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You rub your eyes: at the automation trade fair SPS, which for many years stood for the German words for “programmable logic controllers” and is now the abbreviation for “Smart Production Solutions”, it almost looks like it used to. And yet at many stands, nothing is as it used to be. Take Bosch Rexroth, for example. On the one hand, there are the latest drives, sensors, actuators and control systems. On the other hand, the manufacturer has become a provider of microservice-based automation software within just a few years. The name of the new offering: ctrlX AUTOMATION.

The wholly-owned Bosch subsidiary Bosch Rexroth is a supplier of automation technology, in particular drive and control technology. The latest products from this sector were always on display at trade fairs. Control systems, drives, most recently with and without control cabinets. Hardware and electrics to automate industrial and end-user processes. Software was rarely mentioned. If it was, then in recent decades it was mostly about examples of the exemplary use of standard software from the major providers of CAD or PLM, for example.

At SPS – Smart Production Solutions 2023, as at previous trade fairs, the manufacturer presented itself very confidently a company of a kind that did not exist in the industry until a few years ago: still as a manufacturer of all the hardware elements needed for modern automation, but now also as a manufacturer and provider of software to connect and control these as well as the hardware of competitors using software technology. And even to provide competitors’ software with an operating system.

Digital platform – Composable software

The open operating system ctrlX OS with supported hardware and software (photo Sendler)

ctrlX AUTOMATION is the name of the platform that was introduced in 2019. What was previously known from the product world, the construction kit, has been transferred to the world of industrial software. The platform itself is a modular system consisting of a rapidly growing number of apps. And, like a hardware construction kit, it allows almost any function to be added as an app at almost any point. Not as a sub-program of a large software system that is laborious and time-consuming to integrate, but on an equal footing and largely self-sufficient.

The ctrlX AUTOMATION platform is a composable software architecture. It is open, is itself based on open standards such as Linux and Kubernetes, consists of container apps, i.e. microservices, and, like all Internet solutions, communicates with the rest of the world via REST API. It is worth taking a closer look at the most important elements of the toolkit.

The core is the ctrlX CORE control platform, on which all control systems are based. The operating system ctrlX OS, which has also been open since the beginning of this year, ensures that the core and all apps based on it can run. This means that any company can use this operating system for its own apps and hardware. This includes competitors, who become partners and players in this way. Shortly before the SPS, it was announced that, in addition to the first partner WAGO, three other companies are officially using the operating system for their products: Dell Technologies, KUKA and Nokia.

The growing role of the ecosystem

However, the world of partners goes far beyond this. Bosch Rexroth deliberately created it with ctrlX World. With the first smartphone in 2007, there was quickly an app store through which Apple assured its customers that it would check all apps running on its own devices for quality and security. Now there is a ctrlX Store through which Bosch Rexroth offers the same for all apps that run on the automation platform. On whatever hardware.

Almost 20 solution categories have now been defined. More than 150 use cases have already been described, for which around 90 partner companies provide apps.

Robotics, human-machine interface, AI, simulation, monitoring and energy optimization are typical application areas in which more than 60 apps are already available for customers to choose from.

The result is a modern ecosystem in which users and providers do data driven business with each other. Openness, the large number of participants and versatility are now – alongside the functionality and quality of products and services, of course – the new criteria for good business in automation. The ecosystem is replacing the old business relationships in which the individual product and the specific order were the sole basis of the relationship between manufacturer and customer.

 ctrlX OS Partner and ctrlX World (Image Bosch Rexroth)

At this year’s SPS in Nuremberg, Bosch Rexroth therefore had a double offer. On the one hand, new modules, partners and apps in the software world of ctrlX AUTOMATION. And on the other hand – as in the past – numerous new devices, drives and controllers for automation. But now also controlled by software via the platform.

Steffen Winkler shows features of ctrlX AUTOMATION at SPS press conference (Photo Sendler)

Hardware and software from a single source

Some highlights:


  • The linear motion system ctrlX FLOW HS for high speed, precision and compactness in transportation and positioning
  • Linear single axes and actuators, where the user can choose between IndraDrive or ctrlX DRIVE drive controllers
  • Robotics automation kit Rokit with components for simple and fast development and commissioning of driverless transport systems, modular and based on ctrlX Core
  • Digital twins for industrial hydraulics in the form of an extensive catalog of configurable 3D models, based on the industry-neutral Industry 4.0 standard of the asset administration shell, with native CAD data and integration from the PLM of leading manufacturers
What we are currently experiencing is what we have been calling for and eagerly awaiting for many years: the digital transformation of industry. An industrial company that is taking the digitalization of its products and processes into its own hands, replacing the previous closed nature of automation with an openness that is unusual for the industry.

Steffen Winkler, Head of Sales Business Unit Automation & Electrification Solutions, Bosch Rexroth AG, is one of the driving forces behind ctrlX Automation. In a press release for SPS, he explained:

“Our Linux-based operating system has been in use on the Rexroth controller ctrlX CORE since 2020. It has proven itself in practice and is now available for use by all companies.

We are convinced that such operating systems are the future of automation: away from proprietary systems and towards open, modular and scalable microservices architectures. They can be used to implement the far-reaching changes in industry, particularly with regard to digitalization, networking and sustainability.”

Steffen Winkler, Head of Sales Business Unit Automation & Electrification Solutions, Bosch Rexroth AG (Photo Sendler)