A clean solution: Using the possibilities of Industry 4.0 for car wash management

The weekly car wash in the domestic driveway has become rare. Instead, we drive to the nearest car wash with drainage and filter system to make our cars shine. In many cases, you can still wash your car there manually. However, a fully automated car wash is quicker and usually even more thorough.

State of the art textile washing facilities

Autowaschtechnik AWT AG, founded in 1997 and headquartered in Switzerland, is a well-known supplier of such facilities. The supplier attaches particular importance to the economical use of energy, water, and cleaning chemicals, as well as to careful cleaning of waste and process water. AWT AG also focuses on ensuring consistent cleaning quality and the greatest possible protection of car surfaces. The intelligent control technology of the car wash systems is of central importance for achieving these goals. Even though the systems are standardized, the environmental conditions of each system differ, e.g. with regard to water hardness or typical vehicle soiling. This is why AWT AG not only sells its systems as independent units, but also as turnkey car wash centers under the brand name Soft Car Wash. AWT thus has experience both as a plant manufacturer and as a plant operator. This combination of skills, which is unique in the industry, helps to continuously optimize the plants.

For control technology, Autowaschtechnik AWT AG relies entirely on CODESYS-based systems. The control applications for car washes are developed and optimized by an experienced system integrator, the Swiss company Inasoft GmbH. The company has been a CODESYS Premium System Partner for many years and has implemented numerous successful CODESYS projects. Early on, Inasoft was involved with the CODESYS Automation Server, the cloud-based administration platform for control systems.

Benefits of an Industry 4.0 platform

Especially for the development and optimization of application software for car washes, several questions have long been raised:

  • How does the operator Soft Car Wash or the equipment manufacturer AWT get an overview of the delivered control systems? After all, these are widely distributed - in Switzerland alone at currently more than 30 locations, at a dozen more in Germany.
  • The application software of the controllers is available as source code and executable binary code. How can both codes be managed and used centrally? How can authorized personnel easily access the latest versions - particularly when they are not at the company location?
  • How can updates of the control software be delivered quickly to previously installed washing systems - without an employee on site having to work with the PLC programming tool?
  • How can the manufacturer centrally adjust parameters to optimize the washing results without having to travel to the respective production site? How can he get a quick overview of the parameters at the different production sites?
  • How can operators and manufacturers protect themselves against losses of operating income due to a control defect? In other words: How can the software side of device replacement be completed swiftly so that an affected system can be brought back into operation quickly?
  • How can an Industry 4.0 platform help with all these tasks?

The CODESYS Automation Server provides conclusive answers to these questions. This is why Inasoft started early on to connect car washes with the CODESYS Automation Server as part of a pilot project for AWT AG.

Steps towards a cloud-based administration of car wash control systems

Steps towards a cloud-based administration of car wash control systems:

  • Create an account.
    Accounts for the CODESYS Automation Server can be easily set up in the CODESYS Store, where the entire administration of the accounts takes place.
  • Connect the controllers to the Internet. As data security is a major issue, a whole range of security measures are available for CODESYS controllers to protect the devices and applications. First of all, the so-called CODESYS Edge Gateway creates an additional security level by separating the controller networks from the Internet. For this purpose, Inasoft installs this gateway as a software service either on a special controller or separately on dedicated Linux or Windows devices. The gateway is thus the transition point between the local controller network and the cloud platform. Communication to the cloud is always encrypted and signed with X.509 certificates - in the same way that has proven itself in applications such as online banking. The same security measures can be implemented for programming the devices when communicating to the control network.
  • Registration of Edge Gateways in the account of the CODESYS Automation Server.
  • A specific command in the CODESYS Development System allows Inasoft to register the edge gateways of the different car wash locations in the account of the Automation Server.
  • Log controllers in the CODESYS Automation Server. A network scan in the web interface shows all controllers connected to the gateways. Inasoft can integrate these controllers into the administration of the Automation Server with a simple mouse click. This is all there is to do in order to create a central list view of the devices. The list can be displayed in the browser of a PC or a mobile device alike. To improve clarity, Inasoft can additionally structure the controllers graphically in so-called topology views, e.g. with map views for the locations in Germany and Switzerland, or group the display according to different types of plant.

To fully exploit the possibilities of the CODESYS Automation Server, there are even more options.

Publication of parameters of the control applications. In order to edit application variables directly from the web interface of the CODESYS Automation Server, these variables have to be published in the project first. The programming tool, the CODESYS Development System, provides a special configurator for this purpose, which is also used for data exchange via OPC UA.

Storage of the control project in the Automation Server. The source code and the executable application are loaded into the cloud via a corresponding command in the CODESYS Development System. Wherever the application developer is located, the cloud is a central storage location from where to open and edit the project on the local PC with just one mouse click. Or the previously compiled application is rolled out immediately from the web interface to one or more suitable controllers. In this way, for example, a tested new version of the application can be transferred simultaneously to all delivered car washes of a certain type. Of course, the Automation Server has an authorization concept for such sensitive tasks, based on proven user profiles.

Creating work orders per ticket. Putting an already stored application into operation on a new controller, replacing a failed controller with a new device, and uploading existing backup information - Inasoft can forward such work orders even to those employees on site via web interface who are not familiar with CODESYS or have no experience with the Server. For this purpose, an account for the respective employee is created in the server web interface. When creating a ticket, the work order is briefly described, e.g. "Hello Mr. Meier, please replace the defective controller with the identical replacement unit from the warehouse, then click on the link below, and enter the serial number of the new controller via QR code using the integrated camera on your tablet. Thank you very much, your Inasoft team". Mr. Meier receives this ticket by e-mail. After replacing the hardware via the mentioned link, he is shown a restricted view of the Automation Server account that allows him to do exactly what he was told to: He enters the serial number of the new device and confirms the entry - no more, no less. The ticket has already established the connection to the backup of the failed controller. The serial number is used to register the replacement device in the Automation Server, and the application and parameter backup is transferred automatically. Within minutes, the new controller and thus the entire car wash is back in operation.

Outlook: Even more benefits in the near future

With the CODESYS Automation Server, Inasoft is already in a position to solve typical tasks that operators and manufacturers of car washes have to face. In a few months, more features will be available. Then it will be possible to easily store the application data directly in the Server and display their evaluation graphically. Simple remote debugging via the Server will then also be supported. Web visualizations stored locally in the controllers can in future be displayed centrally on the Server - as if you were standing directly in front of the car wash.

Published in German language on 14 Feb. 2020 by Digital Manufacturing.