TwinCAT 3

Dear existing & future PLC software developers, I have published part 6a of my free PLC programming using TwinCAT 3 tutorial.

In this part we will start to look into the object oriented programming parts of structured text and IEC 61131-3 called function blocks, and I think it’s here things are really starting to get fun! For those that are Java, C, C++ or just “traditional” programmers, going into the realm of function blocks is like going from C-style structures and functions, and into classes in C++. With function blocks we can go from working in a procedural style programming into objected oriented style programming.

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The user base for TcUnit, the free open-source PLC/TwinCAT unit testing framework, has grown enormously. Current estimates are that there are over 100 installations of TcUnit worldwide. Running an open-source project has for some moments taken all my spare-time to maintain the framework, and answer all the questions from the users (I’ve added an FAQ since). The most asked-for functionality of TcUnit that was missing was the possibility to run unit tests in a sequence/in order. Up to now, all tests defined in TcUnit were running in parallel, while in many use cases it was desirable to run the tests in sequence. Thanks to several fantastic contributors from the TcUnit community on GitHub, this is now available in TcUnit starting from version 1.2.

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Dear existing & future PLC software developers, I have published the 5th part of my free PLC programming using TwinCAT 3 tutorial.

Arrays allow us to define types of variables that can hold several data items of the same kind. In this part of the tutorial we will look at a data unit type that allows us to hold several data items of different kind. We will also look at one of the basis of modularization and re-use in software development called functions. We will look at how we can get data in and out of functions, and we will also look at the difference between passing parameters by value and by reference. We will finish this part by writing our very first function!

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Dear existing & future PLC software developers, I have published the 4th part of my free PLC programming using TwinCAT 3 tutorial.

In this video we will look into the various data types that are available in the IEC 61131-3 standard, pointers & references and how to work with arrays. We will cover why pointers can be dangerous and why you generally want to prefer to use references instead. Then we will finish the tutorial by looking at how we can convert between different data types. Also, what is the relationship between the amount of stars in the universe and TwinCAT? Watch the video to learn!

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When I started out with TwinCAT programming some time ago, I had basically not heard about PLCs. My background was not even close to automation, mostly doing C/C++ on various Linux-based systems. I had two friends which previously were doing a little automation, and both of them said “Don’t start working with PLCs. It’s boring“. Now that I’ve dabbled in “traditional IT” software development and industrial automation software development, I definitely don’t agree with the latter being boring. Industrial automation using PC-based control is insanely fun! At my first job where they used “this thing called TwinCAT” (which was unknown to me at that time), I did what I usually do: I started googling stuff like “free TwinCAT tutorial, how to program with TwinCAT, free TwinCAT course, TwinCAT open source” and so forth. I didn’t find much on Google or in any other of the places I usually used to learn a new programming language (forums, stack overflow, open source projects, etc). The amount of free resources was very limited. After having my TwinCAT blog for a few years, I even got an (anonymous) message via the contact form on my blog from someone saying that I’m an idiot that shares information and knowledge for free, and that nothing should be done for free and that I should basically stop writing my blog. For these reasons, I decided to do a free TwinCAT 3 tutorial.

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This is a joint article by me and Peter Kurhajec.

Unit testing is the practice of writing a test for a required functionality. In the world of “classical” IT software development, the concept of unit testing has been around for almost two decades. What is a standard procedure in languages such as Java, C++, .NET/C#, Python, etc. — has been completely lacking in the world of PLCs. The world of automation did not have the proper tools, and nor did it develop any comprehensive automated testing frameworks. Here we present two possible approaches for unit testing in Beckhoff’s TwinCAT 3.

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Oh no! The PLC has crashed, and we might even see the classical blue screen of death (BSOD). We’ve all been there, and there are many reasons for why we got there. TwinCAT is generally good at handling exceptions, and most of the time it is possible to analyze exceptions during development of software for a machine. On a few occasions though, I’ve been in the situation where the machine has crashed, and I have not been connected to it at the moment of the crash and without any possibility to see what caused it. In the latest version of TwinCAT (3.1.4024.11), Beckhoff have included a tool to aid with this type of problems.

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I love industrial fairs. When walking around and seeing all the fancy tech, I always feel like a small kid on Christmas Eve. There are so many toys, and I try to find a reason to buy something to use at work, even though deep inside I know I just want to satisfy the child in me. Because of Covid-19, this year all the fairs were (not very surprisingly) cancelled. One of the best fairs is the SPS Messe which runs in the end of November. This year, the fair was named SPS connect, and the different vendors did an online version with various content. Beckhoff was not an exception, and as one of their topics (from the list of many) they had a roundtable discussion about TwinCAT 3 that I was invited into. It was a good opportunity for me and Peter to share some of our TwinCAT experience and thoughts.

Go and watch the video here!

I think this was a great initiative from Beckhoff and I hope that there will be more occasions like this!

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