Let's call them machine controllers

This month's Product Round-up shows that programmable controllers have such mixed functionality that calling them PLCs or motion controllers or PCs doesn’t much matter.

By Rick Pedraza, Digital Managing Editor, and Joe Feeley, Editor

SINCE WE LAST did a roundup on programmable controllers, not much actually has changed. The market for PLCs still is expected to grow at a annual rate approaching 5% through 2008, despite declining prices.

And the landscape continues to blend. “The term ‘PLC’ no longer stands only for logic control and programmability,” reports ARC senior analyst Himanshu Shah. “Communications capabilities, large memories, and fast CPUs have turned the PLC into a universal automation component that fits all applications.”

Nano PLCs are finding new ways to address the relay replacement market, says ARC, while micro PLCs ride on the health of the machine tool market. 

It’s pretty clear that industrial OEMs still lean toward PLC-based, application-specific solutions. The PLC is a standard component, virtually an off-the-shelf component these days, and its programming techniques remain well-understood and reassuring to system designers.

For a while, many industry pundits saw PC-based controls wiping out the PLC control model. That possibility is a goner. PLCs today contain PC-based technologies that contribute to PLC functionality. A look at this round-up confirms the availability of connectivity and open standards functionality in PLCs and motion controllers--functionality once found only in PCs.  

ARC reminds that China, Eastern Europe and Russia, India and Brazil are rapidly developed regions with populations that demand automobiles, processed food and beverages, infrastructure facilities, and appliances. All industry sectors are growing in response to the domestic demands in these regions. 

We now often hear that PLCs are such a commodity item that suppliers often don’t know the end use of the nano and micro-PLCs that they sell through distributors.


Product Round-up: Programmable Controllers

Learn from the Master
RMC70 series of one and two-axis motion controllers support Ethernet communications through an interface that can be used to download motion control programs from a master controller such as a PLC or industrial PC. It has speeds of 10/100 Mbps with full or half-duplex operation along with auto-negotiation and auto-MDix crossover detection. Delta Computer Systems; 360/254-8688; www.deltamotion.com

Controller Packs It In
PACSystems RX3i controller provides application portability across multiple hardware platforms, allowing OEMs and end users to choose the exact control system hardware that best suits their needs. The system supports a range of I/O including discrete, universal analog, high-density analog, high-speed counter and motion. GE Fanuc; 434/978-5000; www.gefanuc.com

Configurable Controller
320 controller offers automatic startup sequencing, speed control and process control for one or two-valve steam turbines. It offers users flexible digital and analog input/output (I/O) configuration, control options, and Modbus serial data communications. The controller has megawatt cascade control; load limit control; and inlet, extraction/induction and backpressure control combinations. Selectable real-time trending and recording are available. Triconex; 281/709-1234; www.triconex.com

Smart and Powerful
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 in the system. It has 64 KB programming capacity, and a wide array of timers, counters and data registers. IDEC; 800/262-IDEC; www.idec.com

Drive Intelligently
MDrive42 AC-powered integrated motor and driver plugs directly into electric outlets and is suited for brushless motor control applications in robotics, assembly, semiconductor manufacturing, packaging, engraving, inspection and pick-and-place. An optional internal encoder, planetary gearbox and rear control knob are available. Intelligent Motion Systems; 860/295-6102; www.imshome.com

Face Your Control Issues
SoftMotion Controller provides a soft motion interface between motion driver software and distributed intelligent drives. The controller runs on LabView Real-Time ETS for Copley CANopen drives and LabView Real-Time RTX for Ormec ServoWire drives. The driver interfaces between the controller and the development environment on Windows 2000/XP. Engineers program in LabWindows/CVI, Visual Basic and C programming environments. National Instruments; 800/258-7022; www.ni.com

Complete Control
CP570 with Celeron 300 is an x86-based, high-performance CPU that can be a complete control or remote I/O system for the expansion of industrial PCs and controllers. USB and 10/100 MBit Ethernet are integrated as standard. Compact flash cards store application programs and related data. Optional real-time Ethernet for motion and I/O is available. B&R Industrial Automation; 770/772-0400; www.br-automation.com

Ethernet-Based PLC
750-841 Ethernet-based programmable controller has a built-in IP filter to protect against unauthorized access. Configuration is via web pages in the controller. When the security option is on, only certain nodes can communicate with the controller. It has a multi-tasking 32-bit CPU with a real-time clock, 512 KB of program memory, 128 KB of data memory, and 24 KB of retentive memory. Wago; 800/din-rail; www.wago.com

Controllable Parameters
dTRON 300 controller allows up to eight freely programmed parameters at the user level for time-dependent processes. I/O can be expanded through plug-in cards. Instruments can be used as temperature, humidity, differential and ratio controllers. It links to a supervisory system or a PLC through an RS-485 or Profibus interface. External two-wire transmitters can be supplied through the 22 V/30 mA voltage output. Jumo Process Control; 610/380-8002; www.jumo.us

PLC on a Chip
PLC module can be embedded into OEM products such as sensors, drives, custom controls and valve assemblies. The PLC module integrates with the I/O and power supply, and is programmed with software that allows an application program to be written in ladder diagram and function block formats. A complete package is included for OEMs to develop and demonstrate their requirements. Divelbiss; 800/245-2327; www.divelbiss.com

Compact, Modular and Scalable
IndraControl L DIN-rail mount controller combines embedded PC architecture with a highly-scalable inline I/O system. Communications interfaces for Ethernet, Profibus Master and RS-232 are integrated into the controller base modules. Expansion modules provide for additional interfaces. Integrated display for diagnostic and status messages, module for program and data storage, and a built-in power supply are included. Bosch Rexroth; 800/rex-roth; www.boschrexroth-us.com

Control Your Language
Model 3204 1/4 DIN controller has a text display, high accuracy input, five on-board process recipes (48 parameters per recipe), and an optional amp meter display. The text display scrolls to parameters and displays descriptions in English, Spanish, French or German. Ordering, configuration and maintenance require just two five-digit codes that specify functionality and configuration. Eurotherm; 703/669-1330; www.eurotherm.com

Control Without Compromise
C6340 and C6350 controls have three PCI slots and a slot motherboard for Intel Celeron or Pentium III processors. Three PCI slots on the five-slot passive backplane can be used for extra PC fieldbus cards when used in parallel. PC connections are uniformly located at the front with mountings on the sides. The internal chassis can be removed for configuration and maintenance. Beckhoff Automation; 952/890-0000; www.beckhoffautomation.com

Black Box Controller
Hardbook CPU houses embedded Linux run-time software in an open architecture that includes support for a variety of I/O, communication networks and motion controllers. It has an embedded firewall, embedded web server, SSH and FTP servers, and complete system logging for compliance with 21CFR 11. The controller has no moving parts, and operates in an extended temperature range of -20-70o C. SoftPLC; 800/softplc; www.softplc.com

Program via Bluetooth or Ethernet
Twido nano controller can be programmed with Bluetooth wireless or Ethernet. The modular PLC can be scaled to machine requirement for I/O, wiring, power supply, display size, processing power and communications. The Bluetooth gateway enables wire-free connection up to 30 ft. It has four high-density analog I/O expansion modules, 40 I/O compact controllers with an embedded real-time clock, and a compartment for a replaceable external back-up battery. Schneider Electric; 800/392-8781; www.us.telemecanique.com

Single and Flying Solo
Soloist single-axis servo controller combines power supply, amplifier and position controller in a single system. It controls up to four tasks simultaneously and has high-speed position latch inputs and advanced data-logging capabilities for industrial applications. HMI software provides a platform for controlling the entire process. Brushless motors are sinusoidally commutated to minimize torque ripple. Aerotech; 412/963-7470; www.aerotech.com

Bring in the Second Unit
CS1D duplex hot-swap programmable controller automatically switches control to the second unit within one program scan for continuous operation. Redundant power supply and communication modules can be removed and replaced without interrupting control operation. The controller is configurable as a redundant CPU only, or as a complete duplex system. Communications automatically switch to the standby unit if a failure occurs in the primary module. Omron Electronics; 866/88omron; www.omron.com/oei

Custom Design Platform
OEM custom control platform uses a set of modules for input, output and control. For prototypes, the modules are available as plug-in boards that can be mixed and matched for the application. When the functional design is approved, these modules can be repackaged into a single-board solution. Operational capabilities include support for a variety of temperature sensor types and temperature control over one or two channels. Chromalox; 800/443-2640; www.chromalox.com

Controller Has Embedded Ethernet
NX Graphical OCS combines a controller programmed in ladder logic with operator interface, I/O and networking in an integrated unit using a single software package. It has embedded Ethernet, CompactFlash and a web server to control machines and processes. The controller has large memory, offers two I/O options for compact and remote requirements, and supports 2,048 digital and 512 analog I/O points. Horner APG; 317/916-4274; www.heapg.com

Single Board Computer With PCI Bus
PCA-6189 Pentium M full-sized single-board computer with 64-bit PCI-X supports Pentium M/Celeron M with a front-side bus running at 400 MHz. It has an onboard VGA, DVI and LVDS connector to support dual displays, and supports a 2 GB single-channel DDR 333/266/200 SDRAM interface and Error Correcting Code (ECC) to improve reliability and data integrity. Advantech; 513/742-8895; www.eAutomationPro.com

Nano, Nano
Pico Series B controllers provide three times the ladder logic capacity and twice the number of function blocks than the company’s previous products. The controllers have backwards-compatible programming, improved display functionality, additional power supply options and an increased retentive memory range, enabling use in applications that require up to 128 lines of ladder logic. Rockwell Automation; 800/223-5354; www.ra.rockwell.com

Inhibit or Capture
CTRIO high-speed counter I/O module is suitable for applications that call for precise counting or timing based on an input event, or for high-speed outputs. Inputs supported include one quadrature encoder counter up to 100 KHz, or two single-channel counters up to 100 KHz, and two high-speed discrete inputs for Reset, Inhibit or Capture. AutomationDirect; 800/633-0405; www.automationdirect.com

Future-Proof Control Platform
PSSuniversal enables communication via all common standard fieldbus systems in combination with SafetyBus p. Head modules connect to all common fieldbus systems, enabling a structure of decentralized inputs and outputs with pure standard control functions or--in conjunction with SafetyBUS p--with pure safety functions. The system meets Cat. 4 in accordance with EN 954-1 or SIL 3 in accordance with IEC 61508, as well as other international standards. Pilz Automation Safety; 734/354-0272; www.pilzusa.com

Concentrated Control
Net Concentrator System has 20-bit measurement resolution and signal conditioning capabilities; data rates up to 100 MBps; sequential control language programmability based on IEC 61131-3, including ladder, function block diagram and structural text; and the ability to act as a single PID loop controller with simple cascade, split action, and inverse capabilities. Moore Industries-Intl.; 818/894-7111; www.miinet.com

Real-Time Motion Control
ACR9000 controller processes floating-point calculations onboard, typically in the 100-500-ms range, allowing the controller to serve as a preemptive multi-tasker with up to 24 programs simultaneously. It can handle up to four communication channels concurrently, allowing communication with the controller for troubleshooting, while leaving the HMI on a production machine fully online and active. Parker Compumotor; 707/584-2541; www.parker.com

Change Positions
NewStep NSC200 hand-held stepper motor controller-driver provides single-axis control of motorized actuators and linear stages. The controller-driver provides ergonomic manual control and computer control and has 64x microstepping ratio high-sensitivity positioning. When used with a switchbox, the controller can position up to eight devices. Remote communications via RS-485 allows computer control of up 256 units in parallel. Newport Corp.; 949/253-1218; www.newport.com

Master of Machines
Master Controller module lets users control and monitor machines via a standard web browser. It can log system data directly to CompactFlash in Excel-compatible CSV files. A single module handles up to 32 loops controlling up to 16 hot-swappable dual PID modules, reducing total comms scan time compared to discrete node solutions. The system includes software, future software updates, support, cabling instructions and communication drivers. Red Lion Controls; 717/767-6511; www.redlion.net