Controller solutions are moving through an evolution in role and functionality, as suppliers continue to add integrated capabilities for motion and machine control. The emergence of multiple network protocols that run on Ethernet is expanding the capabilities of systems and creating increasingly sophisticated control architectures.
In areas of control, the buzz is about PLCs being reinvented as programmable automation controllers (PACs) and there is a blurring between integrated motion and logic controllers and PLCs. On top of that, there is downward pressure on controller sizes and system prices as networking and more powerful processors offer ways to streamline controller architectures.
“Systems are moving to much higher performance, lower costs and more highly integrated hardware. Standards such as Ethernet and IEC 61131 are making it all possible,” says Dan Throne, sales and marketing manager for Bosch-Rexroth. “It is becoming possible because the technology is now there to support it.”
“The biggest trend by far in controllers is networks,” says Mark Crocker, European marketing director for Baldor. “The marketplace is still fragmented by the different variants of networks, but there is a need for suppliers to support, to one degree or another, the dominant networks and that's driving product development.”
Crocker says vendors are positioning their products so that, even though they generally support using specific network protocols, there are also ways to interface other Fieldbuses, isolate parts of the network for specific communications and use a range of Ethernet protocols and technologies.
Bob Nelson, business manager for controllers, I/O and engineering software for Siemens Energy & Automation says, “there is significant growth in the small and microcontroller segment.” The performance and capabilities of smaller controllers is increasing, along with a continuing emergence of effective architectures based on distributed intelligence.
Nelson also cites new developments such as wireless Ethernet technology. With the rapid adoption of wireless technology in the industrial environment for control, companies are using wireless for automatic guided vehicles and machinery that runs on a track where the trailing cables were often a problem.