PLCs and Industrial PCs merging identities

These days, you can’t tell the players without a program — or with one. Senior Tech Editor Rich Merritt provides a Product Roundup of PLCs and Industrial Computers.

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By Rich Merritt, Senior Technical Editor

MARKET predictions for PLCs and industrial computers say that sales will continue to increase at about 5% per year in the face of worldwide economic slowdowns. ARC Advisory Group reports the worldwide market for PLCs will grow at 5.9% and the China market for PLCs will grow 14.1%. Venture Development Corp. says the growth rate for ruggedized industrial computer systems is 4.4%. IMS Research pegs the world growth of PLCs at 3.3% and growth in the Asia-Pacific region at 6-7%. Disagreeing market researchers aren’t unusual. In fact, since their purpose is to sell $3,500 reports, it helps their sales to disagree loudly and publicly.

Alas, none of these researchers directly addressed the use of PCs and PLCs in process control, so we’ll just have to wing it. Based on what we’ve observed, and as indicated by the products you’ll see in the roundup below, some of the apparent trends are:

 

  1. Logical controllers: PLC-like logic is beginning to be embedded into otherwise normal PID controllers, temperature controllers and similar devices. Motor drives are beginning to either embed PLCs, or the drive manufacturers are abandoning their proprietary systems in favor of off-the-shelf PLCs. Paper machine builders also appear to have abandoned their proprietary control systems in favor of PLCs.
  2. Mixed-up controllers: It’s getting very difficult to tell the difference between some PLCs and some industrial computers. PLCs have process control-like functions, such as PID control, historians and built-in web servers. Some of the computers are impossible to define because, although they are based on a PC chip architecture, they employ PLC-like IEC 61131 languages and support many common industrial and PLC networks, such as Profibus, Modbus, Ethernet IP, DeviceNet and so on. Is it a PC or a PLC? The only way you can really tell anymore is if the vendor calls its device a PLC or an industrial computer. We may simply have to start calling this category “Industrial Controls.”
  3. Open controllers: Proprietary systems continue to dwindle. More and more PLCs and industrial PCs have open WinTel (Windows-Intel) architectures, support all device and network interfaces, and come with software that allows the device to communicate up and down the enterprise with ease.

These trends and limited print space make it very difficult to describe some of these complex devices. If you see “more info at controlglobal.com” in the device description below, it means we have more information about the product on our web site. Go to controlglobal.com, scroll down to “Site Highlights,” and click on the roundup section. Then, select the PLC/PC roundup from the list of product roundups you’ll find there.


 

Product Roundup:
PLCs and Industrial Computers


Touchy Computer
Optima Touch industrial computer has an integral LCD touchscreen monitor, comes standard with the Windows XP operating system, and can be configured with several HMI software packages. It is available with a 15 or 10.4-in. TFT flat-panel LCD and a continuous analog resistive touchscreen. The computer has a 1.3-GHz Celeron CPU, 512 MB RAM, and a S3 ProSavage4 4xAGP 3D/2D video controller. More info at controlglobal.com. Eurotherm; 703-669-1329; www.eurotherm.com

Speedy PLC Historian
In-rack PC56-Historian provides high-speed, real-time data collection, stores and accesses data locally in a module for ControlLogix controllers, and communicates with the ControlLogix controller directly via the ControlBus backplane. It can be added to new or existing ControlLogix PLCs without changing the control application. More info at controlglobal.com. ProSoft Technology; 661/716-5100; www.prosoft-technology.com
  
Many Ports in a Storm
4115T flat-panel industrial computer has a 2.0-GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor with 533-MHz system bus and 512-KB cache, 15-in. flat panel LCD, and an analog resistive touchscreen. Its 4xAGP graphics controller has up to 64-MB video RAM for handling 3-D graphics. The PC has on-board 10/100 Base-T Ethernet, two USB 2.0 ports, parallel port, two RS-232 serial ports, one configurable RS-422/232/485 serial port, PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, and an additional video port. More info at controlglobal.com. Xycom Automation; 734/429-4971 ext. 471; www.xycom.com

Multi-loopy Controller
PPC-2000 multi-loop PID controller has built-in programmable logic functions, allowing various analog and digital I/O plus control loops to be centralized into one compact unit and programmed as an integrated system. It handles up to 48 PID loops with 80 analog inputs and 46 digital I/O available for logic programming or monitoring. Inputs include thermocouples, RTDs, linear dc voltage or current inputs and counters. Watlow; 314/878-4600; www.watlow.com

16 Analog I/O on Two Boards
Elite-2000 offers up to 16 analog inputs and outputs built onto two boards. Each analog expansion board incorporates its own processor, and can be manufactured for up to eight analog inputs and eight analog outputs in various configurations. The analog cards are factory configured to accommodate a customer's specific requirements with no wasted I/O. More info at controlglobal.com. Entertron Industries; 716/772-7216; www.entertron.com

500-function-block Controller
HoloCON controllers are compliant with the IEC 61499 standard for distributed function block controls. The standard lets users design a distributed control system, logically, physically distribute the controls and I/O, and coordinate the control processing using event-driven software. Each controller has Internet-ready Ethernet networking; up to three I/O cards including discrete, analog, and two-axis servo-positioning; real-time clock; and a graphical function block programming environment with 500 function blocks. Western Reserve Controls; 330/733-6662; www.wrcakron.com

Riding Buses on the DIN-rail
CX1020 provides PC performance at the modular I/O level. It mounts on a DIN rail, has a 600 MHz Intel Celeron M CPU, and uses Compact Flash memory. When EtherCAT is used as the fieldbus, the PC reportedly can achieve response times of less than 1 msec. It can also be used with Profibus, DeviceNet, CANopen, Lightbus and SERCOS interfaces. More info at controlglobal.com. Beckhoff Automation; 952/890-0000; www.beckhoffautomation.com

PC Display of Affection
Panel PC combines an industrial PC and display in one unit. Options include processors ranging from a Celeron 400 MHz to a Pentium M 1.6 GHz, and touch devices with 10.4-in. VGA, 12.1-in. SVGA and 15-in. XGA TFT displays. More info at controlglobal.com. B&R Industrial Automation; 770/772-0400; www.br-automation.com

Loaded with Linux
Micro-VersaTrak µIPm is pre-loaded with open-source Linux, and the company’s industrial IPm firmware and Sixnet I/O Tool Kit. It has a built-in mix of 14 discrete and analog I/O, four serial ports, and a 10/100 Ethernet interface. Programming can be done using any mix of the ISaGRAF IEC61131 languages or high-level C/C++. More info at controlglobal.com. Sixnet; 518/877-5173; www.sixnetio.com

Bottom-accessible PC
IPC-7143 PC has bottom access, which reportedly allows its cables to be organized and maintained more easily than previous models. When mounted on the wall, there's no need for a rear maintenance area, and there are no rear access cables to manage. It supports a CD-ROM, two SATA HDD trays, and two IDE disk drive bays. Advantech; 513/742-8895 ext. 333; www.eAutomationPro.com

PLC Editable While Online
Allen Bradley MicroLogix 1100 controller lets users adjust programs, including PID loops, while still online. It has an embedded EtherNet/IP communications port and an embedded Ethernet web server, which give users remote access to control information. More info at controlglobal.com. Rockwell Automation; 800/223-5354, ext. 1834; www.rockwellautomation.com

Ethernet Takes PLC Anywhere
Series 90-30 programmable logic controller has an Ethernet Network Interface Unit (ENIU) that enables users to connect Series 90-30 I/O over Ethernet to a master controller through one connection point. Users can connect the programmer anywhere on the I/O network, and monitor, configure, or troubleshoot any ENIU or the master controller, reducing downtime and machine commissioning. More info at controlglobal.com. GE Fanuc; 800/433-2682; www.gefanuc.com

Profibus Master and Commander
758 Series programmable controller can be a Profibus master, and it has on-board Ethernet ports for connectivity to the enterprise. It has a 266-MHz, multitasking, battery-backed CPU, built-in web server, 32-MB RAM/32-MB flash memory, and a real-time clock. The CAA programming tool supports all five IEC 61131-3 programming languages, and has built-in visualization, OPC server, and a fieldbus configuration tool. Wago; 262/255.6333 ext 165; www.wago.us

Logical, Networked Temp Control
FA-M3 multi-controller provides PID temperature control and calculates up to 20,000 logic functions in 1 msec. It supports Ethernet, DeviceNet, Profibus and Modbus, has built-in software to accommodate analog control and discrete logic, and can be expanded to handle up to 8,192 points. Yokogawa Corp. of America; 800/258-2552; www.yokogawa.com/us/

Fountain of Youth for Old PLCs
Modicon Advance Program offers three levels of upgrading for aging automation systems based on a facility’s maintenance schedule and budget. The program offers simple, phased or complete migration to Modicon PLCs and software. The results are increased production and efficiency, reduced downtime and repair costs, better component reliability and enhanced connectivity through access to multiple networking options. More info at controlglobal.com. Schneider Electric; 800/392-8781; www.telemecanique.com

Fast-counting, Configuring 520 I/O
FC5A MicroSmart PLC has built-in 100 KHz high-speed counters, 32-bit registers, floating point math and downloadable system firmware. Up to 520 local I/Os can be configured. Other enhancements include 64 Kbps programming capacity. IDEC; 800/262-IDEC; www.idec.com

PC-to-PLC Communication Module
D0-DCM Communications module adds two serial ports to any DL05 or DL06 PLC. It supports PC-to-PLC communications for programming and data collection, PLC to HMI interface, PLC to PLC data exchange, RS232 or RS422/485, Modbus RTU, DirectNET, and K-Sequence slave network protocols, and operates as a DirectNET or Modbus master. More info at controlglobal.com. AutomationDirect;  800/633-0405; www.automationdirect.com

Soft PLC Gets Secure
Hardbook CPU includes the company’s SoftPLC open architecture control software that runs on embedded Linux and works with Ethernet, DeviceNet, Profibus, and serial and USB ports. It includes a PLC/SCADA firewall for secure communications, with an option for an embedded web server. The CPU has two 10/100 Ethernet ports, serial port, USB port, PCI expansion slot for add-in I/O card, 64MB RAM and 64-MB compact flash. SoftPLC; 800/SOF-TPLC; www.softplc.com

Low-power = Non-incendive
N series single-board PC is certified by UL for Class I & II, Div 1 & 2, Groups A, B, C, D, F & G. Low operational energy levels enable certification as non-incendive, which also includes its touchscreen. The CPU is compatible with popular operating systems. Extended temperature range versions are available. HMW Enterprises; 717/765-4690; www.hmwent.com

Tiny PLC/RTU Has 224 I/O
ControlWave Micro PLC/RTU has up to 224 I/O, multiple serial communication ports that independently support several common protocols, and built-in spread spectrum radio. Options include dial-line modems and Ethernet. Its compact size fits into panels and enclosures. Bristol Babcock; 860/945-2295; www.bristolbabcock.com

All-weatherable PC
All-Weather PC has a NEMA 4X cast aluminum enclosure with UV tolerant paint finish, 15-in. transflective display with antiglare shatterproof window, and is classified for Class I, Zone 2 NI, EExnA IIC T4, EXII36, compliant with ATEX94/9/EC for hazardous areas. The low power Intel Pentium M 1.8 GHZ Processor has a flash IDE drive, multiple I/O ports, and a 14-key keypad. Daisy Data Displays; 717/932-9999; www.d3inc.net

5-KStep Execution in 1.9 msec
FP-X PLC has a processing speed of 0.32 μsec per instruction, so it reportedly can execute a 5-Kstep program in 1.9 msec. It has a program capacity of 16 or 32 Ksteps, is expandable up to 382 I/O points, and supports up to 63 slaves as a Modbus RTU master. The PLC has eight channels of counters with speeds up to 10 KHz per channel. Options include 80 kHz counters. Panasonic; 908/464-3550 ext. 2019; www.aromat.com

Slimmer Panel PC
F1 Formula Series has a low-power Celeron M or Pentium M processor, 15-in. display module, 2.5-in. 40-GB hard drive, floppy drive, and slim line CDRW/DVD, but is only 5 in. deep. A second 2.5-in. hard drive can be added. Communications include three 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet controllers, two USB 2.0 ports, two serial ports and one parallel port. Nematron; 734/214 2000 option 5#; www.nematron.com

Cigar Box Controller
BX2 motion-and-machine controller is about the same size as a cigar box. It provides up to eight axes of motion control, up to six on-board drives supporting various servo technologies up to 1,600 watts, and 46 onboard digital I/O points. Software includes a real-time operating system, easy to program motion control, and a syntax-free programming environment. Built-in Ethernet supports networking up to 56 axes and external I/O expansion modules. Berkeley Process Control; 510/222-8004; www.berkeleyprocess.com

Display, Network Support
ETX-IM333 computer module is available with Intel Pentium M processors from 1.1 to 2.0 GHz and Celeron M processors from 600 MHz to 1.3 GHz. The module supports CRT/LVDS displays, 10 Base-T/100 Base-TX Ethernet, Ultra ATA EIDE, four USB 2.0 ports, AC ’97 audio, serial/parallel ports and a keyboard/mouse. More info at controlglobal.com. Adlink Technology; 866/4-ADLINK; www.adlinktech.com

Redundant PLC Hot Swaps
CS1D duplex programmable controller automatically switches control to the second unit within one program scan, enabling continuous operation. The down CPU can be changed out while operation continues. Redundant power supply and communication modules can be removed and replaced without interrupting control operation. Continuous operation is further enhanced by hot-swappable I/O and specialty modules. More info at controlglobal.com. Omron Electronics; 866/88-OMRON; www.omron.com/oei

You've Got Controller E-mail
Model 5200 web-enabled automation controller has a built-in web server that enables users to securely monitor, control, and upgrade processes via the Internet. Bidirectional e-mail support lets the controller send alerts or production data via an e-mail message, while users can also send an e-mail with customized instructions to modify the operation of the controller. More info at controlglobal.com. Control Technology; 508/435-9595; www.ctc-control.com

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