Drives and Controls Magazine
Chatbot add-on automates controller programming
Published:  20 April, 2023

The German automation manufacturer Beckhoff has announced at the Hannover Messe that it has developed an AI-supported chatbot add-on for its TwinCat XAE engineering environment that will help users to automate tasks such as creating and optimising PLC function block coding, and generating documentation. It can also complete missing code from function blocks, or restructure code for better readability.

Beckhoff predicts that it will “open up a whole new world of chatbot possibilities for control engineering”.

The TwinCAT Chat Client makes it possible to use Large Language Models (LLMs) – such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT – to help develop TwinCat projects for increased productivity in control programming. It also opens up optimisation potential for direct support.

TwinCat product manager Sven Goldstein explains: “While we have been playing around with ChatGPT in recent months, we found out that it has a very nice additional skill – it can also develop source code”. He gives the example of asking ChatGPT to generate the PLC source code for a quicksort algorithm. This can then be dragged-and-dropped to the PLC.

Goldstein: a very nice additional skill

LLMs, based on neural networks, are trained using large quantities of text. They can be used for a variety of tasks – including as the basis for chatbots or language translation tools.

Beckhoff’s TwinCat Chat connects to the host cloud of an LLM – such as Microsoft Azure, in the case of ChatGPT. It provides a user interface, and communicates with the PLC development environment via an automation interface. This is available via a chat window in Visual Studio, optimising the LLM functions for TwinCat 3 users. It is supplemented by “extensive” TwinCat-specific content.

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