Automa, a high-profile name in the software market, aims at providing concrete solutions to the problem of integration and interaction between industrial computerized areas.
By Simona Baldoni
After fifteen years of business, this company from Pedrengo (Bergamo) is now leader in software development for industrial automation. We met Mario Borali, Automa's product manager, to talk about Automa's work, goals and innovative solutions for integration.
Automa defines the layout of a company computerized system on four basic levels.
The PBC (PLC-PC Based Control) supervises the control functions of plants, whereas the HMI (Human Machine Interface) runs them: these first two levels are part of the Plant. Added to these are EPS (Enterprise Production Systems) for programming and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) for planning, which apply to Management.
"We have always specialized in HMI, but have recently chosen to work towards EPS, or rather production management systems", explains Mario Borali.
According to Automa's philosophy, it doesn't make sense to think in watertight compartments: there are highly efficient planning and management systems on the market and just as valid automation systems, yet the means of linking these areas have not been adequately explored.
"Those providing ERP solutions tend to trivialize data acquisition; and vice versa, those working in automation have never focused on superior level functions", continues Borali. So Automa's philosophy involves perfecting solutions that able to provide an effective integration between the two areas of production and management.
"We realized that EPS needs fundamental changes as far as integration is concerned", explains the product manager of this Bergamo company. "The entire production cycle should reach a higher level of automation, and to do so, it needs an effective chain that can give added value to the various levels, facilitating interaction."
According to Mario Borali, the system for obtaining better integration between the various areas should keep the chain online, so that you can track the situation at any moment and in real-time, using precise and complete mapping of the entire production.
This basically involves an interactive communication system between the various levels, which could be compared to fingers on a hand: in this case, the fingers represent the five business units that Automa works in: HMI, Monitoring and Remote Control, CAM, EPS and Specials.
This company has developed new solutions for integration in each of these fields..
Super-Flash, the cutting edge of "Supervisione Libera"
Super-Flash is Automa's cutting edge in the "Supervisione Libera" Line, which consists of a complete range of products and services specifically designed to simplify the development of industrial supervision and human-machine interface applications.
This product consists of a generator of supervision applications, whose development system is based on a 32-bit structure that maintains the performance of the development system at maximum levels, while offering new and ever more numerous application possibilities.
Super-Flash generates applications that run in Windows (Win 32) or 32-bit extended DOS. Its "no royalty" formula allows you to develop supervision systems at low cost. With its increasingly innovative and updated versions, Automa has set some ambitious goals: increasing the programmer's productivity, expanding on the possibilities of communication, and new simplified graphics, all fully compatible with earlier versions.
Designed and developed entirely in Italy, Super-Flash is user-friendly, complete, well-documented and offers qualified after-sales support. It supports network communication (NetBios, TCP/IP, ArcNet, H1 and Industrial Ethernet, etc.), field buses (Profibus, FipWay, BitBus, Interbus, CANbus and Modbus plus, etc.) and communication protocols to most PLCs on the market. It also supports OPC (client), DDE (server and client) and DLL technologies for communication between different applications.
The applications of this product can either run in workstation mode, where the system takes over the PC, or activated as Windows applications according to the Win 32 standard. In this case, several applications can run at the same time on the same machine.
Super-Flash's development system is available in Italian, English and Spanish, and is also equipped with various standard modules: Recipes, Alarms, Alarm Statistics, Trends, Online manual and Multilingual support.
Some of the latest releases are the new Windows version of the development system, the driver for sending SMS and a mail server (M-Box) for sending e-mails directly from supervision applications (also from DOS stations).
MainteX, the answer to programmed maintenance
MainteX is a specific EPS application for programmed maintenance management.
Maintenance has evolved rapidly over the years, diversifying its application from the traditional industry to service companies, public works and the territory.
The purpose of maintenance is to keep machinery and equipment in peak working order, which involves not only correcting faults and malfunctions, but also preventing them, guaranteeing uninterrupted operation and hence dramatically cutting costs. It is therefore crucial for a company to have a good maintenance system, which should be guaranteed by managerial, organizational and technical efficiency.
This is where Automa's solution comes in, under the name of MainteX. "Programmed maintenance provides unquestionable guarantees and benefits", explains Mario Borali. First and foremost, a reduction in machine stops for extraordinary maintenance, which with MainteX is carried out only when faults are identified and parts need replacing: this clearly results in substantial savings as it reduces production stops.
Furthermore, maintenance costs are obviously reduced (as programmed maintenance can also prevent possible malfunctions), in addition to better work organization, the possibility of monitoring all the equipment, stock optimization, better financial control and significant guarantees in terms of production quality and staff safety. " MainteX is also a very user-friendly maintenance package designed for servicemen", explains Automa's product manager. This totally functional product, which takes data directly from the field, is not too managerial and strongly linked to the plant, so making day-to-day maintenance much easier.
Now let's turn to the main features of this innovative product. Firstly, MainteX manages maintenance via a record file of programmed operations (maintenance file): a document of operation procedures; graphic representation of each plant section being serviced; a report 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 set on the sheet.
MainteX also manages the theoretical maintenance plan with a table showing the period and frequency set by configuration files, which is obtained through an analysis of the plan settings. This is easily read from the graphic display showing the operation status.
MainteX also manages operations already carried out, by filing all the information regarding each maintenance operation (date, duration, materials used and operators involved, plus any extra notes for unplanned extraordinary maintenance operations).
This information can be retrieved after filing for any modifications and updates.
Finally, this equipment allows you to manage preventive and final costs for each operation including extraordinary maintenance, with relative comparisons.
Dolphin: all-round communication
Dolphin is a concrete example of Automa's research into greater integration between HMI and EPS worlds.
In fact this software product links human-machine interface systems and database-oriented applications that are typical of activity programming. Dolphin is designed for manufacturers of EPS software packages, i.e. production management systems, but also for software houses that produce this type of application on order, as well as for Scada and HMI application developers for dialogue with superior levels. This "Automa 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 guarantees safe communication to the field, which can be activated either directly (via a communication driver) or via Scada or HMI applications, enabling easy access to real-time data from the field. EPS software package manufacturers can use Dolphin by incorporating it directly in their products, like OEM.
Automa named this product after a quick, intelligent and communicative animal, symbol of an efficiency and safety, which can move in water (a metaphor for the network) with speed and agility.
Scatolinux, the technological cube
Scatolinux is a totally new product of its kind. As the name suggests (acronym of Scalable To Linux), this is a small device containing the Linux operating system: a tiny technological cube (only 13 cm long on each side) which is able to supply a series of interface services from various communication systems and technologies.
"Scatolinux is not owner architecture: it's basically standard hardware with standard software, so easy to use for the potential user, yet with embedded and real-time characteristics", explains Mario Borali. "We see it as an object that uniforms and harmonizes all the various integrated system components".
In fact this small device can support a number of applications: from data collection, validation and recording, to controller functions for real-time soft applications, applications for field Web Servers, mobile data acquisition and collection system, basic system for general purpose embedded applications, routers with local and remote I/O management, serial gateways on Ethernet, home automation control units, safety and fire-fighting system control units and access control, to name but a few.
Scatolinux allows you to develop extremely compact and reliable systems without a hard disk, offering a huge processing capacity and easy integration in local or geographical networks. Its real-time and embedded characteristics mark an important turning point for the Linux operating system and its diffusion, as they increase its reliability and application possibilities. "We see this tool as a true alternative to traditional controllers, as it incorporates PC and PLC activities in a single device", says Borali.
So who will be using an operating system like Scatolinux? First of all, this device is designed for users who are not interested in developing specific programming skills and who wish to use this device without in-depth software knowledge.
This where Automa offers its customers the know-how through highly configurable applications that are already oriented to communication with different peripherals. This product is therefore the ideal tool for users wishing to independently manage projects based on Scatolinux: in this case, Automa can supply training and support for design and startup as well as for implementation and after-sales.
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