European manufacturing plants increase uptake of open communications 25 August 2011

Manufacturing plants across Europe are being transformed by the adoption of open architecture control systems, according to John Browett of the CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA).

"Interest in open networks, where equipment from a multitude of makers can freely exchange data, is continuing to increase," he says. "We are in our tenth anniversary year and have never been so busy."

Browett's observation is not without vested interest: his organisation promotes and develops the CC-Link open network technology.

That said, he asserts that plant managers and control engineers are "choosing to invest in the flexibility that will allow their production capabilities to easily adapt to changing demands over the coming years".

Backing up the claim, he also says that CLPA's partner numbers have now exceeded 1,500 companies, making it one of the largest open network associations in the world.

So why the move toi open architectures? Browett's believes that manufacturing is recovering or growing in most European countries, "often at record rates". And he suggests that a vital characteristic of any modern factory is that it has to be able to quickly and efficiently change to meet new needs.

"In the past, you would set up a plant to make a limited number of products in a continuous, indefinite run, and expect the return on investment some years into the future. Now, flexibility is the key, so that product changes can be made continuously," he intones.

And he continues: "The 'non-stop open network' capabilities of CC-Link allow factories to quickly be reconfigured to new products or new procedures, with minimal disruption to production, by allowing easy reconfiguration."

Browett insists that open architectures are now essential, because "the critical requirement is now simplification of industrial control network technologies".

Hence, the uptake of plug-and-play formats, he says. "The technology must allow mixing of many manufacturers' devices and seamlessly connect the shop floor to the top floor. CC-Link offers this, as many plant integrators are now discovering."

Brian Tinham

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CLPA Europe

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