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"Application Park" at HM 2008: Germany leads the world in automation tech Print E-mail
Written by Anand   
Tuesday, 19 February 2008
Hannover. Germany's mechanical engineering sector is humming with activity. Growth rates rival those recorded at the time of Germany's "economic miracle" - and there's no end in sight. "We expect to see production grow by another five per cent in real terms this year", says Dr. Ralph Wiechers, chief economist at the VDMA, the trade association representing Germany's mechanical and plant engineering sector. And the reason? "All over the world businesses are looking to invest in high-grade capital goods, and we are the world market leaders. No other country can offer such a broad range of machinery, plant and software solutions", claims Dr. Wiechers. Demonstrating why Germany's engineering sector is a global front runner is the purpose of the special display "Application Park" at HANNOVER MESSE 2008, which has been jointly organized by the VDMA and HANNOVER MESSE.

In Hall 17 some 75 suppliers of robotics, automation systems, software and mechanical engineering products will be showcasing their high-tech automation solutions for the mechanical engineering sector on a display area of 3,500 square metres. This year the emphasis is once again on practical applications, with live demonstrations taking the place of theoretical explanations. "Visitors can take a look behind the scenes and see what industrial manufacturing really looks like up close", explains Dr. Carsten Emde, executive secretary of the industry cooperative Open Source Automation Development Lab (OSADL).

Under the patronage of OSADL the presentation seeks to show how open-source software that has been jointly developed by various manufacturers and individual programmers can be incorporated into machines of every kind. Mechanical engineering firms, automation systems suppliers and software developers will be joining forces here to present complete production solutions. "By staging these live demonstrations in real time we want to open visitors' eyes to the possibilities. We'll be using the latest generation of machines to show how the open-source principle allows us to create software more sophisticated and more powerful than anything that has yet been seen", says Dr. Emde. He adds: "And because the production and use of this software are shared, it is actually surprisingly inexpensive."

One example: At the touch of a button visitors can order up their own personal wooden breakfast platter, complete with personalized engraving. The board is made on a HOMAG wood machining centre, and visitors can watch as a TRUMPF laser engraves the design before their very eyes. At the heart of the production process, once again, is open-source technology, because all these machines run under the Linux operating system - which is free, real-time-capable and designed for multiple users. "IT systems geared to the needs of industry are now all the rage", notes Rainer Glatz, executive secretary of the software trade association affiliated to the VDMA, adding his endorsement to the presentation at HANNOVER MESSE 2008.

This is why the whole subject of software features so prominently this year in the "Application Park" display. At a press conference on 21 April Andrew Morton, one of the key software specialists behind the development of the Linux kernel, and the right-hand man of the Finnish inventor of Linux, Linus Torvald, will be answering topical questions about the Linux kernel and its use in industrial environments.

This is followed on 22 April by an all-day congress on the theme "Linux and Open Source in Industry". As well as Bruce Perens, one of the leading champions of the open-source concept, a number of other senior industry figures have agreed to come and speak at this important event. "This shows that Germany has long since moved into the global first league in software development", observes Dr. Emde. Rainer Glatz adds: "The strength of the German industry is its ability to combine different technologies to create customized solutions for the customer."

A good example is Beckhoff, which has pioneered PC-based control systems. A few steps away from the congress, the company from eastern Westphalia is teaming up with its technology partners to present "PC Control - Open Platform for Advanced Automation", a live demonstration designed to highlight the potential of open control technology. PC control systems supplied by Beckhoff are successfully used in many different areas of industry around the world - from high-speed machine control to intelligent building automation systems.

For more than 20 years now the company has specialized in PC-based automation, which has been steadily refined and expanded through the incorporation of innovative technologies and solutions - such as EtherCAT, an Ethernet-based field bus. "One of the highlights of our presentation at 'Application Park' is our ultra-fast control technology, which takes processing speed to a whole new level. This gives mechanical engineering companies a significant competitive advantage and also helps to optimize energy efficiency", says Frank Metzner, head of corporate communications at Beckhoff.

The presentation at HANNOVER MESSE 2008 is divided into five "Technology Forums": PC Control, Performance in Automation, Future of Automation, Scientific Automation and Applications. "We are looking to the future with our presentation in Hannover, and showing that the PC, as a powerful hardware platform with Intel multi-core processors and Windows operating system, has enough capability to take on other software-based functions in addition to the basic system control functions." For example? The integration of vision systems, condition monitoring or high-speed metrology applications in systems control. Managing director Hans Beckhoff is in no doubt: "The integration of high-end metrology into automation control will be an essential foundation of scientific automation. At HANNOVER MESSE 2008 we will be giving visitors a peek into the future."

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