly increasing accessibility.
With accessibility comes the issue of security, an issue Automation Platform.NExT has addressed with a highly robust system for managing users and passwords. This guarantees that project engineering is in confluence with stringent security protocol, which is applied to all systems represented on the platform. Users can be assigned permissions by administrators, but also by command and action functions to create selective permissions for users regarding separate projects and process tags. Progea has ensured that high security is matched with versatility, allowing end users to set administrative powers and access as is required.
Automation Platform.NExT differentiates itself from the rest of the Progea range by being actively geared to future technologies. While Movicon 11 may make a more suitable option for certain applications, users who wish to take the next step in device connectivity and monitoring on a future-proof SCADA platform will require Automation Platform.NExT. Its unrivalled transparency and versatility allows operators to create a truly tailor-made system that also has the benefits of total communication with all processes within a facility. Easy integration of new devices and technologies is wholly catered for, while also promoting the attributes required to keep pace with the developments of Industry 4.0.