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Tulip, VMware and Software Defined Automation Enable Full-Loop Factory Optimization Based on Virtual Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs)

APRIL 13, 2021, SOMERVILLE, MA - At the new Tulip Experience Center, Tulip and Software Defined Automation (SDA) demonstrated a new solution utilizing Tulip edge connectivity, VMware Edge Compute Stack, and SDA’s virtual PLC solution. This novel edge computing approach to factory optimization reduces the complexity of existing automation systems, improves security, and enables self-optimizing systems.

Today, companies mainly rely on hardware PLCs and require highly specialized automation engineers trained for a vendor’s specific technology stack to set up and reprogram PLCs. Often this leads to ultimately opting out of automation altogether. Tulip, VMware, and SDA are introducing a way for companies to set up and adjust automation systems with virtual PLCs on standard IT hardware - managed as easy as cloud applications while maintaining deterministic real-time behavior.

In times of long lead times for industrial controllers due to a global shortage in specialized silicon, the new solution allows automation engineers to instantiate and deploy new industrial-grade controllers in minutes instead of weeks or months.

By combining Tulip’s native edge connectivity with the Edge IO and SDA’s vPLCs on VMware Edge Compute Stack, the demonstration at the Tulip Experience Center showcases how the three solutions work together to create a full-loop operations optimization. High-frequency velocity sensors connected to the Edge IO capture data from industrial grade drives that can then be used by the PLC to adjust the machine to optimize the PLC control programs for them, fully automated from the cloud without the need for manual Automation Engineering.

With openness, flexibility, and extensibility at their cores, both SDA and Tulip democratize the industrial space by making it easy to configure their solutions to a unique situation and update as needed when operations change.

“Putting the power of edge connectivity into the hands of the engineers closest to operations has been incredibly effective for opening up opportunities for frontline operations, giving them the ability to set up full loop optimization as well will be truly transformative,” says Natan Linder, CEO of Tulip.

“As VMware invests into powerful, real-time capabilities to drive the virtualization of manufacturing environments, this integration with SDA and Tulip is a great example of how industrial shop floor systems can be virtualized and operations become more automated, resilient and future-proof”, said Muneyb Minhazuddin, VP Edge Compute at VMware

“Empowering the Automation Engineer with tools and processes natural for any cloud programmer has been the founding vision of SDA, the implementation of this vPLC based full loop system is a huge step towards it”, says Josef Waltl, CEO of Software Defined Automation.

Software Defined Automation and virtual PLC
The vPLC solution enables customers to easily transition from conventional PLCs to virtual PLCs by combining a hardened execution engine on the edge with ease-of-use of cloud-based systems. State-of-the-art virtualization technology is combined with a real-time PLC runtime on conventional IT servers on the edge and a cloud control plane. The hardware resources located at the edge are virtualized by VMware Edge Compute Stack, which manages the resources according to each vPLC’s real-time requirements down to 10ms response time per vPLC.

The link to the electrical world remains as is – I/O modules connected to the IT server via an OT network. Software Defined Automation extends this technology stack with a management system for fully virtualized PLCs to incorporate the industrial control layer as a software. The management system enables customers to easily transition from conventional PLCs to vPLCs as automation engineers can execute all relevant management commands from the control plane. Together with their Cloud Automation Engineering solution IDE-as-a-Service (IDEaaS), it enables customers to improve flexibility, productivity, and security while at the same time gaining independence from vendor-specific industrial automation hardware.

Tulip and Tulip Edge IO

Tulip’s Frontline Operations platform lets those closest to operations create apps to drive the productivity of frontline operations, and the quality of their output, and collect real-time data to continuously improve. Tulip’s native edge connectivity enables companies to connect their machines, sensors, cameras, and smart tools.

The Edge IO natively supports powerful, high-speed current and vibration measurement, enabling engineers to monitor stranded and proprietary machines in the cloud. Networked machines and equipment can be connected to Tulip through the Edge IO’s OPC UA support or with Node-RED onboard the device. Connector Hosts on Tulip’s edge devices let customers securely connect their data and systems to Tulip without extensive IT assistance.

With the Edge IO, engineers can incorporate data from devices, machines, PLCs, and sensors into apps through industrial I/O ports and USB connectivity. The Edge IO can be connected directly with an external monitor and run as a complete workstation, bringing Tulip apps to operators.