I still pretty well remember the launch of the S7 controllers from Siemens (www.siemens.com) in the mid-nineties. After many years of the S5, its replacement—combined with the concept of Totally Integrated Automation—was launched into the market with major efforts. The whole thing felt quite like a revolution, because Siemens had been enjoying a dominant position with the S5 PLC technology. At the SPS IPC Drives 2012 show in November, Siemens introduced another next-generation series of controllers; however, the launch was surprisingly restrained.
I went into the Siemens press conference at the SPS IPC Drives 2012 trade fair expecting to find the main focus placed on the presentation of the new controller series, the S7-1500. I had previously had the opportunity to do a video interview on the new products with Siemens Manager Thomas Schott. I left the press conference a little bemused, because in my impression, the S7-1500 series played an almost marginal role.
The undeniable star of the event was the software. Those who have more closely followed the strategic approach of Siemens in the past months and years can see quite clearly that the importance of software has increased dramatically. This becomes clear in the investments in the TIA Portal (one billion plus euros already, according to Siemens) and the purchase of many software companies. Siemens plans to cover the entire engineering chain with proprietary software products and solutions.
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With the move from S5 to S7, there had been significant system gaps that, for all intents and purposes, encouraged users to switch providers in some cases. This was obviously intended to be avoided with the move to the S7-300/S7-400 successor, the S-1500 family.
User opinion on the TIA Portal is divided; independent of that, though, I'd say it is the right way to go. If all essential automation products and functions are programmable and capable of parameterization, we will have achieved exactly what the slogan 'Totally Integrated Automation” promises. The true gain of software lies in integration and ease-of-use.
The rather low-key presentation of the hardware during the press conference doesn’t mean that hardware has lost all importance for Siemens. It does, however, indicate that software has significantly gained in importance. Maybe Siemens will become the IBM of automation technology in the long term. IBM has completed the re-orientation towards software consistently and is highly successful.
Martin Buchwitz, email@example.com, is Editor in Chief of SPS-Magazin in Germany.