Simpler, Faster, Smarter: A New Approach to System Design

  • June 22, 2016
  • Rockwell Automation
  • Rockwell Automation
  • Feature

By: Andy Stump, Business Manager, Design Software, Rockwell Automation 

Manufacturing and industrial end users are turning to smart manufacturing to be more responsive, efficient and flexible in how they operate.

This has presented a new challenge for automation system designers and integrators. They’re now expected to deliver the flexible and information-enabled automation systems required for smart manufacturing, while also contending with pressures to increase profitability, improve time-to-market, optimize asset performance and meet regulatory standards.

System designers and integrators need to deliver more complex systems while managing these pressures to fundamentally change how they design, build and commission systems. Fortunately, recent advances in design software can help them do just that, while also delivering longer term operational and maintenance benefits.

An Outdated Design Approach

The traditional approach to designing automation systems is no longer optimal for today’s connected systems.

Using multiple tools to design a system can be especially problematic. It forces designers to jump from one tool to another and learn different programming languages, menus and commands for each. This can be cumbersome and time-consuming, and increase the amount of training required for employees to become familiar with each tool.

The lack of interoperability between these tools restricts the sharing of data between them, forcing programmers to re-enter the same code and data in multiple tools. Such redundant programming can add unnecessary time to the design process and result in coding and data-entry errors.

The use of disparate tools and processes is particularly undesirable for complex systems that require the support of multiple teams. For example, projects for large end users may involve multiple design engineers and system integrators who are spread across several locations and time zones. Schedules and costs can quickly soar out of control for these projects without fluid collaboration and easy data sharing.

Adopting an Integrated Development Environment

Today’s design software options are evolving. The ability to design systems that require multi-discipline control and visualization from a single, integrated development environment can simplify the design and commissioning processes.

From a design standpoint, engineers can use an integrated environment to create common work flows, more easily share data across geographically dispersed teams and eliminate redundant processes.

The environment provides a standardized way to share tags, alarms and other data across multiple design applications. This allows engineers to configure information once and leverage it across the entire automation system. They also can configure all elements of the automation system in one place, rather than using multiple tools for control and visualization.

Once a system is operational, the integrated development environment also provides a centralized view for all system components. This gives operators and maintenance technicians a central location where they can re-configure devices, troubleshoot and access information about the system.

Modeling and Simulation Capabilities

A virtual design strategy is required in today’s environment to increase design productivity and minimize risk. The ability to validate, test and optimize application code independent of physical hardware is necessary to reduce project costs, and to minimize commissioning and startup time.

Modern integrated development environments now incorporate virtual design capabilities that enable designers to emulate a control system within other simulation systems, including operator training systems and 3-D modeling applications. Designers can simply run their 3-D drawings through the virtual design program’s simulation and emulation processes to prove out their designs. System designers already have used virtual design to save anywhere from 40 to 60 percent in system costs.

Library Management

Users looking to accelerate project creation by leveraging reusable content require library management capabilities within their development environment. Library management best practices help improve design consistency, reduce engineering cost and achieve faster commissioning.

New library management applications enable engineers to build, store and version control libraries of re-usable code that can be managed and deployed across an entire enterprise.

Library development capabilities provide the ability to create parameterized modular code objects. These multi-discipline objects include control code, HMI faceplates, alarms and historical data collection tags.

Objects can range in size and complexity, but not every engineer who works with them has to be aware of all of the complexity and relationships. Engineers can simply deploy objects by configuring parameters versus having to develop code. This enables users to deploy a large number of objects more efficiently. It also reduces or eliminates the need to test and validate each instance of those objects.

For example, an engineer working on an application requiring 500 pumps could create a standard pump object in their library. The engineer would then select that object and configure parameters specific to the instance of that specific pump. The tool then creates all the necessary files for control code, visualization, alarming and historical data collection for all 500 pumps at one time.

System Organization

There are organizational aspects of design software that can improve productivity, such as how it presents code, that can help end users manage and maintain their systems.

Software that logically organizes code provides a way to create an organizational model of the system based on the user’s perspective. This shift in how code is presented – from the controller’s perspective to the user’s perspective – enables users to maintain and quickly identify the code within the system that may need to be investigated.

Designing to the requirements of the current system and the long-term maintenance and potential expansion of that system helps ensure continued productivity and efficiency for end users. 

Enabling Smart Manufacturing

These capabilities – an integrated development environment, modeling and simulation, library management, and system organization – all help engineers design smart machines and automation systems in a more efficient, affordable and consistent fashion.

A key responsibility of system designers, integrators and end users is to ensure the right tools are in place before design even begins. The design stage is only a small phase of the development lifecycle, but the benefits of a scalable, modular system design can exponentially enhance a system’s ease of use, expandability and maintenance long after it has been commissioned. 

Design software selection should be based on the design time and costs savings it can deliver up front, as well as the maintenance and operations benefits it can offer down the road.

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