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Automation to all software
Article taken from "Automazione e Strumentazione" - issue 4 - April 2002

Image 1
The magazine cover is dedicated to Automa

A dynamic company from Bergamo specializes in software development for industrial automation by perfecting development tools and procedures that facilitate programming. It's three leading products are MainteX, for modern maintenance; Super-Flash, a software platform for generating Hmi and Scada applications; Dolphin, for facilitating the link between human-machine interface systems and Eps (Enterprise Production Systems).

By Roberto Frazzoli

Italy is an important global landmark in the world of industrial automation, with companies specialized in developing software for these applications. One of these is Automa, located in Pedrengo (Bergamo), which develops a wide range of programs. This article will be looking at three of them.

MainteX: maintenance management
Automa has designed MainteX for modern maintenance, a company activity that has evolved rapidly over the years. Maintenance no longer applies only to industry but also to service companies, public works and the territory.
The purpose of a modern maintenance system is not only to correct faults and malfunctions as they arise, but also to prevent them. The aim is therefore to ensure that plants operate continuously and hence cut costs. This has led maintenance to become an independent activity that plays an increasingly important role in companies, as a good maintenance system affects operation times, product quality and quantity, raw material costs and consumption, energy, means and resources.
As a result, maintenance requires technical as well as managerial and organizational efficiency. In the same way that a serviceman becomes a qualified operator who is able to identify and decide on the operation times and methods using his intuition, skill and knowledge, so should a maintenance system be able to program and quantify maintenance activities in a company.
Here are some of the obvious benefits of programmed maintenance:
  • reduction in machine stops
  • reduction in maintenance costs
  • better work organization
  • monitoring of all equipments
  • stock optimization
  • better financial control
  • guarantee for staff safety
  • historical record of maintenance activities to prevent past "budget overshoots" from recurring

A maintenance management system should be an easy and instantly applicable tool to help the company reach the above objectives.
This is where MainteX comes in: a system that manages programmed, extraordinary and corrective maintenance via an easy user interface.
The program's main functions are as follows:
  1. maintenance management via an information file on planned operations (planning)
  2. theoretical maintenance plan management (scheduling)
  3. management of operations carried out (historical)
  4. preventive and final cost management with comparisons (budgeting)

MainteX functions
Maintenance planning allows you to program maintenance activities allowing you to define freely the basic elements, such as a document of operation procedures; a graphic representation of each plant section being serviced; a list of the basic procedures; definition of operators and materials for each operation; notification via e-mail of the pre-alarm and alarm status; and a graphic display of the maintenance criteria previously set.
The types of events prompting maintenance are:
  • On-Time (solar calendar)
  • On-Limit (threshold limit alarm)
  • On- Count (current field variable values)
  • On- Spot (extraordinary operation)

You can set several events at the same time and reset programming of lower levels in the element tree. The scheduling function displays a table of the entire theoretical maintenance plan (with the period and frequency that can be set by configuration files).
This is obtained by analysing the planning settings and is easily read from a graphic representation of the operation status. The information given concerns sheets, operators and the necessary materials. Once you have chosen the event, the program automatically starts the operation creating procedure, which groups given settings, operators and materials used. You can print the page of each operation or the entire maintenance plan. The historical function files all the information regarding operations already carried out, specifically: the date and time the operation was carried out, the duration of any machine stops, materials used (type and quantity) and operators involved (name and time spent on the operation).
You can retrieve stored information at any time after filing in order to make any changes or updates. If the operations carried out were not planned, you can enter the following data choosing from a previously configured list: the problem that made this operation necessary, the cause of the problem and the operation carried out. This allows you to study extraordinary operations in more detail, so that if they are repeated several times, you can put them in programmed maintenance plan.
The budgeting function allows you to calculate costs of the maintenance activity on a configurable time basis and check the following: the cost that was forecast for each operation carried out; costs derived from the actual fulfilment of the operation; differences between preventive and final costs; and costs of any extraordinary operations, which are separated for a better comparison of what was forecast and what was actually carried out.
There is also a breakdown of costs for both programmed and calculated operations, which is divided into production stop costs, operator costs and material costs. MainteX also offers the following functions: access with a simplified interface for basic users; an information filter; communication with the field via Dolphin (see below); management of variables not managed by Dolphin, ordering and scheduling. In addition, it allows you to read all programmed sheets, draw up a new maintenance plan, manage maintenance costs for programmed, past and future operations and print planned sheets.
MainteX
also offers online contextual help and enabled users can access two setting and configuration menus where they can personalize MainteX to their needs.

Settings, configurations and user interface
MainteX allows you to set a wide range of variables: configuring measurement units; managing foreign currencies and relative conversions; managing timetable costs for operator categories and machine stop costs (production losses); information file on maintenance activities; information file on field variables exchanged with Dolphin via the various protocols available.
Possible configurations include different record files: endless levels of plant resources; operator categories; operators (single or in groups) and materials.
MainteX also lists possible problems for extraordinary operations; the possible causes for extraordinary maintenance; and possible solutions for extraordinary operations.
MainteX's user interface is based on a user-friendly browsing system with icons. All the configured elements are shown in the tree and each element has three categories: programmed sheets, planned sheets and operations carried out. The status and recordings of operations are also animated and all the operations are recorded in a text file (logger) which is available on disc.
MainteX also offers information grouping and filter functions.

Super-Flash: generating HMI and SCADA applications
Super-Flash is a software platform that generates Hmi and Scada applications for Windows and Ms-Dos environments.
This 32-bit platform is easily connected to Plcs, acquisition sheets, numerical controls, terminals and tools, etc. The software manages highly developed protocols, serials and networks such as Ethernet, NetBios, Tcp/Ip, H1, Profibus, L2, Sysmac-Link and DH+ etc.
With Super-Flash, the programmer can create clear and intuitive workstations, which allow the operator to execute the various user-friendly commands and easily view any information (general plant status, events, alarm situations, parameterization and online manual), so facilitating all the required procedures. Super-Flash also has a Project Manager, which allows you to keep and manage several versions of the development system on one PC.
The graphic panel displays a summarized layout of all the applications on your PC at any time.
With the Project Manager, the programmer no longer has to think about transferring the developed applications to the disc and does not need to remember the specific procedures for activating each application depending on the version used for developing them. Super-Flash's graphic editor has an online Database and animation: this saves a lot of time in debugging developed pages.
High-level specialized objects (database variables, 3D effect objects, animated buttons, trends and bar graphs, etc.) simplify the graphic interface pages.
From the Plc, you can flick through the pages of an application, including alarm pages, which means that you can use Super-Flash in applications where a traditional keyboard would complicate things.
The program offers alarms with a dynamic description and provides a hypertext manual for each alarm, composed of text and graphic images. You can also define the entire database from one work page. Some targeted technical features simplify the definition of variables involved in the supervision process. The wide range of specialized variables (for system, date and time variables etc.) facilitates complex operations when programming the supervisor's automatic activities.
Super-Flash's program management allows the programmer to freely associate a series of instructions with events (buttons, variables or timers). These instructions can display pages, activate printing, directly handle variable values, request data input from the operator, display, print, delete, copy and rename files on disc and send data to the Plc or to peripherals in general. Super-Flash can also generate totally personalized reports which can be enriched with real-time variables and bit-mapped graphics. It supports up to three parallel ports simultaneously, plus serial lines and files.
The integrated print spooler manages up to nine printing queues, each on a different printer. You can record on disc the variables used for regulating the plant based on the product (recipes). After naming this data on disc, you can then retrieve it easily and sent it to the various peripherals. You can make the program write the regulations on disc and send them to peripherals directly from the Plc.
This allows you to record the current situation as a recipe directly from a Plc input. Alternatively, you can supply the Plc with an entire production plan consisting of recipe names. Last but not least, the program allows you to analyse analogue variable trends and comes with a complete range of communication drivers. It can also manage up to eleven different dictionaries.

Dolphin: the link between HMI/SCADA and EPS
Dolphin facilitates communication between human-machine interface systems (Hmi and Scada) and typical oriented Eps (Enterprise Production Systems) database applications.
This product is designed to help those interested in developing database-oriented applications, data collection, production management, tracing and tracking production lots, work order management and maintenance management.
Dolphin's most important advantage is to guarantee safe and easy access to typical real-time and historical resources from the plant.
Communication can be activated either directly via a communication driver, or via Scada and Hmi applications. Manufacturers of EPS (production management systems) software packages can use Dolphin as an OEM product: in fact it will be supplied at a favourable price for those wishing to integrate it in their applications.
This program can communicate with Super-Flash, Opc Server and the most commonly used Scada and MicroC drivers.
Its main functions include data transmission, conversion, processing and Hmi node management.
The assortment of interfaces includes database tables, Dll, Active/X, Vba, Dde and MicroC. The events/actions motor includes MicroC, dedicated environment, Visual B/C, calendar/ agenda, repetitive functions, status/value, condition and expression.

An innovative software house
Since it was founded, Automa has always worked on producing software with fundamental characteristics: structural, readable, reusable, reliable and easy to maintain.
Always on the cutting edge of technology and experimental with its solutions, Automa has invested a lot of its resources in perfecting development tools and procedures that facilitate programming.
With these solutions and a team of creative staff, Automa has become a leader in software development for industrial automation. One important aspect of Automa's work is its ability to link a number of devices designed for process control.
This has resulted in a wealth of experience in communication systems between computer and the surroundings.
Furthermore, its ability to make heterogeneous peripherals "talk to each other" without using low cost interfaces makes Automa highly competitive as a supplier of software for controlling entire production activities. Its wide range of products and variety of applications demonstrate Automa's total dedication to software development.
This company located in Pedrengo works towards innovation and offers valid and reliable solutions. Automa also has two Solution Providers (suppliers of supervision applications) located in Parma and Verona.
The company also has a shop network comprising three companies located in Parma, Brescia and Verona.
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