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Universal automation – The digital “key” for the F&B ecosystem


Universal automation can remove many technological barriers, allowing automation systems to be built on open data architectures, which are expected to help F&B businesses digitize production processes, expand production scale and increase competition.

What is universal automation?

In previous automation, the software used for programming was often compatible with one or more certain hardware. Changing the hardware design (e.g. of a PLC or I/O) will result in the need to calibrate or even reprogram the entire application. This increases unnecessary engineering costs, up to $30 billion in maintenance per year, according to ARC Group; lengthens the time to design new applications or machines, reducing the efficiency of the production process.

For an industry that requires a high degree of automation like F&B, for decades, companies have been working with a closed and isolated automation system. Choosing only one solution provider will limit the business owner’s choice of hardware suppliers in the future. The closed and discrete ecosystem with many constraints, although still suitable to meet current needs, is revealing many limitations when businesses want to expand production and potentially lag behind in the future.

Universal automation is expected to help F&B businesses digitize production processes, expand scale and increase competition (Photo: Schneider Electric).

To contribute to solving the above challenge, new automation trends have begun to appear, the most prominent being “universal automation”. According to the World Economic Forum, universal automation can radically remove many inherent constraints and technological barriers, allowing automation systems to be built on open data architectures. This industrial automation system is software-centric, the hardware easily compatible with next-generation innovations throughout the entire lifecycle.

With flexibility, the new automation vision is suitable for today’s business context, especially when consumers’ tastes change rapidly, products need to be continuously improved, and systems must respond in a timely manner. Accordingly, universal automation is expected to be the key that opens the door for the next generation of F&B businesses to digitize production processes, scale up and increase competition.

In the future of digitization with open software systems, programming on the new platform will allow engineers to install more solutions, from any vendor, onto existing lines faster.

Industry 4.0 requires standardized software

Universal automation based on the IEC 61499 standard, allowing software applications to be designed independently of the hardware platform, has now attracted more than 40 leading technology corporations to join and work together, according to UniversalAutomation.Org. This is the right time for F&B businesses to innovate with automation. End users, machine builders, system integrators, and application developers, etc. can now innovate and create flexibly, boosting efficiency and productivity.

One of today’s active “game changers” is Schneider Electric, a global expert in energy management and automation. Schneider Electric has developed and released new solutions based on the IEC 61499 standard to drive the open ecosystem.

Schneider Electric released new solutions based on the IEC 61499 standard to guide the open ecosystem (Image: Schneider Electric).

The software-centric industrial automation solution – EcoStruxure Automation Expert has contributed to many benefits when it comes to reducing the time to program automated machinery systems and putting machines into production faster – more efficiently, addressing specific challenges at a lower cost.

“Enterprises can choose to add automation and power distribution components from Schneider Electric as a single supplier, or from other hardware partners in the universal automation ecosystem. By separating If you separate the hardware from the software, it’s much simpler to change or upgrade the controller,” said a Schneider Electric representative.

According to Schneider Electric, tests show that EcoStruxure Automation Expert saves 68% of new program design hours, increasing project technical and operational efficiency by 3-4 times compared to some existing systems. This data was published by Schneider Electric in the report “Quantitative Comparison of Industrial Automation Systems”.

“If converted, the benefits could be worth several billion US dollars annually over the life of the plant. Therefore, F&B businesses need to rethink and treat software as a reusable and long-lived asset, embrace new trends, to bring opportunities in this changing world of industrial automation”, shared Schneider Electric representative.

In addition, when combined with solutions in the F&B-specific EcoStruxure architecture with more than 20 comprehensive solutions spanning 3 layers: connected products, edge and application control, analytics and services, businesses can reduce energy costs by 20-30%, increase efficiency and flexibility by up to 25%, to meet the diverse and timely needs of F&B end users.

Source: Dan Tri

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