As industrial production becomes progressively networked, it is relying more and more heavily on modern communication systems. Against the backdrop of the smart production visions associated with Industry 4.0, it is becoming increasingly important to find different ways to make systems more enduring, more suitable to real-time functionality, and easier to dovetail with internet protocols. The complexity this is fueling is presenting developers and the operators of such systems (and their components) with more and more challenges, especially when it comes to optimizing, verifying, and pinpointing the root causes of errors when things go wrong.
To simplify error detection and the analysis of industrial communication systems, the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Systems Engineering joined forces with Steinbeis Embedded Systems Technologies (Steinbeis EST GmbH, based in Esslingen) as part of an alliance with Sercos International (Süssen), Bosch Rexroth (Lohr am Main), and Festo (also from Esslingen). Together, the alliance members developed an advanced platform for diagnosing such systems. The platform is based on a modular approach, originally developed for analyzing the communication standard Sercos. The system, coined Sercos Monitor, makes it possible to conduct a detailed analysis of the different communication protocols used in automation technology. These include Ethernet-based protocols, INTERBUS, the sensor/actuator interface IO-Link, and a number of other company-specific protocols.
The platform provides users with a tool for configuring, plotting, and evaluating communication data on standard PCs via an interactive user interface. It can also be used as an automatic tool for running assessments across a number of protocols in order to understand network components. The challenge in developing the platform lay in establishing a common foundation that would be suitable for analyzing different communication systems, spanning a variety of factors such as network topology, cycle times, and data throughput. Components would also need to meet a broad spectrum of requirements not just regarding usability, but also when it comes to the control interfaces used in automatic operation.
The project resulted in a widely applicable diagnostics tool for communication systems in the field of automation technology, and the solution is already being used for troubleshooting purposes on machinery. It is also being applied to automated testing and training at Esslingen University of Applied Sciences. The expandable architecture of the platform and broad support from system users lay a particularly strong foundation for future partnership projects involving joint developments.
The project has been honored with the Steinbeis Foundation Transfer Award – the Löhn Award – in acknowledgement of the success of the joint venture and the degree of communication across different companies.