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Generative AI is now an industrial tool that generates PLC code

25 April, 2024

The first generative AI product dedicated to industrial engineering has started to roll out into practical applications. Pilot trials of Siemens’ Industrial Copilot for TIA Portal Engineering are now underway and the software will be available for download from its Xcelerator marketplace from the summer of 2024.

Copilot – developed with Microsoft – can generate code and visualisations for PLCs, and provide help for engineering teams. Siemens says it will reduce workloads and handle repetitive tasks. Also, it will make the engineering of complex tasks less error-prone, cutting development times and boosting quality and productivity, according to the company.

The Copilot app generates PLC code in structured control language (SCL). TIA Portal can take code suggestions directly from the AI, eliminating the need to copy-and-paste. Copilot can explain SCL code blocks, or guide and create machine or plant visualisations in WinCC Unified. Engineers can use the app to search Siemens manuals in natural language, while end-users have the option to access a private instance of Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI Service which doesn’t use customer data to retrain models.

One early adopter of the Copilot technology is the German industrial automation specialist Grenzebach, which has been testing how generative AI can save it time and effort, and reduce the risk of errors.

Based on the company’s experience so far, Grenzebach’s CEO, Dr Steven Althaus, says: “Generative AI is a must-have,” adding that it “will allow us to make the most of the rapidly increasing amount of data available in a factory. And it will take human-machine collaboration to the next level. We can address the skilled labour shortages, boost innovation and significantly increase the productivity of our workforce.”

Siemens has also been working with the mechatronics giant Schaeffler to apply the Copilot to production machinery. At the SPS show last November, the partners demonstrated the first production machine to be enhanced using generative AI, and at the Hannover Messe they signed a memorandum of understanding covering the joint development of industrial AI applications and digital shopfloor systems.

During the Messe, Siemens and Schaeffler demonstrated the Copilot app connected to a production machine from Schaeffler’s Special Machinery business. The AI assistant was generating complex automation codes for the machine using natural spoken words. The Copilot also had access to documentation, guidelines and manuals to help identify potential causes of errors.

“With the Siemens Industrial Copilot, we are bringing the capabilities of generative AI to the Schaeffler shopfloor,” says Cedrik Neike, CEO of Siemens’ Digital Industries business. “Together, we are showing how AI is revolutionising production– from the generation of machine code to AI-based maintenance. And that is just the beginning.“

Schaeffler COO, Andreas Schick, adds that the collaboration with Siemens proves that AI can already be used in production. “With the Copilot, we are providing our experts on the shopfloor with an innovative digital tool, which simplifies their work and significantly increases their efficiency. We are taking production to a new, digital level in collaboration with Siemens.”

At the Hannover Messe, Schaeffler demonstrated a production machine whose control codes were generated using AI

Siemens envisages a suite of generative AI-powered industrial copilots transforming the way that companies design, plan, develop, engineer and work. Together with pilot customers and partners, it is applying generative AI in multiple sectors, including automotive, transportation, healthcare and manufacturing.

“The Siemens Industrial Copilot is bringing industrial generative AI to the shopfloor and will be an indispensable part of the engineering process in the future,” predicts Rainer Brehm, CEO of factory automation at Siemens Digital Industries. “With the easy and seamless connection to our TIA Portal, we’re the first to offer a generative AI product for engineering to industrial companies worldwide.

“Industrial AI is an important lever for combining the real and the digital worlds – with the ultimate goal of addressing major challenges, such as the shortage of skilled workers or making industrial production more efficient and sustainable,” Brehm declares.

Siemens:  Twitter  LinkedIn  Facebook

Schaeffler:  Twitter  LinkedIn  Facebook

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