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OS links IT to OT and frees users from proprietary limits

26 January, 2023

The German connectivity and automation supplier Weidmüller has developed an automation operating system that links the worlds of OT (operational technology) and IT and will allow automation engineers to assemble customised Web-based systems. Called u-OS, the system is based on open standards such as Linux, container technology and OPC UA, and can integrate custom apps, apps from third-party developers, as well as apps developed by Weidmüller itself.

The company argues that many of the advantages that integrated smart factories could offer in terms of flexibility, cost and efficiency, cannot currently be exploited because of automation systems that are tied to one manufacturer.

Seamless compatibility with third-party systems – a pre-requisite for IT systems – is far from standard in OT, it adds. Users often have to cope with incompatible proprietary systems, as well as their high maintenance and retrofitting costs. This has been emphasised by the supply chain issues of the past couple of years, with many automation users finding it difficult to change suppliers.

“The closer the IT and OT worlds merge, the greater the desire of users to break this dependency,” says Andreas Hoffmann, vice-president of the Weidmüller Interface automation business. “With u-OS, Weidmüller now offers users a software platform for IIoT and automation that is open, flexible and independent.”

The OS is said to combine the stability of automation systems with the potential of the IIoT, offering automation engineers and IT programmers an open, flexible way of networking of a range of systems.

By using established open standards, the OS can incorporate apps from different sources. Users can turn to third-party providers who also offer automation platforms or apps.

The three open technologies on which u-OS is built are:
Linux, which combines good real-time capabilities, a large service provider and developer community, and easy optimisation and adaptation of the open-source code, if required.
Container technology, which enables users to bundle an application with all of its dependencies in one package. Even complex software releases can be provided automatically and quickly. It can also eliminate errors during installation and updates, saving time and costs. The app manager used by u-OS allows the system to be configured to user needs with no programming knowledge.
OPC UA (the open platform communications unified architecture), an open industrial communications protocol that enables platform-independent, reliable and secure information exchange between devices from different manufacturers.

Using these open standards, u-OS allows third-party runtime systems to operate on the platform. One example is the hardware-independent Codesys automation programming system – the largest manufacturer-independent ecosystem in industrial automation – which is used to create, plan, document, visualise and configure control applications.

Weidmüller says that its u-OS operating system combines the stability of automation systems with the potential of the IIoT

Apps – from users, third-party suppliers or Weidmüller – can add new functions and open up the worlds of industrial automation and the IoT. For example, the high-performance Procon-Web visualisation software can simply be run as an app on the open control system.

u-OS can connect the IIoT with automation, partners with users, and data and industrial ecosystems with the cloud. Weidmüller argues that users who rely on open-source automation rather than proprietary systems can be more productive, flexible and efficient using open, digital networking.

“This is also reflected in operating costs and ultimately competitiveness,” Hoffmann contends. “The new u-OS operating system will therefore form the basis for all of Weidmüller's IoT and automation components in future. Every device has the software installed to enable easy access to the IT and OT world. The expansion capability allows our customers and their customers to assemble a customised and Web-based system. Anything is possible – there is no must.”

♦   Weidmüller has recently exceeded annual sales of €1bn for the first time in its history. It currently almost 6,000 people at more than 30 locations.




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