Software company Zeugwerk GmbH, headquartered in the Austrian town of Wattens, is convinced that state-of-the-art software engineering is becoming an increasingly important factor in automation.

They believe this is the only way for machine builders to cope with the increasing demands on automation software despite the looming shortage of skilled workers, while at the same time increasing the speed and quality of project implementation.

This mindset is what prompted Zeugwerk to launch its Framework and Creator products, which are based on TwinCAT from Beckhoff and used by machine builder Nordfels GmbH in Bad Leonfelden, Austria, among others.

“With Zeugwerk Framework and Zeugwerk Creator, we are bringing many elements of state-of-the-art software development into the world of control software to facilitate a standardized, holistic, and sustainable development approach,” explains CEO Matthias Pfurtscheller.

A broad spectrum of Zeugwerk customers are set to benefit from this approach, ranging from custom and series machine builders to automation specialists and machine operators.

Furthermore, the Services division provides customers with access to expertise in implementing specific solutions and using modern software paradigms such as CI/CD tools and unit testing.

According to Matthias Pfurtscheller, the extent to which users can benefit from state-of-the-art software engineering can be illustrated by the following prime example:

“The mechanical engineering company Nordfels recognized several years ago that standardization in the development process provides a clear advantage in terms of speed and quality when implementing machine projects.

“This makes it an ideal customer for Zeugwerk, on the one hand because Nordfels is already familiar with the potential benefits of a standardized development process, and on the other hand because we can provide immediate assistance in implementing new possibilities offered by TwinCAT and state-of-the-art software development.”

This project was backed by the comprehensive support of the Austrian Beckhoff sales offices in Hagenberg and Innsbruck, with the experienced experts Klaus Wurm and George Hampel, along with the associated Beckhoff support specialists.

TwinCAT as an open and state-of-the-art software platform

Zeugwerk can already draw on 20 years of TwinCAT experience and has been an active Beckhoff Solution Provider since 2022.

According to Matthias Pfurtscheller, the open Beckhoff control platform makes it possible to efficiently implement modern software paradigms such as object-oriented programming, code generation, and test automation.

By offering all the necessary interfaces and including an API with its products, Beckhoff opens the door to contemporary methods in the development of control software.

He continues, “TwinCAT provides the foundation for implementing state-of-the-art development approaches with the possibility to address both engineering and runtime automatically via corresponding interfaces.

“The TwinCAT Automation Interface and the PC-based control platform represent important components in this regard.”

Zeugwerk defines software engineering as a holistic and sustainable approach to the entire life cycle of a software product.

The aim is to achieve a comprehensive level of standardization, from the requirements analysis and project planning through to the implementation, commissioning, and use of the software along with the accompanying support.

The company believes this is the only way to maintain – or even increase – the quality and speed of development in spite of increasing requirements and a shortage of skilled workers.

Matthias Pfurtscheller explains, “We operate on the principle of ‘Do what works to develop better software faster.’ Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, we incorporate elements from IT into the world of automation technology.”

It is also very important for the software developers to see an immediate benefit in their own daily work and not feel overwhelmed by new or changed ways of working.

Simplifying software development processes

In the world of software development, the use of frameworks has proven to be key to simple and efficient workflows. Frameworks define large parts of the structure and architecture of a software product with templates, libraries, and standard modules.

This allows software developers to concentrate on the functional and project-specific requirements in programming while working with a standardized software architecture.

Framework-based development is already standard in the IT world; however, Zeugwerk’s experience shows that this approach to control development is still relatively new.

Nevertheless, the advantages are clear, since the predefined, often modular structure provides additional support for standardized practices in project planning and commissioning.

Furthermore, standardization through framework-based software development offers significant potential and numerous opportunities to automate various steps in the development process, including documentation, testing, delivery, and code generation.

Zeugwerk Framework is a standardized application template along with various libraries that offer extensive functions for application development. It covers standardized aspects such as communication, data, functional units, and various modules for implementing machine processes.

Zeugwerk Creator is an extension of the TwinCAT development environment TcXaeShell, which significantly simplifies and accelerates application development through context-specific menus, dialogs, and functions, as well as through standardization with Zeugwerk Framework.

Regarding the integration as a plug-in, Matthias Pfurtscheller adds, “Expanding TcXaeShell with Creator allows for seamless integration with Zeugwerk Framework to establish consistent, fast, and error-free workflows.

“The primary advantage here is that the existing, familiar development environment is enhanced with new features for standardized application development, thereby minimizing the familiarization time.

As a result, application engineers never have to leave the TwinCAT environment.” The TwinCAT Automation Interface has simplified the integration process, serving as the necessary interface to the Visual Studio or TcXaeShell engineering environment and enabling programmatic access to a TwinCAT project.

In conclusion, integration would never have been possible without the TwinCAT Automation Interface.

Clear advantages for machine building

Another advantage of the TwinCAT Automation Interface, as highlighted by Matthias Pfurtscheller, is the automatic code generation, which speeds up development significantly.

Configuring plant software with the corresponding modules and typically very similar structure can be achieved much faster in this way.

Users can then continue programming and refining in the familiar TwinCAT environment. Matthias Pfurtscheller goes on to explain that, “Users can configure their applications using the Zeugwerk Creator functions without having to write a single line of code. The structure of the application is always the same and can be created on a project-specific basis in no time.

“Automatically generated test environments for commissioning and backup/restore options for data are further advantages afforded by the integration and use of Creator.

“Nordfels was able to cut the time needed to create a major machine project from several days to just a few hours, for example.”

Tasked with tackling this project for machine builder Nordfels, Zeugwerk developed a custom extension for TcXaeShell that enables the automatic, menu-driven generation of the PLC for a machine project.

This offers dialogs for creating stations and substations, which subsequently perform the generation of all necessary code segments.

This additional functionality can be used in the TcXaeShell development environment as if it were part of TwinCAT.

Further functions, such as the creation of a new station, are offered as menu items in the TcXaeShell in the appropriate places to naturally add application parts to a Nordfels PLC.

According to Matthias Pfurtscheller, this approach ensures that the additional functionality is actually used, as the benefits are significant and the barrier to entry is minimal.

Edmund Jenner, CEO of Nordfels, confirms the benefits as follows, “The introduction of modern software paradigms has made cross-team and cross-project software creation possible in a meaningful way, which opens up completely new perspectives for us in terms of further development and reuse of each individual software project.”

Nordfels has gained a quality, speed, and reusability advantage for every future automation project thanks to this unique development, while also consolidating consistent, standardized workflows across the entire team.

 

Beckhoff Automation
Tel. +27 11 795 2898
info@beckhoff.co.za
https://www.beckhoff.com

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