On the surface, small size aside, the new Q Series automation platform from Mitsubishi Electric Automation Inc. doesn't look much different from most other rack-based PLC controllers. But underneath the hood, it's actually much more.
In fact, the platform's compact, modular design offers PLC, PC, motion control, and process control individually, or combines all those capabilities simultaneously onto a single platform. Key benefits include: compact size, processing efficiency, and fast and easy implementation.
Compact size. Compared to bulkier, rack-based systems, Q Series approaches nano-PLC dimensions, according to John Browett, product marketing manager of rack-based controllers and networks.
An average single-rack Q platform may measure 98 ื 98 ื 245 mm (3.86 ื 3.86 ื 9.65 inches). While length varies depending on the modules used, Browett says, a complete system could be as short as 7 inches in length. For engineers, a more compact controller typically translates into cost savings from enclosure size reduction.
The Q Series system condenses a full-blown PC into a space about the size of two cassette tape cases side by side. Need a hard disk? Just add another cassette-sized module. The benefit for engineers is eliminating a large external host PC with LCD or CRT monitor. Instead, this PC sits right on the rack next to the IO.
Processing efficiency. With basic instructions executing in approximately 30 nanosec (one thousandth of a sec), Q Series is one of the fastest systems available, according to Browett. A high-speed backplane designed to prevent bottlenecks between the CPU and the rest of the system maximizes throughput between system components.
Multi-processor capability allows further gains in processing efficiency. By dedicating specific processors to specific tasks within the control platform, engineers may configure the system so that one processor executes sequence control, another motion, a third does process, and a final processor does communications. On the other hand, engineers may also integrate all these tasks on one CPU.
Fast and easy implementation. The modular Q Series Multi Access/Multi-Program environment allows the use of separate programs for handling different elements of the system. Engineers can use a maximum of 252 manageable programs rather than dealing with a single monolithic program.
Using discrete programs can speed development, because multiple programmers can develop different programs concurrently. "Each programmer can access his programs in the CPU over multiple links to the controller," Browett explains. "And program modules that represent similar processes in different systems can be re-used in future projects."
However, realizing these benefits requires the right software tools. Enter GX-Developer. The development suite works hand-in-hand with the Q platform, using plug-ins called Intelligent Function Utilities that allow developers to check off items in a dialog box, and then generate code automatically. Networking engineers simply draw the topology on the screen, and the software generates the necessary code. Simulation tools help detect bugs even before programs are downloaded to the CPU.
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