The advent of Industry 4.0 will require machine designs with more flexibility and new mechatronic approaches, and software engineering will play an increasingly large role in reducing development time and costs.
This need for speedier software development can be satisfied with mapp (modular application technology) from B&R Industrial Automation, which takes advantage of function blocks that can be used to supplement ladder logic or any number of IEC 61131 programming languages.
“The original idea of mapp was born in the United States, so the ease of use in ladder logic was a key focus,” explains Marcel Voigt, senior solutions engineer at B&R. “If you use it in textual languages, it’s even easier to use. In ladder you typically add contacts and coils to the function block inputs and outputs. In structured text, you typically don’t need to assign additional variables; instead you use the function block instance inputs and outputs directly.”
While all-in-one blocks are not a new concept, most solutions focus on motion, says Voigt. “Many have a block that can drive a single axis,” he explains. “With mapp, we’ve gone outside the motion with that one block. All of the infrastructure that you have to build around a motion object—alarm handling, recipe and file handling, data logging—is usually thrown in at the last minute. We have all that covered. The mapp alarm basic and the mapp recipe and mapp data already talk to each other. If you have to update parameters on the axis through mapp recipe, you can synchronize the process across different program tasks.”
You can record variables, and the recordings are saved as a .csv file which, for example, can be used for a simple condition monitoring solution.
The Hardware-Software Balance
“Over the past 40 years, the proportion of software development involved when designing new machinery and systems has skyrocketed from 5 to more than 50%,” explains Christoph Trappl, manager of international applications at B&R. "First and foremost, the production processes themselves are becoming more and more complex, especially in light of the increasing mass customization of products,” he says.
Software solutions are easier to protect than hardware, explains Voigt. “Once it’s compiled and a library is generated in binary format, there’s no way you can reverse-engineer that because you can no longer see the source code,” he says. “If they have a machine without the source code and they want to change something, we have to tell them that it is not possible.”
The increasing demand for software means more developers are needed. "This is a problem for many companies, since finding these kinds of developers is difficult and expensive," says Trappl. As mass customization expands in the OEM market, manufacturing individual products under mass production conditions will require more intricate software solutions, and Industry 4.0 will turn from vision to reality.
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Even though the software will become more complex and individualized, many functions, including controlling single- or multi-axis systems or recipe management, will recur. “If you look at the mapp solution for a single axis, there are about 25 functions inside the MpAxisBasic block,” says Voigt. “And that one block replaces about 30 PLCopen blocks. So, for example, three inputs replace three networks in PLCopen.”
The mapp technology is a modular concept that combines frequently used functions but does not exclude the use of standard functions and is integrated into B&R's Automation Studio development platform. The function blocks in mapp are designed to make it possible, for example, to put multi-axis systems coupled with cam profiles, electronic gears or various robot kinematics into operation in a matter of just a couple hours. It also includes a Web-based faceplate for monitoring and configuring mapp functions. The function blocks have been field-tested in a multiple of applications and are maintained by B&R. Full documentation and help functions complete the mapp toolkit. This minimizes the risks associated with the loss of a developer who is responsible for programming, which can not only hinder software in progress, but also cripple further development of existing applications.
“If you write or the customer writes its own wrapper block around PLCopen, the customer has to maintain that,” explains Voigt. “If you do it in mapp, you know B&R will maintain the libraries and make sure they are backward-compatible and you simply update the library.”
At the introduction of mapp in December 2014, 64 functions and function blocks, 15 libraries and 19 groups were available, and, because of the technology's complete integration into Automation Studio, all future functions become available through an update. “Automation Studio is required,” explains Voigt. “It’s based on PLCopen and standard B&R libraries and therefore mapp can always be complemented with standards.”
In the near future, mapp will be more deeply implemented into Automation Studio. “You’ll have some graphical components that are Web-based,” explains Voigt.
“With a standard Web browser or Automation Studio, you can configure what you want your mapp components to do. For example, with MpPackML you simply disable the states that you don’t use and then you hit save and the state model is immediately updated,” says Voigt. “I’ve been around PackML for about 10 years. MpPackML is by far the easiest implementation, when it comes to defining the state model, I have ever seen. You are simply left with programming what happens in the individual states whenever they are active.”