Engineering industrial PC-based growth

Industrial PC-based controls in embedded PCs, HMIs, or integrated I/O modules will help manufacturing serve needs of expanding global middle class.


Hans Beckhoff, managing director and owner of Beckhoff Automation, explains the advantages of PC-based control. CFE Media photo by Mark T. Hoske.Smarter engineering tools will help manufacturing serve a growing middle class. By 2030, the world population will be 8.3 billion total, up from 7 billion today, with double the number living at Western levels of consumption, according to Hans Beckhoff, managing director and owner of Beckhoff Automation. Because the number of consumers will double, “to compensate, engineers have to design ways to supply those products sustainably, and automation technology is urgently needed to do that. Automation will help create the manufacturing, new wealth, and the infrastructure for the growing population. Engineers will have to be creative because we cannot use double the resources,” Beckhoff said.

Beckhoff Automation, with $582 million (465 Euro) in 2011 sales, up 34%, hopes to exceed $2.5 billion in sales (2 billion Euro) by 2020. That growth will help manufacturing serve that burgeoning global middle class by continuing to promote efficiency with industrial PC-based control, an integrated programming environment, and a broader, integrated offering of automation and controls.

Beckhoff Automation sold $21.3 million (17 million Euro) in China in 2011, driven by the wind business. Half of new wind power in China uses Beckhoff Automation, as do one quarter of all windmills globally, Beckhoff said.

“We don’t want to be just a niche company, but offer a broad range of automation, competing with Rockwell Automation and Siemens, across machine automation, building automation, and process controls.” Among areas of expansion is Fertig Motors, a Beckhoff Automation company established in 2010, (Beckhoff owns 90%), which provides a growing number of linear and rotary motor technologies. Fertig Motors was co-founded with Erwin Fertig, the entrepreneur who started the former packaging automation vendor, Elau.

“The future of automation is in the electronics and software. Customers are looking for ways to implement their own processing know-how, right down to the motor algorithms, providing up to a 3% performance increase and differentiation for future growth, as opposed to a closed architecture [PLCs]. Customers need platforms to implement their own know how.”

Disruptions caused by volcanoes and typhoons brought lessons about the international supply chain, Beckhoff said, and, as a result, the company’s physical stock of all raw materials and finished goods in stock to 6 weeks of supply up from 4 weeks, “a big investment with good results.”

Beckhoff Automation’s platform, what it calls “Scientific Automation,” offers PLC capabilities, human-machine interface (HMI), motion, safety, input/output (I/O) and other functionality such as measurement, condition monitoring and robotics within one PC-based programming environment. The latest of these software platforms is TwinCAT 3, which integrates many Microsoft-based tools such as Visual Studio, as well as programming using C++, MathWorks’ Matlab/Simulink, and more.

“Beckhoff Automation systems are software based and promote open control architectures. The largest PLC vendors in the marketplace cannot, or will not do what we do. Their systems are typically more closed by design. We can sell into their markets with higher value, a more advanced systems approach, and an open platform,” he said.

New Beckhoff Automation headquarters building in Verl, Germany, is in the same neighborhood as other Beckhoff manufacturing and R&D buildings. It previously belonged to a telecommunications company. CFE Media photo by Mark T. Hoske.Adding more hardware controllers [more PLCs] creates more points of failure, more communication hassles, more cost, and often more varied software to learn. Traditional thinking can create a tangle of networks, many software platforms, layers of complexity, complex licensing requirements, and programming differences. With an industrial PC (IPC) platform, less is more, Beckhoff suggested.

Beckhoff founded the family owned automation company in 1980. It now has 2100 employees, in 30 countries, including 660 engineers, and 85 U.S. employees. With distributors, the company is represented in more than 60 countries. Verl, Germany, is global headquarters, and the main U.S. office is near Minneapolis.

- Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering and Plant Engineering, 

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