The Art of Industrial Process Automation

The medium-sized, privately owned enterprise, VIPA Gesellschaft für Visualisierung und Prozessautomatisierung mbH of Herzogenaurach in Germany, can look back upon a remarkable development: it has evolved from a small regionally active software integrator to a provider of complete PLC solutions. Today, the company develops quality automation systems which are at the cutting edge of what is technologically possible.

VIPA Gesellschaft für Visualisierung und Prozessautomatisierung mbH was founded by President Wolfgang Seel in Erlangen, Southern Germany, in April 1985. The company's initial focus was on software integration projects, although, after about one year the first of its own hardware units saw the light of day.

By 1988, VIPA had introduced the world's first in-rack personal computer for the Siemens SIMATIC system. In 1990, the company began to fully concentrate on hardware development. 1994 saw the introduction of the world's first TCP/IP processors for Siemens' SIMATIC system, they were made by VIPA. Two years later, VIPA launched its first PLC system, the 200V Shortly afterwards, the company set up its own ASIC design centre. The ASIC design centre was later transformed into a subsidiary known as profichip GmbH.
In 1999, VIPA started the construction of a new business complex in Herzogenaurach, and twelve months later, VIPA and its subsidiary, profichip GmbH. relocated to these premises which covers an area of five thousand square metres. The complete investment volume for this project was approximately three million Euros.
A highlight of 2001 was the launch of the highly innovative micro-PLC System 100V - another landmark product in the VIPA history. Two years after this. VIPA developed its well-known SPEED7 technology, the world's fastest PLC. The company's market presence was further expanded thanks to the success of this product and the other equipment making up the portfolio.
Today, VIPA employs exactly one hundred and three members of staff, twenty-six of whom work in the research and development department. The test laboratory is staffed with forty employees and the sales department with twenty-five, while the remaining employees work in administration.

Wolfgang Seel is our interview partner: "VIPA does not have its own production facilities; instead we rely on three local suppliers. All of our products are entirely made in Germany'." The company's turnover for the business year 2005 will be approximately twenty million Euros. "We have had an annual growth rate of 30% - 35% on average since we started out", as Wolfgang Seel relates.

VIPA's SPEED7 technology is at the heart of its high-speed modular machine automation solutions. It is based on the tried-and-tested S7-300 format by Siemens and is able to increase the production speed of machines and entire production systems significantly thanks to its processing and cycle times of up 50,000 processor commands per millisecond.

For particularly high speed requirements the SPEED bus may be used; this bus accommodates VIPA SPEED bus modules like the AIO, the DIO and fieldbus modules. The SPEED7 system is programmed in the widely used STEP7 Siemens programming language. Ethernet, MPI and RS485 interfacing is integrated into SPEED7 CPUs as standard; alternatively, Profibus-DP-Master and integrated Ethernet CP343 interfaces can be employed.

Programs and data can be saved to standard MMC cards; the addition of a VIPA-MCC card expands the system's RAM to a maximum of 8 Megabytes without having to replace the CPU. Thanks to the use of SPEED7 in all applications customers only require one or two types of CPU. Yvonne Kohler, Marketing and Public Relations Manager, is our second interview partner: "After nearly three years of development the SPEED7 system was finally introduced to the general public in September 2003.

SPEED7 really gave us a head start and a unique selling proposition. Machine control systems based on this technology are up to eight times faster than others, use less power, and can be employed in systems exposed to high temperatures, for example in PET convection machines, where temperatures sometimes reach 120°C." The innovative SPEED7 technology has been instrumental in propelling VIPA to a position of technology leadership in the global PLC marketplace.

Wolfgang Seel continues: "In the next three years the turnover share for the SPEED7 is expected to rise to around fifty Million Euros."
However, SPEED7 products are not the only offerings from VIPA. Its 100V, 200V, and 300V modular automation systems are also immensely successful. The System 100V, a micro-PLC, represents a compact control system which is also programmable in Siemens' STEP7 language.

Thanks to its command compatibility, the System 100V is perfectly suited for applications with up to one hundred and sixty I/O points. These CPUs are programmed using the VIPA programming software WinPLC7 or STEP7 from Siemens. A free version of WinPLC7lite, can be obtained along with the System   100V CPUs.

VIPA's 100V compact CPUs with integrated digital inputs and outputs, alarm inputs and highspeed counters are available with either a Profibus-DP-slave or an additional serial interface. Further digital or analogue inputs and outputs can be added by installing System 100V and System 200V expansion modules. The modules are mounted on a thirty-five-millimetre standardised DIN rail. An MMC card (with a maximum of 64 megabytes) can be employed as an external storage medium for the program, data and sources, it can also be used as a data logger. The CPU can be operated without an MMC card.

VIPA's System 200V offers customers a centralised or decentralised automation system and periphery for a host of different fieldbus systems. There are several CPU types in this range, all of which are PLC-CPUs programmable using Siemens' STEP5 or Siemens' STEP7 languages. The Siemens' STEP7 CPUs are command-compatible with Siemens' S7-300 and can be programmed using VIPA's own WinPLC7 or other Siemens' STEP7 programming tools. The STEP5 CPUs are command-compatible with Siemens' S5-115U and can be programmed through MC5 or other STEP5 tools. The System 200 V offers a high level of flexibility in the integration of fieldbus systems, low system costs and high operational security.

Also targeted at both centralised or decentralised applications, the VIPA System 300V is a compact and modular automation system whose modules are cross-compatible with Siemens' S7-300 system as regards pin layout and overall functionality. In this way, Siemens and VIPA modules can be used in parallel on the same system. This top-of-the-range system, with its three types of CPU and featuring large storage capacities and fast program processing times, facilitates the  creation of applications for the highest performance requirements.

Additional performance can be achieved through using the system's 300S CPU variants with integrated Ethernet-CP 343 and four-way switch for network compatibility. The System 300V periphery modules are fully cross-compatible with Siemens' S7-300 and ET 200M systems and provide the interfaces for connecting sensors and actors from the field; they include digital input, digital (relay) output, digital input/output, analogue input and analogue output.

The VIPA portfolio also encompasses a range of control and operator panels, which includes the HM1 CommanderCompact panel, a universal operator control for use in VIPA systems and other automation concepts, as well as the company's touch screens. These range from 5.7-inch QVGA monochrome panels to 10.4-inch VGA-TFT colour displays.

According to Wolfgang Seel, VIPA's SPEED7 technology is the company's most future-oriented technology. "Our plan is to integrate the SPEED7 technology into all of our automation control products. We also want to offer SPEED7 technology on a chip before the end of 2006. Within the next three years, we intend to increase our world market share, especially in the high-volume small and medium PLC market, by around 10% - that will be approximately 1.4 million PLCs per year. When this takes place, we will have to seriously consider carrying out production in Asia."

VIPA will continue to concentrate on its core business, as Wolfgang Seel explains: "We are going to keep developing everything ourselves and create a solid base with our expertise in PLC 7000, Profibus and Ethernet controllers. In our peripheral markets, such as control panels and building automation, we will continue to cooperate with international partners."
In the mid-term, VIPA expects to generate around half of its turnover with its 100V 200V and 300V automation systems. Control panels will be responsible for another 30%, and the remainder through building automation products.

"Such figures will be achieved through our willingness to release our technology in chip form in the open market, making it available to everyone. We fully intend to use our PLC technology in order to standardise industrial automation. This will be highly beneficial for all, but especially for large industrial companies whose production facilities require a lot of maintenance."

Presently, VIPA earns approximately 50% of its turnover abroad, especially in Italy, Austria, Switzerland, China, India and Taiwan. In total, VIPA operates forty-eight foreign sales offices around the globe. Nationally, the company sells directly to around 1,800 customers.
At the Nuremberg SPS/IPC/Drives 2005 exhibition, VIPA introduced its latest advanced SPEED7 products with high-speed I/O, as well as HMI panels with integrated control technology. A new, ten-thousand-square-metre logistics centre at the VIPA headquarters in Herzogenaurach is in the planning stages; it will be ready in early 2007.