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`Game-changing` automation system marks new direction

20 April, 2009

The machine safety specialist Pilz is expanding into the general automation market. It has developed a distributed automation system which, it believes, will change the way that control systems are designed, as well as saving considerable time.

The company unveiled its new system on its biggest-ever stand at the Hannover Fair in Germany in April. To emphasise its change in direction, Pilz was exhibiting for the first time in a hall dedicated to factory automation.

The new PSS4000 system (above) combines safety and machine control functions, including motion control, diagnostics and visualisation. The key to the system is a graphical software package that allows engineers to design a PLC installation – or a distributed system involving multiple controllers – without needing to consider the hardware. If the hardware changes, the software reconfigures automatically. The aim is to simplify the decentralisation of control functions and to reduce engineering effort.

According to Pilz UK MD Steve Farrow, this approach “will change the way machine software designers work”. By separating programming from hardware design, projects can be developed in parallel. This means that the software will be ready when a machine is built, reducing design times dramatically, Farrow adds.

The software will allow users to keep a centralised perspective of decentralised, distributed control structures, and to reap the benefits of these structures without the complexity that this normally involves. The interface problems traditionally associated with connecting multiple control systems are “consigned to the past”, Pilz declares.

The decentralisation will also deliver a higher level of re-usability and standardisation, allowing control programs and sub-function modules to be re-used.

The software is based on the IEC61131-3 programming standard. It allows standard control and safety functions to be created and managed symbolically. Software blocks for common functions will be available in a library which users can expand using their own components. This approach will be extended to the hardware, allowing changes to be made without needing to change the wiring.
The PSS4000 automation system is based on Pilz’s PSSuniversal decentralised I/O system, which includes modules for safety-related and standard control functions. The real-time SafetyNET p Ethernet-based protocol is used to network the control components and to transfer safety-related and non-safety-related data, as well as data for diagnostics, visualization and motion control.

The new automation system is expected to reach the market in October 2009. Safe motion will be integrated into the system next year, with visualisation functions following in 2011.

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