SIMATIC Manager: The Software "Glue" for Totally Integrated Automation

Oct. 5, 2009
When Siemens unveiled its Totally Integrated Automation (TIA) approach to manufacturing in 1996 the concept didn’t seem all that new or revolutionary at first glance. “Well that’s just modularity,” some opined. However, they didn’t understand the totality of the TIA vision which calls for both vertical and horizontal integration, defines the interaction of the software, the hardware and services and ties the plant together from the management level, through the operators and controllers to the field in a single, holistic automation solution.

The idea behind TIA was to tie all relevant areas of the plant together to streamline everything from design to commissioning to production and maintenance – to make it possible to do everything faster.

“Why can’t you  operate the plant from one console?” asks Siemens spokesperson Bob Harris. “We don’t want to think about things as discrete components, each with its own management requirements. We want to think about things as parts of a single entity and address everything in relation to the whole.”

According to Harris, the key difference between TIA and the approach taken by other vendors – or forced upon them – is its inside-out construction.

“The majority of integrated control systems are created with an outside-in development process,” he says. “Most integrated plant automation systems have been produced by the convergence of efforts of disparate development teams, concentrating on different processes and often working for different companies.

“As these islands of automation became more effective and expanded to encompass more of the activities surrounding their core focus they bumped into each other and were forced to work together and code was added ad hoc to integrate them. This process was repeated over and over again until you have a comprehensive industrial automation system that encompasses the entire operation from plant floor to top floor.

“All these products work,” adds Harris. “But because they come from different, and sometimes incompatible, development processes they don’t interact effectively. At the end of the day your industrial automation system is one big mash-up.”

Conversely, the inside-out approach used by TIA starts with a central core system that provides the basic resources commonly required by nearly all enterprises. Additional resources are added to the core to tailor the system to the individual customer’s requirements. Central to this approach are modularity and a strict adherence to the interface standards.

At the heart of TIA sits Simatic Manager, the core engineering environment that ties everything together.

When Mason Mattenson, a control engineer at Magnetecs, Inc., was given a short deadline to get an automation system off the ground in January Simatic Manager played a significant role in his success. The Inglewood, CA-based company is developing an electromagnetic catheter guidance system for operating rooms and has already gained significant attention in the health care industry globally. In fact, the first system is scheduled for deployment in Madrid, Spain in Q1 of 2010. Siemens had been selected for the project for its popularity overseas, but Mattenson hadn’t worked with Siemens products in almost two decades.

“I was a little nervous coming into a high profile project with a new technology,” he says. “I went from never having seen a Siemens S7 processor to having the system up and running in three months.

“The thing that I love about Simatic Manager is that it’s a totally integrated development environment. You don’t find that in the PLC world very much. Other suppliers require you to run four or five different software packages to get the job done. I’ve become very used to getting at everything from within one application. I think it’s fantastic.”

Paul Blanchard, a control engineer at Solvere, Bellmont, NC., who has been using Simatic Manager since 1999 knows where Mattenson is coming from. “It’s a little overwhelming at first for a new user because it’s so flexible but I got used to it.

“With Simatic Manager everything is compartmentalized. It’s in blocks. With other apps, it’s all one project. When you access it, it’s the entire project. That makes it hard for people to collaborate. When you are working on something, it’s very difficult for someone else to be engaged simultaneously. By having things in individual blocks, if my colleague wants to get work, he can open his data block and when he’s done he can just email me the block. I just copy those blocks into the master project.

“Another thing I like about the software: if you have a repetitive task, a task you may need to execute in many places on the line or in the plant like converting Fahrenheit to Celsius for example, you only have to do it once. Input parameters are put to it and you can have as many outputs as you want. Other vendors have started doing this but Siemens has had it since I started in ‘99.”

Adds Harris, “One of the advantages of the Simatic Manager is that when you start with a project in the S7 world, you can really pick the approach you want to take. Software, hardware or networking, you can really engineer it to meet your preferred workflow.

“You can have your SCADA, HMI, motion control, etc. You can have all those as elements within the project in a simple Windows-esque folder tree menu and all connected through whatever networking protocol you want, PROFIBUS, Ethernet, etc.

“This saves a lot of time right from the planning stage through setup and then start up and documentation and then troubleshooting or maintenance. All the tools are tied together. It also cuts down on training because you only have to learn one system.

At the end of the day an integrated control system of some kind has become de rigueur in both discrete and process manufacturing. The benefits of having some kind of all encompassing system are too great to ignore, including: improved production transparency, reduced downtime, reduced process integration costs and lowered total cost of ownership. The next step is to maximize these benefits.

“Those early naysayers were absolutely right. TIA is modularity. But the modules are inherently compatible at the foundation level, and that makes a huge difference to the end user in terms of simplifying the operation and saving time and money.”

For more information on SIMATIC Step 7 Engineering Software and SIMATIC Manager, please click here.

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