Grain Milling Solution Relies on OPC Technology

Oct. 28, 2008
Buhler, the leading provider of grain milling solutions, standardized on Softing’s industry-hardened S7/S5 OPC Server to provide reliable connectivity between Buhler’s “WinCoS.r2” automation system and multiple S7-400 PLCs.

Buhler is a global specialist in the field of plant design and construction and the related services for transforming renewable and synthetic raw materials into high-quality functional products and valuable substances. Buhler employs some 6,900 employees around the world and is headquartered in Switzerland. Most people are not even aware of how many times a day they encounter products to which Buhler has contributed. Breakfast rolls in the morning? The ink on the newspaper? Perhaps a few noodles for lunch? That refreshing beer after work? Yes, a bit of Buhler is in all of these things, for Buhler is a technology group and global market leader in Food Processing, Chemical Process Engineering, and Die Casting.

Approximately eight years ago, Buhler’s grain milling business unit introduced WinCoS, a very successful automation system to control the grain milling process. WinCoS is a perfectly matched software and hardware solution for controlling processes. The process control system builds upon an automation concept that is tailored exactly to the specific requirements of a specific production plant, from simple starter versions to the maximum level of automation.

WinCoS enables a customer to cut its operating expenses (manpower, energy, maintenance, etc.), to increase the efficiency of the production process on the basis of characteristic figures, and to improve the quality assurance (HACCP, IFS, ISO, product retracing, etc.).

The latest version of Buhler’s automation system, WinCoS.r2, is based on standard components from Microsoft (operating system), Siemens (automation technology), and Softing (OPC communication). Starting with WinCoS.r2, Buhler’s design team decided to standardize on OPC as the main communication protocol to the process peripherals. “OPC technology enables us to seamlessly integrate best-in-class automation equipment from various vendors,” said Kurt Geiger, Manager of Buhler’s Automation Standards Team. “We standardized on Softing’s S7/S5 OPC Server to achieve OPC connectivity to our S7-400 PLCs. After evaluating numerous OPC solutions offered in the market, our communication experts chose Softing’s product because of its superior performance, outstanding reliability, and ease-of-use.”

Buhler’s grain milling automation systems are designed to run around-the-clock 24/7. Large installations utilize multiple high-end S7-400 PLCs that provide up to 60,000 data points that the OPC Server has to process simultaneously. Failure is not an option given the fact that Buhler’s mills are handling 300,000,000 tons of wheat worldwide.

“Our decision to go with Softing turned out to be an excellent pick for Buhler,” said Geiger. “Softing’s flexibility in supporting our ever-changing requirements helps us to continually improve our system and to stay ahead of our competition.” For example, Softing enhanced its S7/S5 OPC Server with functionality that enables Buhler to download new program versions to an S7-400 PLC on-the-fly without shutting down the milling process.

Ease-of-use and line redundancy support

Softing's S7/S5 OPC Server offers the capability to import the symbolic names table of the Step7 program, eliminating the need to manually define all name tags in the OPC Server. Access to the S7 controller is accomplished via Ethernet, PROFIBUS, USB, or a serial communication link. The integrated server-side OPC Tunnel guarantees a stable and secure data exchange between OPC Client and Server, even through firewalls.

Softing’s S7/S5 OPC Server includes a redundancy feature for high-availability applications. The OPC Server has the capability to utilize two independent Ethernet connections (line redundancy—a primary and a secondary connection), to communicate to a PLC. The primary connection is constantly monitored, and in case of a failure the OPC Server is automatically switched to the secondary line within a single OPC cycle.

In addition, Softing's S7/S5 OPC offering includes an industrial ActiveX OPC Client control that encapsulates OPC-related communications. Furthermore, the ActiveX control fits seamlessly into standard Microsoft software packages including Excel, Visual Basic, Microsoft Access, and Internet Explorer without additional runtime license fees.
Softing, a member of the European Steering Committee of the OPC Foundation and author of the “OPC Book,” actively contributes to the success of OPC by providing high quality OPC products, enabling their customers to stay in the forefront of the industrial communications technologies they deploy.

For more information on how Softing can assist you, please visit

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