elektro AUTOMATION: Mr. Wagner, you call the CODESYS Automation Server introduced in 2018 an Industry 4.0 platform - can you briefly explain that?
Roland Wagner: The CODESYS Automation Server runs in a cloud and simplifies typical tasks that automation specialists have to perform on a daily basis. Among other things, they get a quick overview of the controller landscape as well as information on the status and parameters of individual controllers, their software statuses and much more. Moreover, the CODESYS Automation Server makes everyday tasks such as installing the right application software on PLCs very easy. The range of functions can be successively extended - not only by us as the manufacturer. In this respect, the CODESYS Automation Server is a real Industry 4.0 platform offering immediate benefits for manufacturers and, above all, operators of machines and plants. The technological proximity to millions of compatible industrial controllers from different manufacturers in the field allows for functions that other platforms cannot offer.
elektro AUTOMATION: The user's controller landscape is accessible via a Web interface to provide a quick overview. Is the system subject to limitations, e.g. with regard to the number of controllers?
Wagner: No, quite the opposite. The web interface gives us every opportunity to design the overview in a way that users can see exactly what they want to know. They can store different topology views, for example for different machine halls and locations, for individual control cabinets or even their worldwide controller network. With these views, users can immediately find the desired controller have the complete list displayed, and filter or sort according to certain criteria. It is irrelevant, whether these are 10, 1000 or even more controllers.
elektro AUTOMATION: You say that certain functions can also be performed without the CODESYS Development System - such as the central commissioning of multiple controllers. Was it one of your development goals to allow for the roll-out of new controller codes by trained service personnel - in other words without the need for qualified controller experts?
Wagner: Some of our customers already have their systems commissioned by service personnel using their own, proprietary add-on solutions. Indeed, the CODESYS Automation Server aims at standardizing and above all significantly simplifying this process. Thanks to our integrated Ticket System, we have gone one step further: The application developer can hand over a control program to any employee on site for commissioning. He first develops and tests the new or modified application on his own premises and then uploads the tested binary code to the CODESYS Automation Server. Via a ticket, he instructs the employee on site by e-mail to transfer this binary code to a controller. The employee receives this task as a link to a restricted web interface where he enters the serial number of the target device - if necessary by QR code and integrated reader - and then commissions the correct application per mouse click. The technician does not need a programming tool, his own access to the server, or special knowledge. It could not be simpler, faster or more secure
elektro AUTOMATION: Are there any initial experiences or feedback from practice?
Wagner: The first experiences in the pilot phase and during demonstrations have generated a lot of enthusiasm. Quite a number of companies have already signed up for the evaluation phase - they expect significant savings for their daily operations. Registration is possible until April 2019.
elektro AUTOMATION: You call the CODESYS Automation Server the third fundamental product line of the CODESYS portfolio - alongside the Runtime and Engineering products. This surely requires not only controller expertise but also IT knowhow. Do you have your own development team for this? Or will you build one?
Wagner: Since we have always brought IT and automation technology together in CODESYS, the corresponding expertise is available anyway. In addition to IT knowhow, the development of such a platform requires new architectures, development methods, and technologies. This calls for a complete rethink in almost all areas of our company and offers enormous opportunities for the development of modern software. We are bringing our expertise together in a new, cross-functional team that will grow significantly in the coming months. In addition, some colleagues from other development areas are supporting the new team. Some parts were developed by an external partner who is very experienced in the field of web/cloud development.
elektro AUTOMATION: Inevitably you have to address the issue of data security and security in general - how do you ensure these requirements are complied with when using the CODESYS Automation Server? Can you draw on special security expertise? Is your system secure against unauthorized access?
Wagner: We have been working very intensively on the security topic in the past years. Accordingly, we have integrated numerous security functions in the CODESYS Development System, the IEC 61131-3 development interface, and the associated runtime system. For example, you can encrypt or sign device communication with X.509 certificates directly in CODESYS and thus guarantee the confidentiality and integrity of the data. These are the same mechanisms that we trust in online banking today. We also offer this high security standard for the CODESYS Automation Server. Should a customer have concerns about the public cloud as a basic platform, we can offer the CODESYS Automation Server as an on-premises solution on the customer's own servers. This gives him complete control over his data.
elektro AUTOMATION: All in all, a kind of 'cockpit' for Industry 4.0 could be created - a task that is addressed particularly by MES solutions or higher-level platform offerings. In an Industry 4.0 scenario, are you thinking about integrations which enable the order-dependent provision of controller code for 'agile' machines?
Wagner: Although we have not yet taken any specific steps in this direction, the system is flexible enough to provide such connectivity in the future.
elektro AUTOMATION: What further expansion stages are already being planned?
Wagner: Automation specialists will use the CODESYS Automation Server to store user profiles and security certificates for their controllers, in addition to other data. Moreover, the CODESYS Automation Server is ideal for automating individual steps in the development of the controller code, e.g. testing via unit or regression tests and static code analysis, compilation into binary code, and storage in the version management system of the cloud. Such centrally implemented continuous integration processes save a lot of time and effort and at the same time improve the quality of application software significantly. As a supplement to classic data storage in public clouds, the CODESYS Automation Server will offer a convenient way to store and process controller data in a central place. For automation specialists having no experience with public cloud systems, the collection and use of large data amounts, for example for predictive maintenance, machine learning or augmented reality, will be considerably simplified.
The interview was conducted by Michael Corban, Editor-in-Chief of elektroAutomation, with Roland Wagner, Head of Product Marketing at the CODESYS Group. It was published in issue 02/2019 of elektroAutomation (original version: German).