Plants Based on the Lego Principle Modular Automation as the Answer to Volatile Markets in Process Industries

| Editor: Dr. Jörg Kempf

Smaller batches and different types of product in the same plant — these are the market demands to which more and more manufacturers in the process industries need to adjust. The answer is plants based on the “Lego” principle. Users can add modules or switch them off in line with requirements. But this can be achieved only with modular automation. The automation platform CPX from Festo is the central element in this concept — reflecting the motto “numbering up instead of scaling up”.

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The central element for modular automation: the Festo automation platform CPX
The central element for modular automation: the Festo automation platform CPX
(Picture: Festo)

Flexible and modular production plants require autonomous intelligent units. This is where the worlds of the process industry and manufacturing industry meet — in their approach to Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution. Digitisation and networking enable automated modules at field level to be connected simply and reliably with a master control system, while also providing communication between them — in just the same way as Lego bricks click together to form a solid but nonetheless flexible structure.


Industry 4.0 as the Solution

Flexible production processes, as described in the model “Industry 4.0”, are needed to maintain the competitiveness of process industries in ever more volatile markets. The prerequisite for this is adaptive, self-configuring and self-organising flexible production plants with a high level of networking. One of the steps necessary to achieve this — at least in the case of multi-product and batch plants — is the process-related and functional modularisation of plant sections.

Existing master control systems are not prepared for the automation of modular plants. Communication between operator and monitoring systems and controllers generally takes place via manufacturer-specific protocols.

Modular and Intelligent

The plants of the future will consist of modules. Each module will incorporate all the automation functions which it requires to carry out its own process. Automation functions could also be provided by a central control system. However, a master control system is not designed for modular plants with their requirement for easy replacement of individual modules. Process-related modules, on the other hand, need a small, adaptable and autonomous automation system.

By implementing decentralised, intelligent solutions in the individual modules there is no need to re-program and re-configure the application software. The modules can be integrated with minimal effort into the overall automation solution for the production process. This allows several automated modules to be added to the plant without the need to extend the automation technology of the overall plant. “It is important to be able to expand or modify plants easily without having to go immediately to large-scale plants. In other words, numbering up instead of scaling up”, explains Dr. Eckhard Roos, Head of Key Account and Industry Segment Management Process Automation at Festo.

The Festo automation platform CPX has once again proved to be ideal as the central element of a modular automation system. More on the next page ...