Blog | Accelerators, Big science, Fusion, Industry, Technology

EPICS is an Accelerator for Mission-Critical Control Systems

Ziga Oven

Advancements in industrial automation and computing have allowed the widespread use of control system components and frameworks and the adoption of good practices and solutions from research institutions and the industry alike.

What was previously cutting-edge in scientific engineering has, in the last years, crossed over into the industrial mainstream of accelerator applications and fusion powerplant prototypes, fuelling an increase in activity.

Designing Control Systems: a Mature Process

Designing and creating control systems for complex devices has evolved from an engineering art to a well-understood engineering process, but practical challenges persist. Complex devices and systems, such as particle accelerators and fusion powerplants, light sources, and telescopes, must have a central system that monitors and controls hundreds of devices and subsystems with sub-millisecond or even sub-microsecond synchronisation.

Having a process for implementing good architecture and design is crucial to building a reliable and upgradable control system fast, with managing software development being a key component.

Should you Code the Control System from Scratch?

Scalable, modular, maintainable, and verifiable control systems software is nowadays designed and developed using a mature and proven framework. The latter forms the basis for controlling large systems which require high uptime, reliability and scalability for long-term operation and future upgrades.

For industrial applications, established framework technologies from the scientific world, such as EPICS and TANGO, have become full-fledged competitors to commercial SCADA solutions designed by dedicated software companies and PLC manufacturers.

EPICS, for example, has a channel approach to modelling control points, with integrated micro-services fully integrated into the Core, from release 7 onwards. At the same time, TANGO is fully object-oriented and represents control points as commands, devices, and attributes.

A control system framework gives the developer the basic architecture, rules, and protocols to build upon from the very start of the project.

In control system integration, project managers and controls team formulate the initial stages of the project, focusing on proposed activities with reasons and the primary benefits to the end user — internal or external, such as:

  • Risk reduction;
  • Overall cost (TCO) lowering;
  • Timeline of quality-assessed deliveries and
  • Commissioning and smooth transfer of ownership to the Controls Group.

Why Choose EPICS as Your Control System Framework?

EPICS (the Experimental Physics and Industrial Control System) is one of the leading control system frameworks. It is a middleware software foundation including tools and applications operating complex scientific and industrial machines.

EPICS enables distributed parts of the control system for complex machines to communicate with each other in a standardised way to control equipment and data acquisition. It is licence-free and one of the few control system frameworks with which the controls team can obtain all the necessary building blocks and development assets from the community – and the only thing left is to assemble them into a cohesive control system.

While the higher control system abstraction is usually predefined by the customer, the implementation nuts and bolts can be dealt with by the system integrator. The customer receives a control system solution whose fundamentals have already been tested on many other machines and project instances, even the most complex ones in Big Science, such as the ITER tokamak. The EPICS system architecture also allows for smooth system upsizing and upscaling.

The framework’s users can always find support in the EPICS community for problem resolution, application development advice, and transfer of cutting-edge yet verified developments from scientific projects to industrial systems. This gives new users a faster route to achieve tangible results in the development cycle within deadlines.

EPICS framework

The framework’s users can always find support in the EPICS community for problem resolution, application development advice, and transfer of cutting-edge yet verified developments from scientific projects to industrial systems. This gives new users a faster route to achieve tangible results in the development cycle within deadlines.

EPICS Enables Distributed Control Systems out of the Box

EPICS is open source and massively scalable and provides all the functionality of a distributed control system, such as:

  • Automatic sequencing of operations;
  • Closed loop (feedback) control;
  • Management of “standard time” across all parts of the system;
  • System mode and configuration control;
  • Alarm detection, reporting and logging;
  • Access security;
  • Modelling and simulation;
  • Data acquisition, conversions and filtering;
  • Data analysis, archiving, retrieval and visualisation.

Two Examples of Community-contributed Solutions for EPICS

At the live EPICS Collaboration Meeting 2022, Cosylab presented two new open-source drivers to the community: adsDriver and autoparamDriver

  • The EPICS ADS device support library is intended for connecting EPICS to Beckhoff ADS devices. It implements the layer between Beckhoff ADS client library and EPICS database records.
  • The EPICS autoparamDriver library offers generic EPICS device support for integrating groups of devices that use a common communication protocol or software library but are otherwise substantially different.

EPICS Comes with Unique Community Support and Expertise

In the last two decades, software packages and frameworks for control systems have considerably improved. Those that are open-source have also benefited from intensive community collaboration and proof-of-use in machines of the most significant scientific experiments today and provide system dependability, stability and performance.

Competent EPICS expert teams support scientific and industrial customers – established or startup with a whole span of services, ranging from providing complete control system design and integration and migration of legacy control systems to EPICS, to the integrations of equipment and devices in separate, specific subsystems.

EPICS provides the foundation for well-supported, commonly-used and hugely scalable control systems, tested in humanity’s most complex systems, that give users greater predictability of cost and delivery.

Useful EPICS Links


Žiga Oven

Ziga Oven is a Senior Software Developer with ten years of experience in control system design and implementation. Ziga specialises in EPICS control system and integration tasks, particularly in motion control. He is also a team-lead of a group of developers passionate about control system development. He enjoys reading a good book and discovering new food in his free time.

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