Dave Withenshaw of Rockwell Automation presents the argument in favour of an integrated automation environment in which items of equipment communicate with each other and, more importantly, communications extend to the enterprise level.
Communication capability throws up some obvious benefits during the actual operation of equipment, but some of the most important benefits – ones that can lead to significant savings in both time and money – can be gleaned at the design and commissioning stage. This is where Premier Integration comes to the fore, offering design and installation engineers far more power and flexibility than they have had in the past.
Premier Integration has evolved over time, mainly due to market demands, into a communication ethos that makes set-up and data sharing an immensely powerful tool in the engineer's arsenal. By offering pre-configured profiles, engineers no longer have to endure overly long and arduous set-up routines, providing time savings that offer the real potential to offset any perceived savings in unit cost figures.
The main protagonist of this sea change in communication capabilities is Rockwell Automation's RSLogix 5000 version16 software. By integrating comprehensive PowerFlex AC drive profiles into the software's database, a simple EtherNet/IP or ControlNet connection enables engineers to eliminate the need to create tags and individually programme the drive parameters. The PowerFlex drive profiles provides drop-down lists of all drive parameters, so the user can simply pick the parameters for communication, which are turned into real tag names in the user programme.
Apart from the obvious ease-of-use benefits, the possibility of errors creeping in can also be reduced, as engineers only require one software tool to configure the entire Logix/drive system. The likelihood of I/O mismatch can also be reduced thanks to all connections being configured from the user programme. Using this approach, only one repository for file information is needed. All the drive configurations are stored within the RSLogix project file, on the Logix controller, so there is no need for multiple files stored across a myriad of automation components. Another primary benefit of the single-repository approach is that drive replacement during maintenance and profile duplication across multiple drives in new projects is far simpler.
RSLogix5000 version 16 also introduces far more flexibility when it comes to future upgrades. In the past, an updated version of the RSLogix5000 software was required if new products were introduced into the range. Now it is simply a case of downloading and installing a new Add-On Profile (AOP), which, when run, embeds all the necessary code into the Logix database. Once the initial set-up has been established, a simple software wizard guides the user through application-specific data entry points, highlighting conflicts or anomalies on the way and once downloaded the drive is ready for action.
A further feature introduced at RSLogix5000 version 16 is Add-on-Instructions. The user can program a routine that provides all the inputs and outputs to control a conveyor, for example. This can be encapsulated as an Add-On Instruction, which can easily be re-used. Add-On Instructions can also be shared with the wider automation community through a special website, called the Sample Code Library, that Rockwell Automation has set up to foster collaboration.
Using the EtherNet/IP interface as a link to the outside world, drives can also share information using Internet protocols. Thanks to the built-in web page server on the EtherNet/IP interface, engineers can get a snapshot of the current operating conditions and primary parameters. The Ethernet interface also gives drives the capability to send emails or SMS messages should an alert condition arise. This remote capability really comes to the fore for remote diagnosis. The original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or end user can interrogate the drives over the internet and provide any remedial action based on the information on display.
The concept of Add-on Profiles is not just restricted to drives; it is a philosophy that is steadily spreading out across a greater selection of the company's product range, helping to ensure much faster design, installation and commissioning of a wide range of automation-centric devices. Demonstrating these savings, in a comparison test a PowerFlex drive was up and running within 3.5 minutes using Premier Integration. A similar specification competitor product took more than 25 minutes to configure and run. In addition, the duplication of the programme onto 10 drives took just seven minutes, with the competitor's product taking six times longer at 42 minutes.
The real value of AOPs and the premier integration approach is its capability to lessen many of the time and monetary costs associated with installation and commissioning of hardware. As a result, Premier Integration can lead to significant savings and, some would say, much happier engineers.