PROFINET Controller for Safety Applications

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In process manufacturing, significant demands are made on safety controls, with many applications requiring a very large number of inputs and outputs. Increasingly, PROFINET is being used to handle communication with distributed I/O, so HIMA opted to design a PROFINET controller for its safety controls together with Softing Industrial.

HIMA Group is an independent global supplier of safety-focused automation solutions to the process manufacturing and rail sectors. Typical safety applications include Emergency Shutdown Systems (ESD), Burners and Boilers (BCS/BMS), Turbomachinery and Compressors (TMC), Pipeline Management Control with Leak Location (PMC), and Fire and Gas (F&G). The number of inputs and outputs can be very high in many of these safety applications, which ensure the safe and uninterrupted operation of plants used in the chemicals, petrochemicals, energy, oil, gas, and rail industries. The scalable safety platform from HIMA unifies the hardware and software designed and developed in-house onto a single technology platform that also implements a uniform security model. The discrete safety controls utilize open standards but are both independent and autonomous. This lets the end customer combine the right safety solution for their needs with any leading Basic Process Control System (BPCS).

Future-Proof Digital Communication with PROFINET

As more machinery and plant completes the digital transition, communication between the various parts of the control and automation systems as well as the process control system is becoming more and more important. HIMA’s digitalization strategy for functional safety has prioritized offering the most popular industry-standard protocols for safety systems. PROFINET is a communication protocol that is widespread in the industry sectors where HIMA products are typically deployed. Corresponding communication modules have now been designed to facilitate PROFINET communication for safety controls in the HIMax and HIMatrix series.

A Reliable Partner for Development and Long-Term Project Management

HIMA was looking for a highly capable partner to design its communication modules for PROFINET communication and ultimately, chose Softing Industrial Automation GmbH. HIMA also gains a decisive advantage from this partnership, because the industrial communication experts at Softing not only handle the original design engineering work but also ensure that the communication module is kept up-to-date going forward. These maintenance tasks make up a large workload that Softing handles for HIMA.  Softing has spent many years implementing, improving, and maintaining its proprietary software stack for PROFINET communication. And this is also the reason why the PROFINET controller design project for the HIMA controls could be completed so quickly. The solution is based on an FPGA hardware module designed for integration into the HIMA devices. The controller’s entire communication subsystem consists of a single binary block, containing the logic, processor, operating system, and associated communication software, which can be integrated easily without any modifications being necessary.

“A PROFINET controller is always an advanced design project,” Ditting explains, “because you have to account for not just the communication but also the configuration.” Added to that, PROFINET also defines a great many features. All of the functions required have to be both implemented and then also configurable. Thanks to Softing’s experience with PROFINET and its reference implementation of a real-time Ethernet module (RTEM II), which was used as the reference design, the controller design project was completed successfully over a very short timeframe.

Key Strengths

To implement connectivity with the existing HIMA host system and its expansion slots, only a few adjustments needed to be made to the RTEM II hardware design. The Industrial Ethernet switch plus two external ports included in the communication subsystem ensures a very short cycle time while maximizing determinism in process data processing. Thanks to the filtering capabilities offered by the built-in firewall, the integrated protocol software is also protected from harmful flooding while achieving Netload Class III robustness – the highest level of PROFINET conformance testing. “That the controller is regularly updated to match the current specification from the PROFIBUS User Organization is a priority issue for us,” Ditting explains. Every year, the PNO publishes two to three updated versions of the communication standard. Softing then updates the controller to reflect the changes, allowing HIMA to focus on its application development work.

Collaborative Spirit

During the controller design and test project, regular meetings and workshops were organized to promote close coordination between the two partners. The experts at Softing also completed several other work packages alongside controller design, including support for carrying out firmware updates in the field as well as unit testing software for use in module production. Ditting: “The level of cooperation that was achieved throughout – from planning to testing – really made life easy for us. The teams complemented each other perfectly and inquiries from our side were always answered very quickly.”

The PROFINET controllers from Softing can now be supplied for the latest versions of the HIMax- and HIMatrix-series safety controls, and offer uncompromising reliability during operation. As Ditting explains, improvements to controller functionality are already part of the planning pipeline. “One example is the Media Redundancy Protocol, which we would like to implement as this offers higher availability in combination with a ring topology.” Whatever new PROFINET features are needed, HIMA is certain to be working with the specialists at Softing to implement them.