Fast and efficient PLC code and more with AI-assisted engineering

February 28, 2024

Since the introduction of ChatGPT, everyone has been talking about Large Language models (LLMs). Beckhoff Automation was one of the first suppliers to present an application in the automation sector with TwinCAT Chat at Hannover Messe 2023. Further functionalities and application areas will be added for Hannover Messe 2024.

Large Language Models offer a number of benefits for both automation engineers and enterprise management. For automation engineers, LLMs have the potential to revolutionize the development process by automatically generating and completing code. This speeds up the entire process. In addition, you can even have LLMs create personal tutorials and ask specifically for solutions to problems that arise, which speeds up the process of finding solutions. Another advantage is the ability to consistently implement and comply with guidelines and best practices in automation. From an enterprise management perspective, LLMs promote knowledge transfer within the company. They can act as a central knowledge base, storing valuable information and making it available when needed. In addition, LLMs can relieve the pressure on the support team by serving as the first point of contact for customer inquiries. This not only improves response times, but also potentially increases customer satisfaction. Overall, LLMs offer an efficient and innovative solution to numerous challenges in the modern business world.

Dr. Fabian Bause, TwinCAT Product Manager, Beckhoff Automation

It is not the goal to completely replace programmers, nor do the current technical developments imply that this will be the case. Instead, the goal is to provide programmers with better and better tools so that they can work effectively. It’s all about increasing a programmer’s productivity – not least as one of the key ways to combat the skills shortage. If vacancies cannot be filled because there are simply no qualified specialists to be found, AI must be used to ensure continued competitiveness.

TwinCAT Chat was developed to offer users a clear advantage over the conventional use of, for example, ChatGPT in the web browser. The key added value lies in its deep integration, especially with regard to the specialized requirements of the automation industry. The core features include the direct integration of the chat function into the development environment (IDE). This greatly simplifies the development process, as communication and code exchange are seamlessly integrated. Furthermore, the basic initialization of the model has been tailored specifically to TwinCAT requests. This way you can ask your specific questions directly and don’t have to tell the model that you are using TwinCAT and expect the code examples in Structured Text. Another highlight is the ability to easily adopt generated code. This not only saves developers time, but also reduces human errors that can occur during manual transfers. Interaction with TwinCAT Chat has been designed in such a way that the need to type commands is reduced to a minimum. Instead, the user can simply click on pre-tested requests that are specifically designed to improve their workflow. In addition to PLC code generation, Beckhoff is also working on a chatbot that automatically creates a TwinCAT HMI project. The goal is that a user will only have to formulate how they want their HMI to be structured and TwinCAT will generate the entire HMI project in the background. The customer will therefore receive immediate feedback in the form of the visualized HMI. Another project involves a chatbot interface to the Beckhoff documentation system.

Jannis Doppmeier, TwinCAT Product Manager, Beckhoff Automation

Catch Beckhoff

at Hannover Messe 2024

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