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The KINGSTAR mission

The KINGSTAR core objective is simple and compelling: to replace expensive hardware solutions with a viable software platform. But just how is KINGSTAR persuading sector engineers that it has the answers?

When it comes to industrial automation and machine control, KINGSTAR has a simple mission: to replace expensive hardware solutions with a software platform that is both cost-effective and flexible.

KINGSTAR is wholly owned by IntervalZero, and it serves mostly the robotics and semiconductor industries. But its solution can benefit virtually any industrial automation shop, including agriculture, surface mount technology, manufacturing, textiles, packaging and medical industries.

It has developed an open and standards-based integrated platform which enables motion control and machine vision engineers to design, develop and integrate motion control and machine vision applications with either its own soft motion library and software PLC, or one of its customers own choosing. KINGSTAR believes this flexibility is a real differentiator of the platform approach. Because it is built on the foundation of EtherCAT and a real-time 64-bit Windows operating system, it gives engineers premium precision and performance at half the cost of hardware.

The KINGSTAR product is up against proprietary and hardware vendors who provide motion control software and real-time operating systems. Unlike KINGSTAR, to develop on these systems one must buy into their proprietary product and development languages, locking the customer into their specific toolset.

The strategy of many of its competitors is to offer a cheap software motion solution to get the customer started. Once the customer starts developing, they figure out that the software version doesn’t offer determinism under 1 millisecond (in one case 500 microseconds). To get to the 125 microsecond level and higher quality, these vendors then try to upsell their own proprietary hardware, which is much more expensive.

At KINGSTAR, the customer has the freedom and flexibility to use the tools of their choice, leveraging open standards and development toolsets along with widely known and used development languages like C++ to support an extensible RTOS with better precision performance quality.

As for how clients are accepting the PC-based motion control over the more traditional hardware approach, the team at KINGSTAR is pragmatic. They understand that there is probably some more education to be done around the performance of PC-based motion control, but engineers and executives know that things need to evolve. The current solutions just aren’t working. These days, almost all industrial automation engineers fall victim to three toolset options to build their applications:

  • Proprietary solutions, with vendor lock-in;
  • Point solutions, buying best-of-breed for every desired component, which can get expensive;
  • Hardware solutions, which are obscenely expensive.

There are pros and cons to each of these options, but none is honestly desired by the engineer; it’s more like “pick-your-poison.” KINGSTAR addresses this problem with an end-to-end, open and standards-based software platform that allows engineers to pick components of their choosing for motion control and machine vision from the ground up. Because it’s built on a hard real-time deterministic 64-bit operating system (RTOS), IntervalZero’s RTX64, all components can either be KINGSTAR’s pre-integrated and pre-tested solutions or ones of the engineer’s own choosing.

 Other vendors will offer a customer elements such as custom or vendor-built soft motion and PLCs, but the brass tacks come down to having to use their own specific proprietary scripting language that does not give direct access to a general purpose RTOS, but only to their specific RTOS via predetermined and controlled access points. With KINGSTAR, a customer has a truly transparent open platform that lets them use languages they already know, such as C, C++ and .NET, in order to access ALL platform components and create motion control and machine vision applications.

When the KINGSTAR solution is explained to clients, they are impressed, in equal measure, with its performance and price.

From a performance standpoint, the KINGSTAR platform gives customers control, autonomy, and flexibility. For example, if a customer wants to leverage the increasingly popular EtherCAT fieldbus as their industry standard, they have the freedom and flexibility to choose either KINGSTAR’s basic CANopen over EtherCAT, or they can choose an EtherCAT master of their choice like Acontis, koenig or ESD.

Another example: Let’s say a customer wants to leverage their own customized soft motion control algorithms and APIs. They can integrate their own customized solution into EtherCAT, or leverage KINGSTAR’s own robust set of soft motion control algorithms to deliver determinism at 125 to 500 microseconds. It doesn’t stop there. What if they want to add vision-directed motion control? Well, then options like KINGSTAR or Matrox’s Imaging Library are completely available to them.

Finally, if they want to complete the full set by leveraging their favorite PLC for HMI, they can choose PLCs like ISaGRAF, PHOENIX CONTACT, or Axel Srl as their application management system. In other words, an open platform empowers customers to “have their cake and eat it too.” They get the benefit of pre-integration (they do not have to integrate) and all their components are state of the art.

When it comes to pricing, the numbers are powerful as well. The team did a full analysis of the cost and performance of KINGSTAR versus a traditional hardware solution and found that soft motion costs 56% less than hardware. That’s hard to ignore.

As for the future of robotics, KINGSTAR believes that a lot of innovation is coming out of China, especially with their Made in China 2025 (MiC2025) programme, a government-based initiative to comprehensively upgrade Chinese industry. The initiative draws direct inspiration from Germany’s “Industry 4.0” plan, which was first discussed in 2011 and later adopted in 2013.

One thing is for sure: KINGSTAR will be there to offer its solution.