Today’s automation studio integrates many end-user wish-list items, Mack notes. Those include a common set of configuration tools; standard, widely used configuration languages; and configuration simulation tools that can minimize time to market. Those also include flexible viewing capabilities, regardless of the end-user’s respective role in his or her company. “But one challenge we face with industrial programming tools is providing a foundation of object-oriented capabilities that are common in the world,” declares Ron Bliss, software marketing manager for Logix/NetLinx for automation vendor Rockwell Automation Inc. (www.rockwellautomation.com), in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.
And while abstraction—the mechanism or practice to remove details to allow focus on just a few concepts—and inheritance—the means to form new objects using ones already defined—have been commonplace in personal-computer (PC) programming, these methods only recently started to work their way into control systems, Bliss explains. “The primary reason is that we needed to find a way to make these concepts easy to support and maintain.” Additionally, because industrial environments must run continuously without stopping, “being able to make changes at runtime is critical,” he adds.
What, though, are some unique features of the integrated programming environment—and why and where would those find use in industrial settings? Besides the configuration tools that Mack mentions, Bliss points out that one useful functionality is having a program that provides the ability to see and navigate and configure the system topology directly within the same view as the rest of the application code. “In most industrial software tools, this is provided as a separate software tool. That means this information is not as easily accessible,” he notes. “This [new ability] simplifies system management because the architecture is more intuitive.” Another useful functionality is animating equipment diagnostics, he says. It helps direct maintenance staff to failures.
Some developments have enhanced the integrated programming environment. One Bliss mentions is user-defined add-on instructions. “These provide the basis for an object-oriented programming methodology, where code is encapsulated into pre-validated modules that can be easily reused without modification,” he explains. “This allows you to create standardized libraries that can reduce project development time and provide consistency.”
Of three others he cites, one is integrated drive configuration, which makes management of drives in a control system “a whole lot easier because there is only one software package to buy and learn.” The remaining two comprise new alarm blocks, which provide standardized alarm management and tracking, and integrated robot control, which Bliss says may be “ideal for packaging pick-and-place and other complex motion control applications.”
Also appealing to end-users are connectivity and flowchart-based optical interfaces, observes James Davis, senior systems engineer for Temecula, Calif.-based vendor Opto 22 (www.opto22.com). Some other functionalities he says end-users desire include integrated proportional-integral-derivative (PID) control, alarming, historical and real-time trending, real-time debugging tools, security and version control. He thinks OPC (an open connectivity standard) connectivity is also important. “That lets you communicate data you’re gathering, lets you import data into any OPC-compliant device.”
Davis predicts that integrated industrial programming environments will become more common. How so? Through integrated programmable automation controllers, or PACs, a new class of industrial controllers that combine PC functionality with that of programmable logic controllers.
C. Kenna Amos, email@example.com, is an Automation World contributing editor.