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UniversalAutomation demo shows IEC 6199 products interacting

27 June, 2022

A group of automation companies have demonstrated some of the first products to implement the UniversalAutomation.Org (UAO) open runtime system interoperating with each other. Compliance with the system – based on the IEC 6199 standard for distributed control and information systems – is predicted to bring advantages including application interoperability and portability, efficient engineering and easy maintainability.

UniversalAutomation.Org, which was launched last year, is a group of more than 30 automation companies and other organisations that is developing, and campaigning for, a common software layer that will work on automation technologies of any brand. Members of the independent, not-for-profit association include Advantech, Belden, Hirschmann, Intel, Jetter, Phoenix Contact, ProsSoft, Shell, Wood and Yokogawa.

The technology will allow equipment suppliers, end-users, OEMs and others to share a common automation runtime layer across their technologies, regardless of brand. The collaboration aims to create a new category of industrial automation device where decoupling software from hardware will drive the development of portable, interoperable, plug-and-produce software components.

A key member of the group is Schneider Electric which has outlined its vision of “the world’s first software-centric automation system”, based on open standards, which it predicts will “unleash innovation and boost efficiency, resilience, productivity, agility and sustainability”.

Benefits claimed for UAO compliance include:
• the ability to develop applications independently of the hardware, and then to deploy and run them on different devices;
• the ability to deploy one application on multiple devices that will then interoperate automatically to execute the distributed application; and
• using plug-and-produce, asset-centric software components to improve engineering efficiency and maintainability.

At a meeting in the US, five companies – Advantech, ESA , Kongsberg Maritime, Flexbridge and R Stahl – demonstrated UAO-compliant products including gateways (Advantech), nano-PLCs (Flexbridge) and I/O devices for hazardous locations (Stahl).

Advantech’s industrial IoT product sales director, Marco Zampolli, revealed that the industrial computing specialist had looked at using IEC 61499 many years ago, developing a prototype with the German distributed controls specialist NxtControl, “but we didn’t release the offer to market because we were alone. The creation of UniversalAUtomation.Org resolves this issue, creating an ecosystem of IEC 61499 vendors and users that will drive innovation by creating portable re-usable software components to solve common problems, particularly in IT/OT convergence and information orchestration.”

The UAO demo showed products from several different suppliers interoperating with one another

Kongsberg Maritime, which supplies control systems for ships and offshore platforms, had been looking for a way “to better orchestrate the different mechanical and electrical sub-systems,” explains the company’s principal architect, Sølve Raaen. “We had been considering IEC 61499 for several years because of its object-oriented, event-driven architecture. The creation of UniversalAutomation.org was the turning point for us as we saw it as evidence that the technology was reaching maturity. We use the UAO runtime as an orchestration layer for our control systems.”

Flexbridge is a Swedish start-up that is developing flexible manufacturing and process technologies based on swarm intelligence. “We enable adaptivity and reconfigurability of production lines by embedding nanoPLCs called Iceblocks into their parts,” explains CTO, Dmitrii Drozdov. “Iceblocks master wireless communication including 5G and mesh network and are programmed in IEC 61499, enabled by the UAO runtime. This enables the key benefits of fully decentralised control and engineering of heterogeneous systems, integrating the swarm with devices of other vendors.”

R Stahl specialises in remote IO technologies for hazardous locations. “Embedding the UAO IEC 61499 runtime in our remote IO makes it very simple to integrate to any Universal Automation system,” says Stahl’s senior product manager, André Fritz. “The cherry on the cake is the real-time/right-time capabilities of IEC 61499 will allow us to also implement IIoT functions directly in the IO devices, and this allows Stahl and our ecosystem to provide added value to our customers. This is like a toolbox for digitalisation in hazardous areas.”

UAO president John Conway predicts that the compliant products demonstrated in the US will be “the first wave of many. Users can now test the UniversalAutomation.Org technology and experience the benefits for themselves”.

UniversalAutomation.org: Twitter  LinkedIn 




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