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Open, innovative and future-proof

IEN D-A-CH: The goal of ctrlX Automation is to offer the user an open automation system. How do you ensure this and which components are included?
Openness is one of the central characteristics of ctrlX Automation and has been one of the most important premises in the development from the start. How did we do that? With an open software architecture and app-based engineering that enables users to use not only apps created by Bosch Rexroth, but also applications from our partners or apps they have created themselves. The entire toolchain is open to users, including documentation and descriptions. The user is no longer bound to proprietary systems and interfaces.

We rely on EtherCAT, but also support more than 30 other communication standards such as OPC UA, MQTT, IO-Link on the I / O side and many more. We have deliberately avoided specifications and support the solutions that have established themselves as standards on the market and will continue to establish themselves in the future.

IEN D-A-CH: A new system usually means a high initial effort for familiarization and adaptation. What help can you offer newcomers to get started as smoothly as possible?
With the real-time operating system Linux, consistently open standards, app programming technology, web-based engineering and a comprehensive IoT connection, ctrlX Automation reduces the component and engineering effort by 30 to 50 percent. This significantly accelerates the development of new machine concepts.

The transmission manufacturer Wittenstein, one of our partners, will, for example, offer smart transmissions as standard with an integrated sensor module that enables Industry 4.0 connectivity. The integration and relearning on Linux took just under a week and a half. With future connections, the company expects only around half a day of connection time.

IEN D-A-CH: What are the main advantages that can be achieved if you look at a production line as an example?
Users put together the required functionalities in a modular manner. You are not tied to proprietary systems or interfaces, but are completely free to design your automation solution. The software runs completely independently of the hardware.

We guarantee service availability for up to 25 years and have already prepared future technologies such as TSN or 5G in the system. That means investment security for the user and his production line.

Another advantage is that it can be updated. We know that the majority of users and production companies still do not accept Internet access on machines or use it very restrictively. But we also know that this will change step by step. It is essential that the security of the system is guaranteed and that is what we offer. This gives users new options for extensions, regular security updates and new functionalities. The connection of the machine level to higher-level IT systems such as MES or ERP systems is also made easier. This gives us the opportunity to find out more about the condition of the components in the field and to improve them further.

But when developing the hardware and software, it was also important to us to implement all components as space-saving as possible. The control ctrlX Core offers a powerful CPU in a very compact housing. But the motors, drives and I / Os have also been reduced in size by up to 50%. This offers specific advantages because automation is becoming increasingly mobile.

IEN D-A-CH: You have just mentioned the I / O modules that you have developed from scratch for the system. What were the reasons that led to this decision?
We have dealt with the “make or buy” question for a long time and also exchanged ideas with some potential partners. In the end, however, we came to the decision that we would have to take over the production ourselves if we wanted to implement all the requirements for performance, engineering, diagnostics, automation architecture, safety integration and the rapid implementation of customer requests. That would not have been possible with a single partner. But that doesn't mean that we will do everything ourselves in the future. We have important core functions, but we invite interested parties to use their experience to contribute to the solution and its further development, e.g. with specific I / O modules for industries with special requirements. The system is open to co-projects.

IEN D-A-CH: Innovation cycles continue to accelerate, how do you ensure the future security of the system in terms of hardware and software?
This is a very important issue for us. The system is still relatively young, the hardware is currently in the market launch phase. We ensure serviceability for up to 25 years. For example, if you buy our ctrlX Core controller today, it will certainly be in active sales for 10 years. In the event of a discontinuation, the supply of spare parts is guaranteed for a further 10 years. Parts inventory and supply chains are designed for this. And as an optional service that is valued by many customers, we can extend this warranty for a further 5 years. With the software, we make sure that it is hardware-agnostic, i.e. an app that is written for the ctrlX Core today will still run on the controller in 5 years. In the past, and even with existing systems, it was always difficult when a CPU had to be replaced. If more power is required or the CPU is no longer available, the software has usually had to be adapted very laboriously. We try to avoid this at ctrlX Automation in order to keep the software easy to use even with changed or enhanced hardware.

IEN D-A-CH: Continuous networking and connection to higher-level systems, including the cloud, are becoming increasingly important. What options does ctrlX Automation offer to combine the highest possible security standards with simplicity for the user?
The advantage of ctrlX Automation lies in the new development from the ground up. We have standardized “Security by Design” for the entire platform. It was not necessary to build in areas afterwards and to secure them from the outside. That increases security. Of course there is also security by default, for example access to the system is not possible without entering a password. Of course, we also offer VPN client solutions and the complete kit to communicate securely online with the platform, right through to the connectors for the established cloud providers such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google etc. But you don't have to be "connected" all the time. The connection can only be established for a certain period of time with appropriate authentication, for example if there are maintenance tasks to be performed. If desired, users can manage projects completely via the ctrlX Device Portal or on the ctrlX Core controller, with secure remote access. Other components can then also be evaluated via the entry point of the ctrlX Core - e.g. the drives - or their firmware can be updated. Due to Corona, we are currently seeing what is already possible. With the company CIMCORP, we have already commissioned large systems remotely and that worked extremely well. Even if these mechanisms are not yet used as standard, the prerequisites must be created to be able to use them. The demand from machine and system manufacturers and users is growing steadily.

IEN D-A-CH: Mr. Winkler, thank you for talking to us.

Published on November 4, 2020 - (725 views)