In order to maintain competitiveness in today's global market, industry requires systems that are capable of quickly responding to change while maintaining stable and efficient operation. Increasingly, the industrial control system is viewed as being central to achieving this goal.
The main barriers to success in this area however, result from the combination of increasingly stringent customer requirements (e.g., high quality, customizable, low-cost products that can be delivered quickly) and inherent system complexity (i.e., these systems are, by nature, distributed, concurrent and stochastic). Although technology has become increasingly sophisticated to deal with these issues (e.g., through advanced robotics and computer numerical control), without adequate control, the result is often a collection of "islands of automation" that lack the necessary integration for truly responsive behavior. As a result, new control software and hardware approaches are required to realize a system that is flexible (i.e., capable of reconfiguration) and responsive (i.e., capable of recovering from disturbances).
In this paper, we focus on a new software model, IEC 61499, that is intended reduce the barriers imposed on the flexibility and responsiveness of industrial automation systems by current control technology. The paper begins with more details on the requirements for the next generation of automation and control systems. Next, we provide an overview of the IEC 61499 model and summarize the current state of research into the application of this model to industrial control problems. Although a considerable amount of work has already been conducted in this area, there has been a lack of industrial strength software tools available for IEC 61499 developers. In section 4, we focus on a new IEC 61499 development environment that can be used to apply this approach to real industrial automation and control problems. Finally, the paper concludes with a brief summary and outlook to the future of these systems.
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