Ever since 1968, when Dick Morley invented the very first Modicon programmable logic controller (PLC), Schneider Electric has continued innovating its way to today’s M580 programmable automation controller (PAC), the IIoT-ready cornerstone of an open, secure and scalable automation architecture.
“The major highlight is the full architecture transformation that we think is necessary,” said José Bonomo, vice president, digital plant, Schneider Electric, who presented the roadmap for the future of the Modicon PAC at this week’s Innovation Days conference in Austin, Texas. “It’s a transformation from a stacked-technology hierarchy to a modular meshed ecosystem. It’s designed to break the silos and layers of control, automation, operations, process and business with a flatter architecture in which each asset, whether it’s a PLC, a drive or a sensor, manages itself. Each has its own control, its own safety and its own cybersecurity. It’s distributed control and intelligence that can be shared across the plant architecture.”
The three main domains on the Modicon roadmap include control engineering and operation software; the automation controller platform; and the automation network and architecture.
“Everything has to be cybersecure at the solution level and at the product level to provide end-to-end cybersecurity,” said Bonomo. “We are also investing a lot in OPC UA because of the cybersecurity it offers. And we’re working on integration with AVEVA Wonderware software, adding more libraries and better communication integration.”
Other business challenges, such as safety assurance, workforce changes, stricter regulations, and price variability create opportunities to bring new technologies to bear, such as cloud computing, sensing, artificial intelligence and mobility.
“There are three major benefits to our vision of future automation,” explained Bonomo. “They are total cost of ownership, agile automation and automation as profit engine.”
New product launches
Modicon launches in 2019 have included EcoStruxure Control Expert V14 for improved engineering productivity and efficiency; safety and security as native function in the M580; situational awareness for the EcoStruxure Hybrid DCS; the transition to an IIoT-ready architecture with support for Profibus and OPC UA; and system platform integration with EcoStruxure Control Expert Asset Link.
“The PLC is quite mature, but there’s a need to get more information out of control systems,” said Dafir Lamdaouar, director of Modicon global offer management, Schneider Electric. “One of the big investments we’ve made is around safety,” said Lamdaouar. “We added safety as not just a stand-alone controller, but in a hot standby or redundant configuration. Plus, we’re continuing with the integration of CIP-Safety to connect to smart safety devices.”
“EcoStruxure Hybrid DCS based on the Modicon platform has been launched with enhancements on the engineering side,” explained Lamdaouar. “We’re doing a lot in the area of architecture and communication. And we now have an embedded OPC UA server on the PLC.”
Looking ahead to 2020, EcoStruxure Control Expert is a new architecture featuring multiple PACs. “We’re also introducing more communication function blocks,” said Lamdaouar. EcoStruxure Hybrid DCS will add architecture extensions, engineering productivity and more flexibility, including a wizard to design objects templates and an improved online controller for configuration changes. Integration enhancements between Wonderware software and Schneider Electric controllers and devices will continue.
M580 technology enablers will further ease transition to IIoT-ready architectures. These include advanced Ethernet communication modules with enhanced communication bandwidth; an advanced RTU module for easier design; OPC UA time stamping and certification; and Modicon managed switches.
“We are implementing OPC UA as PLC-based and embedded,” said Lamdaouar. “We can support up to three OPC UA clients per card, each with gigabyte capability.”
Finally, end-to-end cybersecurity will have centralized, role-based access control, and security based on digital certificates.