The initial situation
The Swiss company Ferag, based in Hinwil and specialising in high-frequency logistics in the print sector, had the objective of offering its proven conveyor and sorter systems in new markets such as the automotive and fashion industries.
However, logistics systems in these markets have their specific requirements with respect to size and flexibility. Individual, project-specific programming would be too complex and too cost-intensive.
Ferag AG decided to involve A+K as an experienced partner in the development of control systems.
The concept phase
The demands on the control system were very high in many areas. This included, for example, quantity structures of shuttles in the six-figure range, reaction times for target values at switches of less than 20msec or the free (re)configuration of the system during ongoing operation, to name but a few. The interfaces were to be created in web technology and run on tablets, which is already common practice.
A+K designed a first rough concept in cooperation with Ferag based on tried and tested implementation patterns and state-of-the-art technologies. A+K develops freely configurable control systems on the model of automation classes (business objects). Everything can be mapped on the basis of this technology, e.g. switches, stoppers, entire sorters consisting in turn of switches and stoppers, manual loading and unloading stations or fully automatic pickers for the transfer of parts from injection moulding lines.
The Ferag team for PLC and IT programming was also involved in the detailed concept phase. It is of crucial importance that the transfer of expertise functions reliably at the earliest possible stage.
In the detailed concept phase, all functions of the automation classes were defined. One part of an automation class runs on the server, while the real-time relevant part runs in the PLC. The detailed concept thus extended into the PLCs. The complete PLC code was also defined so that it would later only require minor project-specific adaptation.
The implementation phase
A+K created the control system in Herzogenaurach and the Ferag team created the corresponding PLC software. The automation classes were developed jointly. A virtual team consisting of Ferag and A+K personnel worked via the Internet on the basis of Microsoft TFS.
The in-house test
A+K performed a complete test of the control system in the Herzogenaurach office on the basis of simulators. However, the actual automation classes could only be tested in interaction with the PLCs at a real plant. For this purpose, Ferag installed a demonstration plant in Hinwil, which included all the necessary automation classes such as loading stations or switches.
The pilot plant
Prior to production, the material flow of the planned plant was checked and confirmed by Ferag using simulation software. After production and assembly of the plant, commissioning was carried out by a joint team on site at the end customer's premises. The experience gained during the commissioning and start-up of the plant was directly incorporated into the control system and the automation classes. Since the entire control system including the automation classes is updatable, the plants can be updated at any time with improved and further developed software.
The project was shaped by a development process with distributed teams in Herzogenaurach and Hinwil and additional commissioning teams at the pilot plants in China, USA and Europe. However, thanks to Microsoft TFS and modern Internet technologies, this challenge was successfully mastered.
The investment in a comprehensive rough and detailed concept once again proved its worth. This is the only way to provide all the information needed for the various development teams.
The .net C#, MS SQL Server and ASP.Net web technologies and the Beckhoff TwinCAT3 controllers delivered another impressive performance.
Scope of services of A+K
- Creation of a rough and detailed concept for a configurable, reusable control system for monorail overhead conveyors
- Creation of the software for the control system based on C#, MS SQL, web technologies, Beckhoff
- In-house testing at the demonstration plant in Hinwil
- Joint start-up of the pilot plant in Germany
- Joint start-up of selected downstream plants in China, USA and Europe
- Transfer of expertise, transfer of development work to the Ferag team
Scope of services