Industrial Control DesignLine Blog
Software is playing an increasingly important role in our computerised modern world. There is nearly no area in which you will find no software. Modern communications devices like the iPhone are excellent examples for the extensive use of software in this sector. The entire graphical user interface of the iPhone is based on software " what means the whole functionality is software centric and the hardware acts as basis to run the software. If you have a look at modern entertainment devices you will find the same situation " it is not any longer the hardware which offers the functionality " but the software. If you look at modern HiFi systems or High-Definition Flat panel TVs the major part of their functionality nowadays is software. And even in cars the amount of software is steadily increasing. The automobile is a good example for the different task the software has to do: there is the software working under-the hood, which are real-time, high-reliable software processing also safety-critical tasks like break/steer-by-wire. Then there is the comfort electronics which is less safety-critical but inconvenient when the software fails. At last there is the infotainment electronic in cars which provide a link to the internet, what means the software to entertain the children on the backseats is downloadable directly from the Internet.
The internet is playing an important role for another software-centric industry " industrial control and manufacturing. In the manufacturing industry IPC and PLCs are controlling most of the processes. Therefore at the factory floor there are working nowadays computer controlled and therefore software-centric systems. It starts in the storage where automated systems deliver goods via automated transport systems to the working station where they have to be further processed. At the workstation maybe robots " which are software-controlled - take these parts and build for example a car body. The resulting primary product is also computer-controlled automatically checked whether the weld seam is correct. The software which is used to do the job at the workstation is stored locally on the machine respective its controller. This decentralized software storage and use is standard since the advent of the personal computer. But with the omnipresent Internet these little local software-centres are becoming more and more cross-linked.
This world-wide computer link enables now totally new opportunities: the so called "cloud-computing". With cloud-computing experts are describing a new web-centric way of computing which shifts programs, data and computing power from the PC into the web. The user has access to the power of computing centres and can use always actual and virus-free software. The door to the "cloud" opens an Internet-browser like the new Google browser Chrome which enables the easy and quick access to the power of the "cloud". This new way of computing would avoid the cost of maintenance and service for locally installed hard- und software. Experts are guessing that to date up to 80 per cent of the total system cost is spend for maintenance. Saving this money is a great advantage especially for large organisations.
But is this concept really new? Does it not look like the pre-PC area when large central computers did the work and the user was linked to it and operate it via "stupid" terminals? Yes and no " nowadays there is a powerful Internet infrastructure installed which links the world already and browser are also available to enable the easy and quick access. But there are also uncertainties: what about data security? Can you imaging companies are willing to store confidential enterprise data in a huge "cloud"? Or want companies really to use software from this "cloud" to control their manufacturing systems? If the cloud-computing will succeed in future I am sure it will have its affect to the industrial world like the PC in the past. But it will take at least a few more years before the operator on the manufacturing floor will download safe software from the "cloud" instead having it stored on his machine controller.