The Future of Automation Technology Made in Italy

The 06th of November 2012 Bologna hosted the 1° Benchmark Forum ITALIA – Ingegneria Intelligente. This conference, co-organized by the Italian company CRIT Research™ and the German enterprise ITQ, aimed on stimulating a discussion between  leading international automation solution providers, Italian world-class machine and plant producers and renown end users, hereby pointing out the key requirements of the automation technology of tomorrow. The event saw the participation of almost 100 persons representing more than 40 companies and organizations active both on a national and international level.

The scope of the 1° Benchmark Forum ITALIA was to stimulate a discussion between automation solution providers, machine and plant manufacturers and the end users. The conference was divided into presentation and demo sessions. The latter ones aimed on demonstrating the newest tools of major automation solution providers and hereby stimulating the direct productive exchange between the single participants. The presentation sessions on the one side where aimed on explaining the needs of OEMs and on the other side elucidating the tools of the automation solution providers and how these, already today, help OEMS and end users to adopt the modern engineering approaches.

The 1° Benchmark Form ITALIA started with the welcome and introduction from Giorgio Tarozzi, manager IMA Active SpA and director of LIAM (Laboratory of Industrial Automation for packaging Machines) who elucidated the Benchmark activities of LIAM of eight automation solution platforms and who pointed out the need to collaborate in an open spirit between the varying automation solution providers, the machine builders and the end users. Then Paolo Scarabelli, Embedded Automation Solution Manager of Tetra Pak Packaging Solutions explained the challenges OEMs need to confront in future considering that the end user’s request for machines with more and more differentiated functionalities. However, mechatronics, the concept seen as the tool of choice, lacks a real multidisciplinary approach, since still today electronics and software development follow after the mechanical design and the equivalent treatment of these three disciplines still lack behind the actual necessity.

In order to allow a direct comparison between the solutions of five varying automation solution providers, namely Siemens, Bosch Rexroth, B&R, Beckhoff and Omron, these were invited to organize the proper presentation along a catalogue of criteria, the Benchmark. These criteria, presented by Dr. Stetter, Managing Director and Founder of ITQ, were based on the Quality Gate concept developed with respect to a Best Practice from the VDMA (German Engineering Federation).

The Quality Gate concept (source: ITQ GmbH)

Siemens was the company assigned to be the first to respond on these demands. This company believes that the right tool should allow the machine builder to focus on the functionalities of the machine and less on aspects of automation. Hence, the suppliers should offer tools which allow ease-of-use, multidisciplinary engineering, version management and simulation which Siemens intends to offer with their “Mechatronics Concept Designer”.

Bosch Rexroth followed claiming that their tools permit to interface special software for requirement specification. Hererby, their modular approach allows to define the mechatronical solution and a mechatronical support for simulation and optimization exists. As well this company understands the growing importance of high-level languages and object-oriented software development, but also graphical programming. Testing can be based on turning on- and off- components and this company emphasized the importance of training and consulting allowing the machine builders to increase their know-how.

Beckhoff believes that software drives automation and the acceptance of this affirmation relies on evolution in the sector. In particular this company sees the necessity to unite PLC, Motion and HMI in one software. The PC-based control principle relies on abstraction, and limited hardware dependencies. As other companies also Beckhoff supports the integration of UML and Matlab. This company states that object-oriented programming is a key factor allowing for modular design and the goal relies in creating applications from existing technological modules. The software tools should support the machine builder in their core competence, the know-how in their machines.

The company Omron has developed a completely new software package. It is aimed on offering a modular machine design where the machine builder can focus on the machine. The modules should contain reusable objects. As others also this company is convinced that objected oriented programming is required in order to handle the increasing amount of needed software. The tools intend to support a series of programming languages and three dimensional simulation allowing for machine visualization and testing.

The final presentation was given by B&R Automation. This company believes that it is required to open the development platforms towards different software tools such as Matlab, Eplan Electric P8, Tortoise SVN and SAP. Again, also this company is convinced that modularity is a key characteristic and that object oriented programming languages are the future.

The final round table discussion

The final part of the day was a round table discussion involving all the speakers and the active participation of the conference’s participants. The main points mentioned during the lively contributions were the importance of simulation and virtual commissioning, the need of creating the right internal competencies and aiming on defining ways of quantifying the economical earnings applying modern engineering approaches. As well it was emphasized that the internal hurdles in the internal structures of the machine builders need to be mastered. This is in particular due to the non-equilibrated weights and less developed collaboration between the mechanical, electronics and software departments.

Since the 1° Benchmark Forum has shown that the interest of an open confrontation between different bodies is high and due to the positive feedback from all participants the organizers have already announced that the 2° Benchmark Forum ITALIA will be organized for 2013 at a date to be defined.

Further Information:
CRIT Research™
Tel. +39 059 776865 – Fax +39 059 776881


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