How plants are digitized

Taking automatic car washes as an example, the CODESYS Group, manufacturer of the CODESYS automation software, and Inasoft, system integrator and manufacturer of the software solution "SQL4automation Connector", show how Industry 4.0 platforms can be successfully integrated today into existing plants.

"Weekly car washing on your own drive has become rare," says Roland Wagner, Product Marketing Manager of the CODESYS Group. "Instead of that, we drive to the nearest car wash with its collecting tank and filter systems to put the shine back on our 'sacred cows'." It is often still possible to wash your car there manually. However, a fully automatic car wash system produces faster and usually more thorough results. If that weren't the case, engineers would have to lose faith in automation. In the textile car washes from the Soft Car Wash brand, the Swiss manufacturers even go one step further. The possibilities of Industry 4.0 are used for the management and maintenance of the systems.

Unique textile car wash concept

The entrepreneur Martin Dellenbach had already recognized the potential of the car wash back in 1997. Together with suppliers, he has since developed a unique textile car wash concept. Today, his group of companies is behind around 40 car washes throughout Switzerland and in southern Germany: Soft Car Wash from Oberwil in Switzerland is the largest operator of car washes in Switzerland. "The car wash is a mass-market business where high frequency counts. With high automation and quality, we can double the throughput of a system from 25,000 to more than 50,000 cars per year, making the car washes highly profitable," says M. Dellenbach. "The supplier attaches particular importance to the economical use of energy, water, and cleaning chemicals as well as the careful treatment of dirty and service water," adds R. Wagner.

Soft Car Wash is the only manufacturer in Europe to supply turnkey systems from planning to operation. The group of companies includes Autowaschtechnik AWT AG, which specializes in the development and manufacture of high-quality textile car washes. "Our 40 to 50 meter-long car washes are largely automated," M. Dellenbach emphasizes. AWT has now developed into a full-range supplier that can deliver everything "from a single source". In addition to ongoing maintenance within the framework of full-service contracts, this above all includes the provision of the operator know-how that lies behind it. The smooth operation of the systems is ensured by a long-term maintenance contract: wearing parts can be replaced automatically and new or further developments can also be retrofitted to existing systems. Consistently good washing results are guaranteed, downtime is avoided, and the value retention of the systems is ensured.

Powerful automation technology and smart data management

The prerequisite for the group's model for success is high-performance automation technology and the corresponding smart data management. The intelligent control technology of the car washes is of central importance for achieving the goals set, because even if the systems are standardized, the environmental conditions of each one differs, for example in terms of water hardness or typical vehicle soiling. In a system, the car wash, self-service and vacuuming stations are each equipped with a control system. Autowaschtechnik AWT AG relies fully on CODESYS-based systems for the control technology. However, CODESYS is also used for the creation of the visualization screens. The control applications for the car washes are developed and optimized by an experienced system integrator, Inasoft GmbH of Switzerland. The company has been a CODESYS Premium System Partner for many years and has implemented numerous successful CODESYS projects. Inasoft concerned itself early on 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 the application software for car washes, the benefits of an Industry 4.0 platform such as the CODESYS Automation Server are are of high importance. "The operator quickly gets an overview of the delivered control systems, which are currently distributed to more than 30 locations in Switzerland alone," emphasizes R. Wagner. Both source code and executable binary code can be centrally managed, including rights for easy access to the latest versions. Updates can be delivered swiftly to the already installed car washes, without an employee having to work on site with the PLC programming tool. A device replacement can be completed quickly in the software. As a result, the systems affected are up and running again in no time, without any loss of operating income. Due to these advantages, Inasoft, in consultation with its customer, started at an early stage to connect the car washes to the CODESYS Automation Server as part of a pilot project. "Just four simple steps are required to connect the CODESYS controllers to the Automation Server," says Ruedi Gloor, Managing Director at Inasoft. First of all, accounts are set up for the CODESYS Automation Server in the CODESYS Store. The controllers are then connected to the Internet. A whole range of security measures are available for this purpose – to protect the device and application. The so-called CODESYS Edge Gateway creates an additional level of security by separating the control networks from the Internet. The gateway is thus the transition point between the local control network and the cloud platform. Communication towards the cloud is always encrypted and signed with X.509 certificates. Using a corresponding command in the CODESYS Development System, Inasoft registers the edge gateways of the different car wash locations in the account of the Automation Server. Inasoft finds all the controllers connected to the gateways by means of a network scan in the web interface and can adopt them into the management of the Automation Server with a mouse click. There is nothing more to do for the central list view of the devices. In order 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 summarize and display them according to different system types.

Connection of OT and IT levels

The selected control solution is also being introduced into the existing systems by and by. The goal is for all plants to be technically at the same level. The essential prerequisite for components to have a chance with entrepreneur M. Dellenbach is openness: "Openness significantly increases our flexibility." Apart from the CODESYS solutions, one very open solution is the "SQL4automation Connector" from Inasoft Systems, which is standard equipment for any car wash. "This makes the connection of the controller to the SQL database convenient, secure, and simple," R. Gloor concludes. "For each complete car wash, a software license is provided in the Ultimate version with 40 connections." This allows several data requests to be realized in parallel from all three controllers of a system. A lot of data is collected on the car washes: These include washing figures per car wash, self-service washing stations, vacuum cleaners, turnover, statistics, sales, as well as the consumption of chemicals and water recorded via metering pumps, and much more – even the size of the vehicles. The data collected can be used, for example, to automate the process of ordering the required consumables. Many applications have only emerged retrospectively. This is typical of Industry 4.0: data is collected first and made usable later. This makes step-by-step optimization possible. The wearing of components is also precisely recorded. For example, the running time of the chain motor that pulls the cars through the car wash is recorded. The usage time of the washing brushes is also recorded – namely only the actual time that the brushes are in contact with the car. This information is used to perfect maintenance.

Since AWT supports the 40 running systems, messages and alarms are sent to the head office via a VPN connection. The error diagnosis and monitoring can therefore now be performed remotely by AWT. Alarm messages are sent directly to the maintenance managers. This is facilitated by the fact that identical components are installed in all systems. The running times as well as the operating and repair statistics are in turn valuable information for further optimization of the systems. "All system-specific data is read from the database via 'SQL4automation'," emphasizes Roger Kunz, Managing Director of Inasoft. These data include portal arrangements, metering quantities, and chemicals