WinCC Open Architecture

Yesterday we attended the presentation of SIMATIC WinCC Open Architecture 3.12 (find here more about our exclusive WinCC OA services) organized by ETM at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva. There were many familiar faces well-known to us; CERN engineers with decades of experience in developing control systems for world-leading High Energy Physics experiments past and present.  Experiments that for decade after decade, have had the task of utilizing the latest available technologies in computing, networking, data acquisition and controls to record data from particle collisions at increasingly higher energies. There were other important participants too, for example, representatives of privately and publicly held companies that, like CERN, have seen the advantages of using SCADA systems with performance and features like the ones provided by WinCC OA. Our Director at Cleverdist has also been acquainted with WinCC OA for well over ten years. Let us take this opportunity to brief you on WinCC OA’s history from an ex-CERN engineers’ experienced point of view.

It was all over the media. CERN LHC experiments recently discovered the sneaky Higgs particle that led to a Nobel Prize in Physics. Behind this remarkable success, however, were more than two decades of preparation work, involving thousands of physicists, IT specialists and engineers. In particular, there was a long-lasting engineering effort dedicated to developing industrial control systems for the LHC experiments. Let’s just say for now that these experiments had extremely challenging and unprecedented requirements. A collaboration project was initially created at CERN to encourage the use of control solutions developed in common by all experiments. The Joint Controls Project (JCOP), initiated in the late 90s, assumed as one of its first tasks the selection of an SCADA system that CERN experiments could use to develop control systems. It started with a Technology Survey in 1997 and the entire process lasted almost three years. Initially, more than 150 companies were contacted, and this number was reduced during different phases; first to 40, then 20, and finally, a set of 5 remained for a more detailed, in-depth study. PVSS SCADA, by ETM, emerged as the winner of this outstanding study. Such a study could have only been performed by a truly independent organization like CERN with its qualified and available resources.

Interestingly, the selection criteria and requirements imposed by the LHC experiments in 1999 (15 years ago!) are the ones that would be desirable today in a SCADA system used to develop and integrate large industrial control projects. The selection criteria included, among others, scalability, security, stability, cross-platform, web-ability &remote access, trending, archiving, extensibility and, finally, ease of use. These last two criteria are often underestimated. At CERN, it was very important to minimize the time an engineer would need to get up to speed in the use of the selected SCADA. The reason for this is that control groups at CERN are usually made of a very small core of experienced permanent staff scientists and the rest are students and research fellows that participate in the projects for short periods. Extensibility was also critical factor for CERN. Most of the hardware used for the experiments didn’t exist when the experiments were designed and a large amount of it had to be custom made by external companies or by CERN. Therefore the SCADA selected had to provide a means of creating custom drivers as well as the ability to connect to any possible CERN service external to the experiment control systems. A few of today’s engineering products could score well against the selection criteria used in 1999, but back then, PVSS seemed to be far ahead in the race. But this is just the beginning of the story.


FSMGraphCMSOnlineCERN quickly started to gather requirements and to develop a framework using the PVSS extendibility capabilities to reduce engineering time to a minimum, to achieve homogenization, and to facilitate support of the experiments. And with this development, more and more requests for PVSS improvements were directed towards ETM; improvements which were always many steps ahead of those demanded by industry. In the long run, the way in which each party understood and assumed its role resulted in a win-win association. For its part, ETM ended up with a state-of-the-art SCADA solution with specs covering any possible large project in a wide set of industries. That is, an open product not tied to any specific hardware vendor and completely open to extensions, and one which reduced the time needed for engineering a project to the very minimum level. Siemens saw this very clearly in 2007 when they acquired 100% of ETM. PVSS was then rebranded to WinCC Open Architecture (WinCC OA) and has been since then used in thousands of the largest industrial control projects worldwide. On the other side, CERN ended up with a cutting-edge SCADA system to engineer its experiment control systems. CERN would have surely succeeded with other engineering tools (even homemade ones) but would have undoubtedly incurred an extremely high cost in engineering time. Additionally, with WinCC OA, CERN was able to develop a framework (here) written by hundreds of engineers over more than a decade, consisting of a well-organized set of components with thousands of panels, scripts and libraries (literally  millions of lines of code) and which further extended the built-in SCADA capabilities.

So what are the new improvements in WinCC OA 3.12? First, many interesting changes have been made to the already powerful user interface side, including a layout manager to help people normally unable to make a good looking panel to rock it effortlessly. Enhancements were also made in their web client, which is the only one in the WinCC OA market segment providing browser-independent access with no need of plug-ins or any extra software in the client side. Other improvements include support for new secured communications between the SCADA system processes, SVN integration, new drivers support (Saia, Ethernet/IP and IEC 61850) and finally a very fancy video management add-on that supports not only a wide variety of camera brands, but also any camera implementing ONVIF standard.

For Cleverdist WinCC OA is a great engineering tool that aligns perfectly with our work philosophy, which is to provide state-of-the-art, easily maintainable and extendable solutions without creating unnecessary ties to external vendors, ourselves included. Our experienced consultants have participated for many years in the development of highly advanced control systems developed at CERN. Regardless of your type of business, if you have any questions about what WinCC OA can offer you, or if you need any help with a project you are currently developing or designing, do not hesitate to get in contact with us with no obligation. Find here more about our exclusive WinCC OA services. Nobody loves a challenge more than we do!

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