Modicon ePAC lays foundation for IoT

New controller embraces Ethernet, is designed to meet tomorrow's application demands

By Keith Larson

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While the brave new world of the Internet of Things (IoT) has only begun to take shape across industry, some of its outlines are clear. First, controllers and other plant-floor devices will feature ever more powerful processors and handle more data than ever before. Second, standard Ethernet networks will increasingly be used to weave these devices together, displacing the proprietary networks of yore.

To prepare for this not-so-distant future, Schneider Electric introduced this week at its 2015 Global Automation Conference in Dallas a new and more powerful Modicon M580 ePAC. "We first introduced the M580 last year—it was not only a new Ethernet-enabled programmable automation controller, or ePAC, but the beginning of a new architecture," said Dafir Lamdaouar, Modicon PAC director, Schneider Electric. "It brings Ethernet and other open standards further into the core of the architecture."

An explosion of data

"We recognize that there's an explosion of data coming," Lamdaouar said. "Devices are getting smarter and are generating more data. They've created bottlenecks for older PLC architectures."

The new, higher-end M580 introduced this week has a processor that is five times more powerful, includes eight times as much memory and sports native Ethernet communications with five times the bandwidth of the first generation M580. It also includes redundancy for high-availability implementations and is designed to easily extend current and future system performance, Lamdaouar said. "The M580 is backward compatible with 20-year-old systems, but also brings us forward into the open architecture of Ethernet."

"Cutting-edge functionality allows us to drive true customer benefit with a future-proof solution designed to meet the most pressing industry challenges." added Jose Bonomo, vice president, offer management, Hybrid Systems, Schneider Electric. Other advances inherent in the new ePAC include reinforced cybersecurity through the Achilles Level 2 and ISA certifications. It also features the ability for users to make online configuration changes without stopping the process.

New horizons for PlantStruxure PES

The new M580 ePAC also is central to Schneider Electric's ongoing development plans for its PlantStruxure PES (Process Expert System), the company's solution for hybrid industry applications that demand "the flexibility of a PLC with the operational value of a DCS," Bonomo said. Typical PlantStruxure PES applications include water treatment, mining, and food & beverage, where applications are somewhat smaller, less complex and include a relatively high ratio of digital-to-analog input/output points. PlantStruxure PES also is delivered to market primarily through third-party systems integrators rather than sold direct, as are the company's higher end Foxboro Evo process automation systems.

Recent development efforts for the PlantStruxture PES platform have been aimed at making the system easier to engineer while delivering greater performance and value.  Enhancements to version 4.0, which now can handle up to 20,000 tags, include:

  • Incorporation of the M580 ePAC into the system architecture;
  • Built-in energy management capabilities leveraging Wonderware software;
  • Tested, validated and documented architectures (TVDAs) that provide a detailed configuration baseline for specific vertical applications.

"Other key values that continue to drive the PlantStruxure PES system forward include a common visualization and operations experience as well as improved device management," said Erhard Bartl, PlantStruxture roadmap director. Devices that now integrate with the system include a broad range of Schneider Electric and third-party instruments, drives and power distribution system components. Meanwhile, extensive libraries and templates boost operational and engineering efficiency, "allowing users and integrators to build applications more quickly," Bartl said. Energy management and advanced process control algorithms are among the many options. Device connectivity provides access to equipment diagnostics and a "first level of asset management," Bartl added.

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