HOW DOES PROGRAMMING SOFTWARE AFFECT HUMAN PRODUCTIVITY WITH REGARD TO THE DESIGN AND OPERATION OF INDUSTRIAL MOTION SYSTEMS?

Nipun • NI: Creating a differentiated machine at a lower cost than the competition and getting it to market quickly is the challenge that all industrial machine builders face. With the commoditization of motion hardware, machine builders are finding that software is the key to innovation and for differentiating their products.

Lucian • CMC: Standardized IEC 61131-3 software positively enforces human productivity in both design and operation of motion systems. The ability to merge multiple functions of a system (HMI, logic, motion, and open connectivity platforms) saves engineering time because programmers can do all their work in a single simple environment.

Rami • B-R: Programming software was always viewed as the machine designer's tool. Little was mentioned about operators and maintenance engineers. This notion has changed. Software is now an intuitive tool for both machine designer and end-user.

Greg • CTC: In many cases, a programming interface is chosen to make life easy for the motion control manufacturer rather than the end-user. Simplistic mnemonic languages are often created because they run efficiently on low-end processors, but they can leave users with a dizzying array of cryptic codes to produce motion. Another approach is to offer a high-end programming language interface. This works for some programmers, but it's over the head of most users. A better approach is to simplify the interaction between user and motion controller, taking advantage of interfaces that are widely used by office and Web software applications.

Paul • GE: Most motion applications require sequencing of machine logic events with the actual machine movement. Software that supports integrated motion control and machine logic in a single program allows direct control of events. Using open standard program languages such as IEC 31131-3 and the PLCopen motion function blocks reduces lifecycle costs by reducing the learning curve and training cost while increasing the portability and program reuse for new applications.

Corey • BA: By using standardized IEC 61131-3 programming environments, developers get one streamlined package to develop all aspects of machine control programming, from PLC to motion. Additional efficiencies are gained from the ability to reuse large amounts of code across machine lines that are programmed with standardized languages. Machine code is the machine builder's bread and butter — the intellectual property. I wouldn't want an end-user altering machine code, which in combination with the mechanical aspects, is what differentiates the machine from the competition.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN CHALLENGES IN DESIGNING PROGRAMMING SOFTWARE THAT IS USER-FRIENDLY FOR ENGINEERS SETTING UP COMPLEX MOTION CONTROL SYSTEMS?

Nipun • NI: The biggest challenge and also the biggest opportunity is to design software that is intuitive for the domain experts. Software should empower these experts to program complex motion profiles themselves without passing the application development off to a programmer. Another challenge is to make the software open so that it can link motion design with the design of both control logic and monitoring systems.

Rami • B-R: Every designer has his own views about productive software. In Europe, a motion designer is the sole expert in programming the motion system, whereas in the U.S., a motion designer is a multitask resource who has to program the motion controller, create HMI screens, and sometimes even program other components like pneumatic valves. Designing global-enabled software requires openness so that a specialized programmer can make the machine as productive as possible; at the same time, software must be user-friendly so that a multi-task engineer can design for motion needs and quickly move on to other tasks.

Paul • GE: One of the greatest challenges with motion programming software is the variability in the types of machines and applications a user may need to control and the level of the engineer's experience. There tends to be a tradeoff between ease of use and flexibility. Trying to provide an optimal programming environment for both novices and experts typically requires support for multiple programming languages and methods.

Corey • BA: One of the greatest challenges is making sure programmers choose the right programming environment. PLCopen, the promoters of IEC 61131-3, also has PLC motion function blocks. There is a motion library that the organization created to ensure that critical elements of motion all behave the same way. These elements will all have the same look and feel in the code, which optimizes coding efforts and reduces coding time even further.

WHAT NEW OPPORTUNITIES EMERGE AS PROGRAMMING SOFTWARE BECOMES EASIER TO PROGRAM AND USE IN THE FIELD?

Nipun • NI: Open and intuitive software that spans multiple domains offers significant advantages. It can reduce time to market by cutting down on the effort that goes into translating the engineer's specifications into an automation program.

Rami • B-R: Having an engineering framework with a modular programming layout is essential. This means control engineers from all the different facets at a machine builder should be working on that machine at the same time without having to wait for one part to be finished.

Greg • CTC: The engineer who understands what the machine should do can easily create the motion control software as well. Not having to explain the process to a programmer and then wait for implementation greatly reduces development time.

Paul • GE: Software tools that are easier to use will open up more opportunities for users who may have been hesitant to make the leap from mechanical to electronic motion control. The risk is that motion programming tends to have a lot of nuances that will always be there regardless of the programming methods. To some degree the user will still need to understand the application requirements and determine how best to program the solution.

DESCRIBE HOW DESIGNERS WILL SOMEDAY CREATE SOFTWARE THAT MAKES IT EASY TO CUSTOMIZE MOTION CONTROL AND IS EASY TO USE ON THE FACTORY FLOOR.

Nipun • NI: The Holy Grail is completely integrated design software that can be used all the way from designing the machine or plant to prototyping and deploying it.

Lucian • CMC: The programming software industry of the future will be much like the banking industry today, where regional branches tailor services to the needs of individuals. Similarly, software vendors will focus on servicing various modularized software components.

Greg • CTC: Tomorrow's software will let users change their operating control code without having to stop their machine. It will also let end-users more easily upgrade proprietary motion control systems by “plugging in” new functions and features using application programming interface (API) software tools.

Corey • BA: It would be great to have the ability to define a project using Modeling Language (UML). That would allow engineers to sit in a meeting, discuss the machine, break it into objects, define those objects using UML, and integrate this into the controller as pre-defined objects and blocks of code.

Meet the experts

Nipun Mathur
National Instruments (NI)
www.ni.com

Lucian Fogoros
Cleveland Motion Controls (CMC)
www.cmccontrols.com

Rami Al-Ashqar
Bosch Rexroth Corp. (B-R)
www.boschrexroth-us.com

Greg Woods
Control Technology Corp. (CTC)
www.ctc-control.com

Paul Derstine
GE Fanuc Automation (GE)
www.gefanuc.com

Corey McAtee
Beckhoff Automation (BA)
www.beckhoffautomation.com