The construction of a large class of distributed systems can be simplified by leveraging middleware, which is layered between network operating systems and application components. Middleware resolves heterogeneity, and facilitates communication and coordination of distributed components. Existing middleware products enable software engineers to build systems that are distributed across a local-area network.
A major point that is usually underestimated in control platforms, but that is crucial for the acceptance of an automation application is the human–machine interface (HMI). In case a graphical user interface (GUI) is implemented, it must be clear that standard concepts of desktop and office GUIs do not work for machine automation.
Managing software platforms is about much more than only creating technology. It takes skills in navigating cooperation and competition, building creative business models, and anticipating competition also across industries.
The work machine manufacturer produces significantly lower volumes of machines, as well as equipment, when compared with other industry sectors, such as the on-highway vehicle manufacturing sector. Work machine manufacturers are market leaders in many fields, but volumes per company are low. Thus, costs of product changes must be amortized over longer periods and common control platforms should be utilized.
Software platforms have already improved productivity and innovation in many projects. Since machine and equipment manufacturers in the field of machine automation often contribute only parts of the whole automation process without wanting to spend time and effort on building a complete system, it is beneficial to provide a general purpose software platform offering following advantages.
- Developers can concentrate on their core tasks
- Time to market can be reduced significantly
- Enables easy integration into existing solutions
- Makes cooperation easy over organizational boundaries
Already now when pilot tests have been done with two work machine types, platforms have shown their strengths. Cooperation between different organization parties has improved significantly and in many cases double development work has been avoided. Also cooperation with subcontractors is more efficient when common platform modules have been used.
Pekka Yli-Paunu, Cargotec