Programmable controllers (PLC) are nothing less than the key technology for modern industrial concepts. The two men in these photos can still remember the big bang moment of this technology: Friedrich Arnold (left) and Richard Häußermann, the driving force behind the Berghof Automation company for many years, were the ones to bring the first freely programmable microprocessor controller “FPS 76” for industrial applications onto the German market in 1976 - and with it, completed a true pioneering step. We look back at this event together with them. And review the exciting development of this first smart industrial controller through to the smart factories of today.
As it is popularly said: When the mountain doesn’t come to the wise man, then the wise man goes to the mountain. Which is why these Berghof employees spontaneously decided to personally visit Intel in the USA in 1976 in order to see the first demo version of the “I8080”, the first complete microprocessor in the world.
The Forefather: Berghof introduced Germany's first freely programmable industrial controller, the FPS 76, in 1976. It became a great success and, in the years that followed, the FPS 76 became used for injection molding machines in testing, transport and logistics facilities in Japan, the USA, Sweden, Italy and France.
“Whoever wants to be ahead of their time cannot hesitate long,” commented Richard Häußermann, shrugging his shoulders in reference to this expensive procurement measure. He and his team had a clear goal: The I8080 was to become the core piece of the first freely programmable microprocessor controller for Germany’s industrial applications. The Berghof experts had already made contact with Intel at a presentation tour in which Intel managers had presented their future plans to selected companies - and were truly electrified by the completely new possibilities that the Intel microprocessor would open for them. Their vision: “We wanted to make it possible for an industrial controller to be cycled parallel for different tasks for the first time using the integrated operating system,” Friedrich Arnold remembered.
Just a short time later, the Berghof developers made this vision reality - and proudly present their work to the amazed experts: the FPS 76. In the first sales brochure they listed the groundbreaking new possibilities fairly soberly and objectively, as is common for technicians: "The FPS 76 implements any logical links, counting and time functions, memory and shift registers as well as arithmetic functions".
Today we know: What sounded so unspectacular was nothing less than the big bang moment for a technology that has completely revolutionized the industry - Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs). Programmable logic controllers play a central role in current discussions about the Internet of Things, the ever-increasing digitization of industry - keyword: Industry 4.0 - or the construction of production plants that can be dynamically adapted to changing requirements - keyword: Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) - due to their great flexibility and easy integration into industrial control systems. Berghof Automation's new claim is not just the proverbial spark, but a whole lot of truth
- "Pioneering Automation Technology".
But back to the "FPS 76". It became a great success and, in the years that followed, became used for injection molding machines in testing, transport and logistics facilities in Japan, the USA, Sweden, Italy and France. No wonder that the groundbreaking success of the new technology inspired many companies and people: Today, the European market for programmable logic controllers, or PLCs as they are often referred to, and the industry's leading annual trade fair, the "Smart Production Solutions (SPS)" in Nuremberg, are home to more than 300 PLC suppliers - a clear indication of how diverse the fields of application are and how great the advantages of SPS are.
And there are constantly more. In the early days, the main focus was on the advantages of installation, such as significantly less assembly and wiring work, and also significantly lower material costs compared to control concepts with relays. Modern SPS also have the advantage of featuring constantly new technological functionalities which are now far beyond their basic functions of monitoring, controlling and regulating sensors and actuators. Over the years, programmable logic controllers have developed from basically being nothing more than a computer designed for the specific task of ‘controlling’ to real engineering tools.
In addition, modern PLCs have the possibility of being easily and quickly accessed from any place in the system through the use of remote service and diagnosis - which significantly eases upgrades or troubleshooting and saves immense time and expense, naturally. Due to these serious advantages, digitally based programmable logic controllers (PLCs) have almost completely superseded hardwired relay-based wired programmable logic controllers, sometimes referred to as connection-programmed controllers.
But back to the beginnings and Berghof: The know-how in the field of programmable logic control systems will soon bear more fruit. At the beginning of the 1980s, the company also established itself as a developer of software solutions for logistics facilities. Later, its electric suspension tracks added a further pillar, especially for global auto manufacturing. Here, Berghof has an important unique selling point with its own powertrack concept - a unique conductor system for the safe transfer of communication data with special custom software package.
Speaking of software: Berghof is also a real pioneer in the area of automation software - specifically, in the area of CODESYS. As early as 1995, the company decided to use a completely new software concept for the development of “CANtrol” - a decentralized, CAN bus-based, modular industrial control system. The PLC pioneer was also among the first and most experienced partners of 3S and its CODESYS, which meanwhile has been established as an internationally tested engineering tool and the world standard for many manufacturers. Berghof also had the right ‘feeler’ for software, in addition to hardware.
A look at the Berghof Automation company today shows: The pioneering achievement of the FPS 76, by Friedrich Arnold, Richard Häußermann and their former development team, created a solid foundation for a company which, in more than 40 years, has earned itself an outstanding reputation in almost all application areas and in the most diverse industries, above all through its flexibility and comprehensive range of services: Consulting, design, development of new system solutions, technology, software and support - Berghof offers its customers everything from a single source. Furthermore, these are offered worldwide thanks to its network of qualified and certified experts in control technology - the "Berghof Certified Partners".
As one of the first companies in automation, Berghof has a unique pool of knowledge and a pronounced service mentality. In order to guarantee optimum quality at all times, the company maintains the entire process chain - from brainstorming and development to careful product testing and certification - at its headquarters in Eningen near Stuttgart rather than outsourcing it.
"Our customers, many of whom have been with us for a long time, appreciate the advantages of this corporate structure which is geared towards direct exchange: Highly qualified and excellently coordinated teams, sophisticated process sequences, close coordination of all process results with short decision-making paths and implementation times are all combined with in-house production," says Marc Finger, the current CEO of Berghof Automation, from experience.
He also highlights another, very central aspect: “We intentionally avoid proprietary solutions and instead consistently use the open standard of CODESYS which offers our customers many advantages - such as, the easy upgrading and downgrading between the individual CODESYS versions. In addition, our programmable logic controllers use Linux as the operating system with real-time expansion, so that various software modules can be easily combined and processed deterministically.
Thus, what the founding fathers Richard Häußermann and Friedrich Arnold had as a maxim is still valid today: "There are many who offer off-the-shelf products - with Berghof, you get individuality." And that can be understood literally: Numerous leading players in the industry rely on Berghof's extensive experience and wide range of customizing services. "It is no problem at all for us to produce a control system for customers according to a given design or functionality. In addition, we have developed a guided process specifically for this purpose so that we are in a position to realize custom products in the shortest possible time," says Marc Finger, emphasizing an important special feature.
And this special feature remains important: Although PLC suppliers are constantly bringing new standard controllers onto the market, an individually tailored programmable logic controller is still better for many projects. This is why Berghof will continue to offer class instead of mass in the future and will not swim with the flow, but will continue to consistently pursue its own path.
Just as it should be for real pioneers.