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Modular Automation

Playfully Light — How Modular Automation is Becoming Part of Everyday Life

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Making Child’s Play of Combining Modules

The next step is to combine the smart modules together, like a building kit, and to do so in a way that is as straightforward as possible. This is where ABB comes into play, offering the full scope of modular automation, meaning not only the necessary controllers for modules, but also tools for the engineering and, above all, concepts and solutions for the orchestration. The modules are monitored, controlled and administered in the orchestration level. This level is connected via a backbone with open architecture — a kind of neutral intermediate level — with the module level. Both levels communicate via OPC UA.

ABB offers a tool in Orchestration Designer that administers the library of MTPs, amongst other things. Generally, the user can continue to use the proven ABB Ability System 800xA, which was suitably adapted for using MTPs. “For the user, this has the advantage that he can have his familiar user interface in front of him and can combine the two worlds, i.e. conventional and modular automation,” says Haller. The encapsulated process functions are made available to the control system as services. The orchestration system triggers the production process, gathers all feedback from the services together, processes the information and delivers back the commands for each process module. In the near future, further elements of the 800xA control system will be upgraded for MTP, for example batch management, alarm management and process information analysis tools or systems for condition monitoring and advanced asset management.

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Services with Parameters Rather than Bits & Bytes

The lower module level is the location of the individual smart modules, containing a controller that generates the MTP standard automatically and can also export it. This uses the ABB module designer, with which the MTP of the individual modules are created. The first step is project-independent module engineering, before the MTP is created automatically after importing and is then loaded into the project-related plant engineering. Lastly, the modules are incorporated into the orchestration system. The modules with the MTP technology can be added simply via drag & drop, arranged and adapted to the production requirements.

The attractive aspect of this is that detailed automation know-how is no longer required. “The process engineer or automation expert specifies instructions, parameters and the modes of operation. For example: Fill the tank with 300 liters of product A or maintain the temperature at 93 °C for two hours, or stir at 1600 r.p.m. for two minutes. In other words, he automates the plant using services and the associated parameters, and no longer using bits & bytes,” says Haller, explaining the new approach.

It therefore corresponds more closely to the way of thinking of a process engineer rather than that of an automation specialist. This saves time: integrating a smart module into the orchestration system is now only a matter of hours, not of days, as with the conventional integration of package units and skids. In other ways, too, the design of process flows is simple, as can be seen from the example of an infographic. There is a simple graphics editor in the module designer, and familiarization with it is a rapid process. From here, the corresponding MTP for the process graphics is exported. However, the later image is in the customary design of the ABB user interface, which can display even complex subject matter.

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