Feed4ward visits Siemens HQ

As with every other sector of technology, the automation industry moves quickly. Products and services are continuously evolving and improving, and all-new solutions appear regularly. As a systems integrator, it is important for us to adapt to these changes and stay ahead of the curve. In December, Feed4ward engineers had the privilege of visiting Siemens Automation UK headquarters in Manchester to learn about new products and technologies that Siemens are offering, and to reinforce Feed4ward’s strong ongoing relationship with Siemens.

In terms of PLC hardware technology, one of the main developments we were introduced to is a variant of the S7-1500 (Siemens flagship PLC range) that includes inbuilt redundancy. This allows a second processor to immediately pick-up and continue a task in the event of a failure. Previously, redundancy like this has not been available outside of process control systems, and represents a powerful option for system development moving forward.

Capacitive multi-touch technology is also being introduced to the HMI screen range. Although this technology has been available in laptops, phones and tablets for some time, it is still a rarity in industrial equipment. These new screens are accompanied by a powerful new development platform, allowing the HMI displays to more closely resemble modern web interfaces rather than the more simple layouts typically seen.

Totally Integrated Automation (TIA) Portal is the development platform for modern Siemens PLCs and HMIs and is one of the key pieces of software we use on a day to day basis at Feed4ward. Our visit coincided with the release of the newest version of TIA – V16. We spent a lot of time with the Siemens engineers discussing this years changes and really appreciated the insights this gave us. The new development platform for the new multitouch HMIs, called WinCC Unified, is included and is the largest of the new additions made for the latest version.

WinCC Unified has been built from the ground up to offer higher resolution screens and graphics, dynamic content and even embedded video due to full support of HTML5. WinCC Unified applications are currently only available through the new multi-touch HMI screens and through industrial-PCs with the Simatic Runtime, where the displays are actually then accessed through a conventional web browser. The older WinCC development platform for the existing HMI ranges is still included.

To coincide with the release of V16 is a firmware update to the mid-range S7-1200 PLC series, which includes support for running an OPC UA server. This has previously only been a feature of high-end Siemens PLCs. OPC UA is a standard, open communications protocol and with this enabled the PLC can be interrogated by a compatible device or system. This can be used for system monitoring, batch reporting or information display, such as with a historian system, without the need for expensive or complicated custom drivers or directly supported device interoperability.

V16 also includes a greatly improved Project Server tool. This allows system project files to be stored in a central location, be accessible to multiple users, manage project versions and also track what changes were made to the project, plus who made them. For a project developer this tool has a lot of potential for managing projects in a multi-user environment and to greatly improve efficiency when working collaboratively.

During the visit, other products of interest included:
RFID tag based system security; using “something you have” to login rather than, or as well as, “something you know”
Soft-Controllers; an industrialised PC that runs PLC logic as a software application, but separately from the operating system, meaning the PLC processing will continue if the PC operating system stalls or shuts down
PCS7; a process control system for material tracking, diagnostics, reporting and quality monitoring
Digitalisation; creating a digital twin of a system to aid design, development and upkeep
TIA Version Control Interface: the ability to manage changes to TIA Portal projects using third party versioning systems

Feed4ward have had an excellent relationship with Siemens for many years and look forward to making use of their latest innovations to provide additional benefits to our automation clients. If you have a potential application in mind, contact us to discuss how Feed4ward can make your visions into reality!

Tom LeMasonry