Software plays a decisive role here too and Awite Bioenergie GmbH relies upon Open Source software,which is employed on Kontron‘s automation PCs. The decision to use Kontron products was made due to the supported Embedded Linux for the hardware, the Linux support and the excellent Board Support Packages.
In Germany, there are approximately 4000 biogas plants which - according to data from the end of 2008 - produced approximately 11 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, enough for 3 million households. Besides the delivery and production of substrate and the routine maintenance jobs that have to be carried out, the plants are fully automated and even self-optimizing, provided that an optional expert system with fuzzy logic controls the processes during operation. The production of electricity and gas in biogas plants is a technology in which new insights are constantly being gained and new process optimization is permanently taking place, in order to increase efficiency - even in existing plants. In that respect every biogas plant could be compared to a racing car, which constantly has to be tweaked and tuned and its motor control continually improved, in order to achieve best results. Awite is also challenged to deliver the right know-how even during operation.
Open Source and Linux
High efficiency requirements and the need for constant innovative developments form an ideal climate for open PC-based controls and Open Source software that has documented source code and which is available free of charge. The basic idea behind Open Source is that a large community is permanently co-developing the software, and other users - including the software developer - can profit from any developments. In this way, any available knowledge and potential can be used efficiently at lower costs and shortened development times. Individual adjustments of the software can be carried out quickly without any dependency on the licensor. In practical terms, that means that Awite’s customers reap real monetary benefits thanks to lower software costs and higher total system efficiency. Following this efficiency and Open Source philosophy, the automation PC should be run under an Open Source operating system – in this case Embedded Linux. Awite was not only convinced of Embedded Linux due to the cost-saving aspect and license free implementation, there were additional reasons: In order to achieve a higher level of reliability and maintenance-free operation of the automation computer, it was stipulated that a CF module - with as little storage capacity as possible and thus inexpensive - was used instead of a hard disk. Further to this, Open Source architecture and a large community of developers is a guarantee for long-term driver support, which in case of any future software upgrades makes the installed hardware basis in however many years absolutely future-proof.
x86 based Panel PC with Embedded Linux
The two main criteria for Awite when selecting an automation PC which would be used as a panel PC with corresponding screen size for the clear display of local visualizations, were: the support of Embedded Linux and a low purchase price. Further typical requirements had to be fulfilled too: Basic qualifications like thermal (0 – 40 °C) and mechanical resistance, sufficient IP protection on the front side and excellent electro-magnetic compatibility, as – depending on the type of plant – a frequency converter which can be the source of a lot of interference is integrated in the control cabinet. As one of only a few companies, Kontron offered a x86 based Panel PC with extensive Linux support. For its first platform, Awite chose a Kontron Panel PC with Intel Celeron 650 processor, 15“ screen size and Embedded Linux on a 128 MB compact flash as robust memory media. In its latest plants, Awite uses the latest successor Kontron V Panel Express 150 with 1.5 GHz Intel Celeron processor, 1 GByte RAM and 1 GB CF card, for which Kontron (along with Board Support Packages) also offers Runtime Images for eLinux which are already adapted and compiled. Kontron‘s customers profit from the reduced amount of time and effort needed for development and inexpensive Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Currently, Awite is also evaluating a slimmer version of the popular Open-Suse Linux distribution and Ubuntu Linux for the Kontron V Panel Express. At least 95 percent of all controlling tasks are run on all Kontron Panel PCs and they also function as a process visualization server. „The most important criteria for us when selecting the automation computer was full Linux support and the possibility to apply Open Source software. At that time, the Kontron Panel PC was one of only a few systems which offered this extensive support at an attractive price,“ explains Dr. Ernst Murnleitner, Managing Director of Awite GmbH. „The successor model Kontron V Panel Express now also offers the possibility of integrating remote maintenance including firewall and Voicecall via ISDN on the automation computer.“
Author: Ingrid Hildebrandt,
Product Manager at Kontron